Beginner's Guide To Food Spices And Seasoning

Everything you need to know about how to add seasonings and spices to your food.

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Matt Anderson's Take
It's no secret to professional chefs and cooks that proper food seasoning is, well, the spice of life. Proper seasoning can make a subpar meal delicious while incorrect seasoning can make an otherwise excellent meal taste very bad. So where do you even begin navigating the spice and seasoning waters? Right here, so let's go over all of the basics.

Basil


If you love Italian food then you've probably enjoyed Basil countless times. As an herb native to Italy, it's a very popular ingredient in many Italian tomato sauces, pesto dishes, and even pizza. Basil has a delicious, fresh smell when it's cut and best used fresh. Look for a nice, bright green color when buying. It's also a great anti-inflammatory, has antibacterial characteristics, and is a good source of magnesium.

The flavor is very powerful with hints of pepper while also being sweet. It's not just the Italians that got in on the Basil train, it also works well in many Mediterranean and Thai dishes. After buying, store your Basil wrapped in a damp paper towel and put it in your vegetable crisper where it will be good for a few days. Better yet, get a pot and grow your own!

Cayenne Pepper


Cayenne pepper is a great way to turn up the heat on your food and give it a nice, spicy kick. Of course, you'll want to use this powerful spice sparingly because a little bit goes a long way. It works well in Mexican cuisine as well as vinegar-based sauces (BBQ's, etc) and all types of meat.

It's said that Cayenne pepper, which contains Vitamin A, can also work as a natural pain reliever and may even help reduce cholesterol levels. All we know is that it's a tasty way to add a little fire to your food.

Cilantro


Cilantro isn't just a tasty part of most yummy salsas, it's also a good source of iron and fiber and contains disease-fighting phytonutrients. It comes from the same plant as coriander seeds with a tasty that's almost a little on the citrus side. Your tacos, burritos, salsas, and other Mexican cuisine isn't complete without Cilantro!

Cumin


Cumin is one that scares new cooks off a bit but is a popular spice to use in range of cooking from Asia to Mexico to the Middle East and beyond. The Cumin seed comes from the Cuminum cyminum herb, which is part of the parsley family. The seeds are usually ground into a brown to orange colored powder.

The flavor is smoky, sweet, and even a little bitter. It's a big part of many curry dishes and chilis but often gets added to a large variety of recipes.

Oregano


The Oregano plant is actually part of the mint family and it has a lovely sweet and spicey smell to it. The flavor of this green plant on the peppery and sweet side. It's delicious and a good source of antioxidants to boot.

It's used in several cultures but popular in Italian and Mediterranean cuisine. When buying fresh look for a nice rich, green color without any wilted or limp leaves. You can store it in a plastic bag for a few days in the refrigerator. It can also be purchased dry, as small flakes and goes well on chicken and fish dishes.

Paprika


Paprika is a reddish-brown colored, dry spice that is generally made from the sweet red pepper plants. Sometimes it's mixed with with other pepper plants (like chili peppers and cayenne peppers) as well. This spice, native to South America, offers a warm scent with a taste that ranges from sweet to spicy.

You'll find it in many dishes around the globe, especially in rice dishes, soups, stews, and meat dishes. It can be sprinkled onto food in its raw state or cooked in. It's a favorite in Spanish dishes as well as Hungarian and Serbian cuisines. It's best stored in an airtight container and kept in a cool, dark cabinet and kept away from direct sunlight and heat.

Rosemary


Rosemary is one of those herbs you can smell a mile away, give or take. You can buy it fresh but this is another herb that's easy to grow yourself, and thus can have a never ending supply of fresh Rosemary all the time. It goes perfectly on roasted meats like chicken, pork, and salmon. It's also a popular ingredient in many sauces, especially Italian style tomato sauces.

It's interesting to note that Rosemary also is a good source of fiber, iron, and even calcium. It's been said that it may even improve digestion and increase circulation. Of course, that's only if you don't eat too many bowls of Grammy Leone’s “Original Recipe” Spaghetti Sauce (see Eat Until 80% Full, Live Longer).

Thyme


Thyme can be a fairly powerful herb with a strong, minty smell. Green in color, this herb was once used for embalming by the ancient Egyptians and during bath time by the ancient Greeks.

Today, it's best used in a variety of chicken, beef, fish, and lamb dishes. It's popular in Italian cooking as well as Mediterranean and French cuisines and an ingredient in many soups and sauces. Fresh thyme should be stored wrapped in a damp paper towel and put in your vegetable crisper.
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