The Ultimate List Of Spices And Their Uses
Ever get ginger confused with nutmeg? Or have you ever wondered what is in chinese five-spice powder or curry powder?
Knowing exactly what spices do and what they bring to the table can seriously skyrocket your cooking skills and dishes.
Luckily, we’ve put together this handy list of spices and their uses, from popular spices like garlic powder to uncommon ones like loomi or achiote.
Adding spices to your dish can quickly provide a kick of spiciness or a hint of sweetness that teases taste spuds. These appealing aromas often entice us and help us determine whether to eat something or not.
Here are some of the most common spices and their uses.
- Taste: Spicy, Warm
- Most Popular Use: Meats, vegetables, spice blends, sauces, deserts
Black peppercorns are known for their sharpness. Black pepper stimulates our salivary glands, so we experience a dish’s full taste. Although, this only happens with freshly ground pepper.
Nonetheless, it’s a popular addition to most dishes around the world.
Black pepper is part of a larger family of peppercorns. You may see varieties in color, including white, pink, and even green. Each offers a unique flavor and aroma.
- Taste: Sweet, earthy
- Most Popular Use: Bread, soups, sauces, vegetables
Caraway (Carum carvi) is another member of the parsley family. They were one of the first spices found in Europe.
These seeds are known for their earthy aroma and flavor, especially when they are toasted or ground.
If you’ve eaten rye bread, you’ve tasted caraway seeds. They can be used in potato salads, coleslaws, soda bread, and sauerkraut.
- Taste: Spicy
- Most Popular Use: Spice blends, meat, fish, vegetables, sauces
Despite its name, this spice contains spicy red cayenne pepper and a variety of dried chiles. Cayenne pepper adds a kick to any dish and enhances the flavor.
The spice gets its spicy characteristics from capsaicin, a compound that boosts metabolism and body temperature. And some studies have shown it to aid calorie intake too. [1,2]
Cayenne pepper is often added to Mexican or Southern dishes and goes well with seafood, curries, meats, and hot sauces.
- Taste: Savory, earthy
- Most Popular Use: Meat, soups, pickles
Unsurprisingly, celery seeds come from the same plant that gives us celery stalks.
Like celery itself, it pairs well with tomatoes. It makes an excellent addition to homemade ketchup, barbecue sauce, and even Bloody Marys.
Celery seeds blend well in most marinades. And in powdered form, it can be included in pickles, soups, and salad dressings.
- Taste: Fruity, citrusy
- Most Popular Use: Meat, fish, curries, spice blends, salad
Coriander seeds are the dried seeds of the coriander plant (Coriandrum sativum), the same plant that cilantro comes from.
These light brown seeds are known for their fruity flavor. Others refer to them for their “soapy” taste. You’ll often find them used in Indian cuisines, homemade burgers, and salad dressing.
Coriander seeds are usually toasted and then ground for enhanced flavor.
- Taste: Earthy, sweet
- Most Popular Use: Curries, spice blends, stews
Cumin is known for its earthy, smoky taste and has similar characteristics to caraway seeds.
It is commonly used in Mexican, Indian, and Middle Eastern dishes but can be used in soups and stews. For a more potent flavor, it’s always best to buy whole cumin seeds and grind them.
- Taste: Savory, sweet
- Most Popular Use: Spice blends, meat, vegetables
Garlic powder comes from dried, dehydrated Garlic cloves (Allium sativum). It is generally used for its sweet, soft flavor and adds depth to dishes.
This spice shares the same health benefits as other forms of garlic. The spice has excellent antibacterial properties. Some studies also suggest garlic helps reduce the risk of diabetes, hypertension, and lowers blood pressure. [5,6]
- Taste: Bitter, sharp
- Most Popular Use: Salad dressings, soups, sauces
Also referred to as mustard powder, ground mustard is made by sifting and grinding mustard seeds.
It gets its bite from sulfur compounds called thiocyanates (also found in onions and wasabi). These compounds are released when the plant’s cell walls become damaged, entering our nasal passages. This is why hot mustard is known to burn your nose.
Ground mustard adds bitterness and acidity to creamy dishes such as macaroni and cheese. However, it’s also a popular addition to Indian cuisines.
Add water to the powder for a more tangy flavor and wait for the flavor to bloom. 
