Spices are different from herbs because unlike herbs which are the leaves, flowers, or stems of plants, spices come from the seeds, the fruit, the bark, and even the roots of the plant that are used to add a flavor or aroma to food. That’s why when you have whole spices, these look like those parts of the plant.
Take a look in your kitchen. Do you have bottles and containers of dried spices, ground or whole? Did you happen to forget that you have these aromatic ingredients in your pantry? These could be important seasoning ingredients that can make your food super flavorful!
Whether roughly crushed, ground to a powder, or left whole, spices are easy to use. Simply add to your dish together when you season the dish. This can happen before, during, or even after you’ve cooked your dish. You can even mix and match with other spices when making homemade curry powder or barbecue spice. These mixes you can just add to your dish, and stir until the dish becomes aromatic and turns into the brilliant color of your spice mix.
Those whole and ground spices in your pantry play important supporting roles in your recipes and we think it’s about time you learn how to use these in your cooking. Here’s a quick guide on common spices you may have in your kitchen and what recipes you can make to make use of them.
1 Black Peppercorns
This may be the most common spice you have in your kitchen. These black pearls were once so expensive and valued so highly that these were used as a type of currency in ancient times. That’s no longer the case but the importance of this spice is still high. Almost any savory dish can be made more delicious with a pinch or a few corns of this earthy spice added to the dish.
In fact, you can even add this spice to a simple dessert to give it another dimension in flavor. Vanilla and black peppercorn ice cream anyone?
2 Ground Turmeric
Luyang dilaw or wild ginger is also known as turmeric. We have this in abundance down in the north, around the Cordilleras and Benguet, and it’s widely used throughout the country. It has a slightly bitter, acrid taste but only when added in abundance to the dish. That’s why it’s commonly used as a natural food coloring in many dishes instead of a spice for its flavor.
You can find this as ground or fresh. Word of caution when using the fresh kind: this stains very strongly and your hands, as well as your chopping board, will be tinged a golden hue if you do not wear gloves or otherwise protect your surfaces. Wear gloves and immediately rinse your board after prepping this spice.
Paprika is the ground spice from sweet bell peppers. There are at least three kinds of paprika: sweet, smoked, and hot. These are all made from the same peppers but are then smoked or mixed with a spicer chili pepper for its heat. These range from sweet earthy to smoky earthy to spicy earthy in flavor depending on which variant you’re using.
The Spanish paprika is the main seasoning spice ingredient in chorizo.
4 Red Pepper Flakes
If you love your dishes spicy and hot, this is the spice you need in your kitchen pantry. These are similar to the hot paprika but instead of the chili peppers being seeded and then ground to a powder, these are finely chopped instead with the seeds. The seeds, after all, carry the most heat and it essential in adding to the spiciness of your dish.
5 Annatto Seeds (Atsuete Seeds)
You know these are atsuete seeds, the seeds responsible for the golden yellow and reddish hue of many of our local dishes. This includes our kare kare recipes, chicken inasal recipe, the kwek kwek or orange-battered quail eggs, and even an adobo recipe!
These, however, need to be used differently from the usual spices since these seeds are primarily used for its coloring abilities, not its flavor. To use, you can soak the seeks in water or saute over low heat in oil until the color leeches from the seeds and into the water or oil. Then use as little or as much as needed in the recipe.
Cinnamon is a highly aromatic spice that many of us associate with desserts. It comes from the bark of a tree which is why it’s usually found in the form of a scroll. However, there are at least two kinds of commonly used tree bark that is classified as cinnamon: the cassia and ceylon. The most common kind of cinnamon we have is the cassia variant which has a thicker bark than the tight scrolls of ceylon that many call as “true cinnamon”.
Whichever kind you use, you can use these as whole sticks or as the powdered kind and add straight into your dish as needed.
Did you know that vanilla is a spice? Vanilla is from the pods of the vanilla orchid flower. Since vanilla is the fermented and dried seed pods of the plant, the vanilla is technically a spice. It’s one of the most expensive spices in the world (second to saffron) which is why extracts, as well as the artificial flavoring vanillin, are so common.
To use vanilla pods, split the center of the pod with your knife and then with the back of the knife, scrape the tiny seeds inside. Toss both the seeds and the pod in a liquid if using, or just scrape the seeds into your batter.
There are numerous spices available in the supermarket and in specialty stores! You’ll have to taste the spice to realize that you’re in love with it so give spices a chance to flavor your dishes to discover your next new ingredient obsession.