Know Your Herbs & Spices

Angelica

Known for its green candied stalk which is invaluable with glace cherries as a sweet decoration.  A piece of the stalk added with fruit to be stewed reduces the tartness a little.

 

Allspice

This is so called because of its flavour, a blend of cloves, cinnamon and nutmeg.  It is the unripe fruit of the pimento tree.  Allspice is ground and used in sauces, pickles, sausages, fruit pies, cakes and milk puddings.

 

Aniseed

The fruit and seed of the aniseed plant used for pickles and confectionery: sweet, spicy in flavour.

 

Balm

A sweet smelling herb, formerly used as a medicine for those suffering nervous complaints and depression.  It is now used in soups, stews and casseroles.

 

Basil

An important culinary herb, which has a nutmeg flavour and has a special affinity for tomatoes and all dishes that feature tomatoes, also rich stews, sausages and soups; also used to make basil vinegar.

 

Bay leaves

The leaves of the bay laurel or sweet bay tree.  They may be fresh or dried (when the flavour is more pronounced) and are used in many soups, stews, fish and vegetable dishes, in which case they can be used in a bouquet garni.

 

Borage

This grows in swampy soil.  The young leaves can be used in sald.  The herb is mainly used in drinks such as claret cup and Pimms.

 

Capers

Flower buds of the caper bush dried and stored in vinegar or brine.  Used in pickles and sauces they are graded according to size, smallest being the best.

 

Caraway Seed

Grown mainly in Holland the seeds are about 5mm long, shaped like a moon, brown in colour.  They are used in seed cake and certain breads, sauerkraut, cheese and also some liqueurs such as Kummel.

 

Cardamon

Aromatic seeds from the cardamon plant used to flavour soups, curries, meats and baked goods.

 

Cassia

Resembles cinnamon in flavour colour and aroma but is coarser and less expensive.  May be used instead of cinnamon but is less suitable for puddings.

 

Cayenne Pepper

Cayenne is a red pepper which is obtained by grinding chillies.  It is used on savoury dishes and cheese straws.  It is pungent and very hot and should be used sparingly.

 

Celery Seed

The seed of the celery plant.  Used when celery is out of season for flavouring soups, stews, fish sauces and cheese dishes.  If used in soup or sauce it should be tied in a piece of muslin.  Celery seeds and salt are ground together to make celery salt.

 

Chervil

Chervil has small neatly shaped leaves with a delicate aromatic flavour.  It is used fresh or dry.  Because of its attractive shape it is frequently used in decorating cold buffets dishes.

 

Capsicums

The family name for a number of varieties of pepper.  There are two main types: Hot such as chillies and sweet such as those used as a vegetable.

 

Chives

Chives are cultivated principally for their leaves which grown in thick tufts resembling a coarse grass.  They may be cut freely as new leaves quickly replace those taken.  In flavour it is milder than onion and is invaluable in flavouring hors d’oeuvre, fish, poultry and meat dishes.

 

Cinnamon

The dried bark of the cinnamon tree.  It may be used whole or finely ground and is used mainly as a spice for flavouring sweets, puddings, cakes and buns.

 

Cloves

The dried flower buds of the clove tree.  Used in flavouring fruit, pickles and many other foods.

 

Coriander

A plant grown for both the leaves and its seeds.  Its leaves are used in oriental cookery and to flavour cold soups and salads.  The seeds which are hot and spicy are an essential ingredient in curries.

 

Cumin

Seeds similar to caraway though with a different flavour which are used in curry powder, seasoning sausages, rice dishes, soups, cheese and canapes.

 

Dill

The feathery leaves of this European plant are used as a herb and the dried seeds as a spice.  Dill leaves have a mild caraway like flavour and need to be used in fairly large quantities.  Used in salads and as a garnish for scrambled eggs and white meat dishes.  

 

Classically used with salmon in the Scandinavian dish Gravad Lax.  The dried seeds are more pungent and are used to flavour vinegar and dill pickles.

 

Fennel

Traditionally associated with fish this herb has a strong aniseed flavour, it can be used in court bouillon when poaching fish.  The tuberous root of Florence Fennel is used as a delicate vegetable.