- Taste: Sweet, Hot
- Most Popular Use: Meats, stews, curries, egg recipes
Paprika is a term used for spices made from ground dried red peppers. It comes in three varieties; sweet, hot, or smokey.
Sweet paprika is the most popular and is used in stews and spice blends.
Smoked paprika is made with peppers that are dried over smoldering embers, giving it a smoky aroma. It is ideal for seasoning grilled meats.
Hot paprika is typically used in curries. It shouldn’t be used as a substitution for sweet paprika.
Red Pepper Flakes
- Taste: Earthy, sharp
- Most Popular Use: Stews, meats, soups, sauces
Red pepper flakes are essentially just crushed dried chile peppers. They’re made from peppers from the capsicum annum family, similar to jalapeños.
But unlike most peppers, these do not add spice to every bite in a dish. Red pepper flakes are typically used in roasted vegetables, soups, and stews. But, you may be familiar with its use in spaghetti sauces.
- Taste: Bitter, earthy
- Most Popular Use: Curries, spice blends, beverages
Tumeric comes from the fresh rhizome, Curcuma longa. Its yellow color looks similar to fresh ginger, and the spice adds an earthy bitterness to a dish.
When dried or ground, turmeric has a somewhat muted flavor compared to other spices. It’s used frequently in Indian and Asian dishes to add bold, golden color, so it is called “the golden spice.”
Turmeric is also an excellent addition to seafood, grain dishes, and some hot beverages.
- Taste: Pungent
- Most Popular Use: Indian cooking, substitute for garlic and onions
Asafoetida, also known as hing or asafetida, is a spice commonly used in Indian and vegetarian recipes. It is also frequently paired with turmeric in lentil recipes like dal.
Its made from the sap of the exposed root of the plant itself. The sap is crushed and dehydrated, which gives us the final beautiful tan-colored spice.
Asafoetida gets its taste and aroma from compounds similar to onions. It contains dimethyl trisulfide, a famous substance that makes eyes weep and irritates noses.
- Taste: Earthy
- Most Popular Use: Sauce, soups, stew, marinades
Achiote, or Annato, comes in paste or powder and turns up in numerous Mexican recipes. It’s an orangy-red spice famous for its nutty, earthy flavor and is found in tropical regions in America.
Depending on the cooking method and ingredients, Achiote can turn foods into vibrant shades of red, orange, or yellow. Some manufacturers even use it to color everyday foods such as butter and cheese.
- Taste: Sweet
- Most Popular Use: Tea, spice blends, meat
Fennel seeds come from the fennel plant (Foeniculum velgare). Its a popular ingredient that grows in the Mediterranean and parts of the US. Fennel seeds are famous for their sweet, liquorice flavor.
Fennel seeds are a crucial part of Ethiopian berbere seasoning and Italian sausage. It’s most popular use is in pork dishes and Indian recipes like garam masala.
However, the spice is also one of the main ingredients in spice blends for Chinese cuisines, such as five-spice powder.
- Taste: Bitter, sweet
- Most Popular Use: Curry powder, spice blends, teas
Often used in Indian recipes, Fenugreek (also known as shambalileh and methi) has a sweet aroma when heated. But once its cooked, it’ll have a bitterry, burnt sugar taste. Both its seeds and leaves can be used.
Its found in a lot of Indian dishes, although it has been known to be used in Middle Eastern and North African recipes too.
Grains of Paradise
- Taste: Earthy, warm
- Most Popular Use: Spice blends, stews, marinades
These glossy brown seeds come from Aframomum melegueta, a plant commonly found in coastal regions of Africa. Grains of Paradise are a member of the cardamom and ginger family.
They add warmth to North African recipes, but can sometimes feature in Moroccan spice blends too. In general, they taste similar to nutmeg, cardamon, or coriander.
Grains of Paradise are a common substitute for pickling spice or black pepper in recipes.
- Taste: Sweet, spicy, smokey
- Most Popular Use: kimchi, sauces
Gochugaru (kochukaru) is a red pepper spice made from sun-dried red chile peppers.
It’s a coarsely ground pepper with a spicy, yet smokey flavor. Its a common ingredient in Korean dishes such as kimchi. But it’s also a nice addition to dipping sauces, marinades, and salad dressing.
- Taste: Piney, Bitter
- Most Popular Use: Meat, stews, marinades
Juniper berries are the small round cones of the juniper tree (Juniperus communis), and have been used for many years due to their medicinal properties.
These green “berries” are the key flavor in gin, and widely used for its piney, citrusy aroma and taste. They’re are excellent for lamb, venison, pork, and venison. You can also use them in pots of chile to add a rustic flavor that complements the peppers.
Juniper berries are believed to ease symptoms of arthritis. While some studies have shown they can be effective in relieving UTI’s and promoting heart health. 
- Taste: Sour
- Most Popular Use: Chicken, fish, spice blends
Loomi also goes by the name “black lime”. And this name is exactly how they look.
Loomi are fresh limes that are boiled in salt water and then naturally dried. They can be a variety of shades, from light tan to dark brown.
This spice is used to add a kick of sourness to a recipe, and are popular in Middle Eastern, Iranian, and Persian dishes.
- Taste: Tangy, sour
- Most Popular Use: Spice blends, dry rubs, salads
Sumac (Rhus coriaria) is a Midde Eastern dark red spice that comes from the berries of the sumac plant.
This spice is often added in North African and Indian dishes for its tartness and zesty flavor. Sumac is excellent for maraindes, spice rubs, and even hummus.
Popular Baking Spices
Having a pantry stocked with well-known baking spices is crucial if you want to be a great baker.
Here is a list of the most popular spices used for baking and their uses.
- Taste: Warm, sweet
- Most Popular Use: Meat, baked goods, savory dishes
Allspice is the “hallmark” of Caribbean dishes and jerk chicken. It tastes like a mixture of cinnamon, clove, and nutmeg.
Allspice is the brown berry of the tropical tree, Pimenta dioica, native to Central America and the West Indies.
Along with jerk chicken, this spice is excellent in savory dishes and desserts like gingerbread or mincemeat pie.
- Taste: Warm, sweet, fruity
- Most Popular Use: Baked goods, stews, curries
Cardamom is often referred to as the “Queen of Spice” in India because of its strong, pungent flavor and aroma. It comes from several plants, but its primary source is Elettaria cardamomum, a member of the ginger family found in India.
Cardamom is available in either black or green. Green is the most used. However, black cardamom offers a smoky aroma used in curries and desserts.
Cardamom’s warm, fruity flavor is essential to Arabic coffee and Nordic baked goods.
- Taste: Sweet, warm, woody
- Most Popular Use: Baked goods, spice blends
You’ve more than likely encountered cinnamon in baked goods.
Cinnamon (Cinnamomum verum) is one of the oldest spices used globally in various recipes.
It’s an evergreen tree in the laurel family (Lauraceae). The spice itself comes from its bark and has a distinct woody but sweet taste.
Cinnamon is an excellent addition to pumpkin pies, sticky buns, and apple crisps. It’s perfect sprinkled on hot beverages like coffee too.
- Taste: Sweet
- Most Popular Use: Spice blends, meat, baked goods
Cloves are the unopened, aromatic buds of an Indonesian tree, Syzygium aromaticum. They look similar to nails. In fact, their name comes from the Latin word, calvus, for nail.
Their flavor comes from antimicrobial eugenol, making them a popular medicine. Cloves have previously been used to treat oral disease. Some studies have shown they can be beneficial for preserving bone density too. 
Cloves are an excellent addition to meats, baked goods, mulled wine, and even stocks.
- Taste: Spicy, zesty
- Most Popular Use: Baked goods, spice rubs, meat
Dried ginger root and ground ginger shouldn’t be mistaken for one another. Both offer completely different aromas and flavors to recipes.
Ground ginger is dehydrated fresh ginger and offers a spicy yet zesty flavor to dishes. While fresh ginger has a much more dry, floral taste to it. And it’s a lot less potent.
Nonetheless, you’ll often encounter ground ginger in baked goods and desserts and marinades for meat.
Ground ginger offers the same health benefits as fresh ginger too. So it’s ideal for sore throats, motion sickness, and reducing heartburn.
- Taste: Pungent, sweet
- Most Popular Use: Baked goods, meat, stews
Mace comes from the same seed as Nutmeg. Except it’s made with the fleshy membrane, or aril, surrounding the Nutmeg seed.