 

Fines Herbs

This is a mixture of fresh herbs usually chervil, tarragon and parsley and is referred to in many classical recipes.

 

Fenugreek

This plant belongs to the pea family.  The pods contain brown seeds which are roasted and dried, then ground for use as a spice.  Fenugreek is an ingredient in curry powder.

 

Garlic

A bulbous vegetable similar to a small onion or shallot.  It has a very pungent flavour and should be sparingly used for flavouring salds, stews, sauces etc.

 

Ginger

The root of a plant widely grown in the Far East.  It should be boiled in water and sugar syrup until soft.  Ground ginger is used for baked goods and the whole root is used in curries, pickles and sauces.

 

Mace

This is the dried outer of the nutmeg seed.  Ground or in blade form it is used to flavour soups, sausages, cakes and puddings.

 

Marjoram

A sweet herb which may be used fresh in salads, pork, fish, poultry, cheese, egg and vegetable dishes and when dried, can be used for flavouring soups, sauces, stews and certain stuffings.

 

Mint

Various mints are grown for culinary use but mostly garden or spearmint is used.  An aromatic green leaved herb, the leaves of which when chopped and mixed with sugar and vinegar make mint sauce.  Used also for flavouring new potatoes, peas, lamb and cold dishes.

 

Mustard

The seed of the mustard plant, ground to a fine powder after most of the oil has been extracted.  It is used in mayonnaise, devilled dishes and welsh rarebit.

 

Nutmeg

The nutmeg tree which grows in tropical countries bears a large fruit similar to an apricot which when ripe splits.  Inside the nut is the seed which is the nutmeg.  Its main uses are in baking and pastry work.  It can also be used in pastas, egg and cheese dishes.  It is grated and used sparingly.

 

Oregano

Is similar in flavour to marjoram but stronger.  Used in Italian and Greek style cooking such as salads, soups, stuffings, pasta sauces, vegetables and egg dishes.

 

Paprika

A red powder prepared from a variety of sweet red capsicum.  An essential ingredient of goulash and also used in pizzas and in pasta and chicken dishes.

 

Parsley

Probably the most commonly used herb.  Used in fresh and dried form as a garnish.  It can be added to almost every salad or deep fried in sprigs as a garnish.  Fresh parsley combined with lemon juice makes an intersting sorbet.  Other uses are dressings, soups, casseroles, fish, cheese, potatoes etc.

 

Pelargonium

A plant with snowy flavours and fragrant leaves which adds an unusual sweet flavour to milk puddings.

 

Pepper

Dried berries from the shrub of the pepper plant which grows in tropical climates.  The black peppercorn being unripe and the white fully ripe.  They are used whole as a flavouring agent or when ground for seasoning.

 

Poppy Seed

Small seeds of the poppy plant.  Blue-black in colour.  Mainly used for garnishing bread and rolls but can be used in pastries, dips, salad dressings and curries.

 

Rosemary

Rosemary is a strongly flavoured herb and should be used in moderation.  It may be used fresh or dried in sauces, roats, stews and fish dishes.

 

Saffron

Grown maihnly in Spain they are the dried strands from the saffron crocus.  This is a flavouring and colouring spice used in rice dishes and giving a yellow colour.  It is very expensive.

 

Sage

Common sage has pale green leaves.  It has a strong slightly bitter taste.  It aids the digestion when eaten with fatty foods.  Mainly used as a stuffing for prok, duck and goose.

 

Sesame Seed

Rich, sweet nut-like flavour.  Closely resembles the flavour of toasted almonds, mainly used to decorate yeast products.

 

Tarragon

A bright green attractive leaf used fresh to flavour bearnaise sauce and vinegar.  Coloured for decorative purposes in cold fish and chicken dishes.

 

Thyme

The root of a plant of the ginger family similar in appearance to fresh ginger but bright orange when peeled.

 

Vanilla

Long black pods derived from the climbing orchids.  Infuse a pod in milk or cream when making custard or sweet sauces.  Vanilla essence is extracted from the vanilla pod and is used for flavouring sweet dishes.

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