Ground Mace has a much stronger taste to it than Nutmeg. And it’s frequently used in desserts, as well as stews or homemade sausages. Often it’s used to add a slight zesty, lemony taste to a recipe.
Mace is a suitable alternative ingredient for Nutmeg. Although, it’s recommended to use half the required amount due to its potency.
- Taste: Sweet
- Most Popular Use: Baked goods, meat, stews
Warm and earthy, Nutmeg is a hard brown seed from a tropical tree, Myristica, in Indonesia.
Its most popular use is in eggnog, but you can find it in various baked goods and savory dishes. It is often paired with cinnamon for a warm aroma and taste in recipes.
Some studies have shown that Nutmeg can help clean the liver and kidneys. 
- Taste: Sweet, bitter
- Most Popular Use: Rice, vegetables, baked goods
Saffron is described as sweet with a subtle floral flavor. This “hay-like” orange spice is usually used to add vibrant color to dull-looking recipes.
It’s a popular spice used in various dishes, from shrimp paella to chorizo or buttermilk pie.
- Taste: Sweet, bitter
- Most Popular Use: Tea, soup, sauces, baked goods
As their name suggests, Star anise (Illicium verum) are star-shaped pods that taste like anise.
This licorice-flavored spice is used in traditional Chinese and Asian cuisine, marinades, soups, and sauces. Star anise is also a crucial part of Chinese five-spice powder.
- Taste: Creamy, sweet
- Most Popular Use: Baked goods, beverages
These fragrant beans might not be a “spice,” but they’re a crucial part of certain baked goods and beverages.
Vanilla beans come from the fermented, dried pods of climbing vanilla orchids. These pods are typically around 6 to 12 inches in size and are generally hand-harvested, which is why they’re so expensive.
Once they’re cured, vanilla beans can be converted into vanilla extract, a crucial ingredient in certain alcoholic beverages and baked goods. Vanilla beans are an excellent addition to cake frosting. Although, its most popular use is in crème brûlée.
When using vanilla extract, it’s best to add it at the end of the cooking process. Prolonged heat exposure reduces the flavor.
A spice mix can make or break a dish. But, they can effectively introduce new flavors and aromas to an otherwise bland recipe.
Here are some of the most popular spice blends.
- Taste: Smoky, sweet
- Made With: Black Pepper, Cinnamon, Clove, Cumin
- Most Popular Use: Meat, chicken, fish, rice
Baharat is a familiar spice mix used in Middle Eastern cuisine. In Arabic, its name translates to “spices.”
The mixture can vary depending on the region. Although, it’s generally made using the same ingredients. These are usually black pepper, cinnamon, clove, and cumin. In North Africa, you’ll often find dried rosebuds included in the mixture.
Baharat is a popular choice for seasoning fish, meat, soups, and rice. It doesn’t contain any salt either. Instead, it gives recipes a hint of smokiness and sweet taste.
- Taste: Spicy, bitter
- Made With: Black Pepper, Cardamom, Cinnamon, Cloves, Coriander, Fenugreek, Ginger
- Most Popular Use: Stew, meat
Berbere is an all-purpose spice that adds a warm but spicy taste to dishes. The ingredients it contains will vary from cook to cook.
But most of the time, it’s made using black pepper, cardamom, cinnamon, cloves, coriander, fenugreek, and ginger. Other ingredients such as cumin, allspice, nutmeg, garlic, and paprika can feature too.
Berbere can be used either dry or mixed with oil. Cooks love to sprinkle it on roasted vegetables and sautéed greens. It’s also a staple spice in Ethiopian lentil soup.
Some cooks use berbere for chicken, meatballs, and even burgers.
- Taste: Herbal
- Made With: Bay Leaf, Parsley, Thyme
- Most Popular Use: Stock, soup, sauces
Bouquet Garni isn’t meant to be a major spice we reach for when cooking.
It’s mainly used in traditional French cuisine. The fresh herbs are added to infuse flavor in cooking sauces, soup, and braises.
Chinese Five-Spice Powder
- Taste: Sweet
- Made With: Cinnamon, Clove, Fennel, Szechuan Pepper, Star Anise
- Most Popular Use: Meat, vegetables, baked goods
Five-spice powder is a staple blend of spices used in traditional Chinese dishes for a hint of sweetness.
The aromatic mix has five key ingredients; cinnamon, clove, fennel seed, Szechuan (or black) pepper, and star anise.
The Chinese culture has been using this aromatic blend for hundreds of years. But recently, Americans have been adding the mix to sweet dishes such as panna cotta and savory dishes like grilled pork chops.
- Taste: Bitter
- Made With: Coriander, Cumin, Clove, Black and Red Peppers, Turmeric
- Most Popular Use: Meat, sauce, stew
Curry powder is popular in Indian dishes. It’s a fragrant blend of several spices – as many as 20 different spices are used to make curry powder. Among them are black and red peppers, cinnamon, clove, coriander, cumin, and turmeric.
Not all curry powders are the same. For example, madras curry powder is the hottest and adds a spicy aroma to recipes. Whereas mild (or sweet) curry powder is more versatile and can be added to dishes for a slight hint of spice.
While curry powder is mainly used for curry dishes, you can also add it to spiced nuts for added flavor.
- Taste: Nutty
- Made With: Coriander, Cumin, Hazelnuts, Sesame Seeds
- Most Popular Use: Dipping sauces, meat, fish, vegetables
The Egyptian spice mix of dukkah isn’t a traditional or popular choice for cooks.
Yet, many recipes include this aromatic blend of spices for a unique, crunchy texture and warm taste.
Dukkah is eaten with breakfast dishes or snacks in the Middle East. Its most popular use is in bread that has been dipped in olive oil.
It can also garnish roasted vegetables or dry-rubbed on grilled fish and meat.
- Taste: Warm
- Made With: Black Pepper, Cardamom, Cinnamon, Clove, Coriander, Cumin, Mace
- Most Popular Use: Meat, poultry, vegetables, soup
Garam Masala has similar traits to curry powder, except it’s much spicier. Garam Masala translates into “warming spices,” which are meant to improve metabolism and warmth in the body.
It’s made up of whole spices, which are toasted in a pan to release their flavors and then ground into a powder. Garam Masala is popular in India, as well as Iran and Pakistan.
You’ll often encounter this aromatic blend of spices in dishes such as couscous, tagine, and curry.
Herbes de Provence
- Taste: Sweet, woody
- Made With: Marjoram, Rosemary, Thyme, Lavender
- Most Popular Use: Meat, poultry, vegetables
Herbes de Provence is a blend of spices from the south of France.
It’s usually made with dried lavender flowers, rosemary, thyme, and marjoram. However, some blends have been known to include spices such as savory, basil, tarragon, or chervil.
Herbes de Provence is an excellent partner for poultry, pork, and fish.
- Taste: Savory, earthy, sweet
- Made With: Basil, Marjoram, Oregano, Rosemary, Thyme
- Most Popular Use: Cooking sauces, meat, spaghetti sauce
You’ll often encounter Italian seasoning in the grocery store. This spice mix aims to cram in all the flavors of Italy in a single jar.
Ironically, you’ll rarely find it in traditional Italian dishes. However, Italian seasoning is mainly used to replicate the Mediterranean flavor of Italian cuisine.
Try Italian seasoning on tossed potato wedges, olive oil, and Parmesan cheese. Or, you can add it to simmered tomato or spaghetti sauce to boost flavor.
Mexican Recado Rojo
- Taste: Spicy, nutty
- Made With: Allspice, Annatto, Black Pepper, Cinnamon, Clove, Cumin, Garlic, Oregano, Salt
- Most Popular Use: Meat, fish, stews
Recado Rojo (or achiote paste) is a deep red spice blend commonly used in Mexico, especially in the Yucatán region. In fact, it’s a staple ingredient in the region’s pork recipe, cochinita pibil.
Pork aside, you’ll often find this spicy yet nutty blend when flavoring chicken, meat, fish, and stews. It can also be used as an ingredient when making chorizo or tacos.
- Taste: Spicy
- Made With: Black Pepper, Chili Pepper, Cilantro, Cumin, Garlic, Onion
- Most Popular Use: Meat, stews, salads
Chermoula is a thick marinade often used in Moroccan and North African fish recipes.
Its ingredients largely depend on the region. In most cases, chermoula is made with cumin, coriander, black pepper, chili pepper, lemon juice, and salt. Although, a Libyan version often includes olives and is served in the summer.
Despite being mainly used for fish, chermoula can also be used for sauces, stews, cooked vegetables, meat, and tagine.
- Taste: Salty, spicy
- Made With: Black Pepper, Celery Seed, Mustard, Paprika, Red Pepper
- Most Popular Use: Seafood
Traditionally used to add flavor to seafood, Old Bay is a vibrant, salty blend of spices popular throughout the Atlantic region.
Old Bay is made with as many as 18 different herbs and spices. Some are well known, while others remain a tight-lipped secret.
This unique spice blend is also the perfect partner for Cajun dishes and curries. Some enthusiasts even suggest using it on French fries!
- Taste: Bitter
- Made With: Cumin, Fennel, Fenugreek, Mustard, Nigella
- Most Popular Use: Fish, meat, vegetables
Panch phoran is a spice mixture typically used in Bangladesh and India. Its seeds are either oil-fried or dry roasted to enhance their flavor and smell.
In Bengali, panch means five, while phoron stands for spice. The five ingredients for panch phoran are cumin, fennel, fenugreek, mustard seed, and nigella.
It has a strong, bold taste and smell, but this versatile mix can be found in dishes and used for vegetables, sauces, meat, and even stews.
Pumpkin Pie Spice
- Taste: Spicy, sweet
- Made With: Allspice, Cloves, Cinnamon, Ginger, Nutmeg
- Most Popular Use: Baked goods, beverages, pastry
Pumpkin pie spice is mainly used in America, typically once a year. Most of the time, it’s used in pumpkin pie, hence its name.
But there are other dishes you can use it in too. It makes an excellent addition to cookies and carrot cakes. And it can even be used in Moroccan chicken for an added boost of flavor.
- Taste: Peppery
- Made With: Black Pepper, Clove, Cinnamon, Nutmeg
- Most Popular Use: Stews, meat, vegetables, pâté
Quatre épices translates to four spices. And as its name suggests, it’s made with four key ingredients; cloves, ginger, nutmeg, and white pepper.
Quatre épices is a traditional blend of spices typically used in French dishes for its musty, peppery smell and taste.
It can be used to season just about anything, from grilled chicken to stews and cooked vegetables. Quatre épices is often used for pâté, sausage, and terrines too.
Ras el Hanout
- Taste: Pungent
- Made With: Cardamom, Chilli Powder, Cinnamon, Cloves, Coriander, Cumin, Mace
- Most Popular Use: Marinade, meat, stew
Ras el Hanout is a North African mixture that means “head of the shop” in Arabic. Essentially, this implies a combination of the finest spices the seller has to offer.
There is no definitive mixture of spices that make ras el hanout. However, most mixes contain cardamom, chili powder, cinnamon, cloves, coriander, and cumin.
Ras el Hanout is often used in rice dishes, tagines, and hearty dishes like lamb shanks.
- Taste: Spicy
- Made With: Mandarin Peel, Mustard, Sansho, Sesame Seed, Poppyseed
- Most Popular Use: Meat, soup, vegetables
Initially sold in herbal medicine shops, shichimi togarashi (or Japanese seven spice) is now considered a Japanese pantry staple.
As its name suggests, it’s made out of seven key ingredients. These are red chili pepper, poppy seeds, sesame seed, ground ginger, mandarin peel, and nori.
Shichimi togarashi is often used in soups, noodle dishes, seafood, stir fry, and dry meat rubs. Some even suggest it’s perfect on avocado toast and popcorn.
- Taste: Tangy, nutty, herbal
- Made With: Marjoram, Oregano, Sesame, Sumac, Thyme
- Most Popular Use: Condiment, meat, fish, vegetables
Za’atar is traditionally used in Middle Eastern cuisine. It’s a spice mix with a tangy, earthy, nutty flavor and aroma.
Za’atar seasoning can be found on grilled vegetables, flatbread, hummus, kebabs, and various meats. You can even add generous teaspoons to your pasta salad for a Middle Eastern twist.
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Hey I'm James, the one who started Purely Cookware. All my life, I've been lucky enough to bond with family around the dinner table. And I will be using this website to teach you how you can do the same.