Your Spice Glossary

This guide to herbs and spices offers flavor profiles and cooking tips that will make your dishes come alive.
Published March 7, 2016

Spices and herbs are a welcome addition to any kitchen cupboard, and they add flavor to your favorite dishes without adding calories. Here's our tour of favorite herbs and spices and how to use them in your favorite sweet and savory foods.

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Taste profile: A pungent blend of cinnamon, nutmeg and clove with a hint of juniper and peppercorn.
Great in: Caribbean and Latin savory and sweet dishes (such as Jamaican Jerk sauce), spice mixes, pickles, chutneys, vegetables, soups and desserts.

Anise Seed

Taste profile: Has a licorice-like flavor (different from star anise, which is generally used in Chinese dishes).
Great in: Cakes, biscuits, rye breads, desserts and to flavor fish, poultry, soups, root vegetable dishes and liqueurs such as anisette, ouzo and pastis.


Tastes profile: Its pungent flavor is a gentle blend of licorice and clove.
Great in: Dishes featuring tomatoes, onions, garlic, olives, pasta sauces, and as a flavor for oils. Basil is used in tomato-and-mozzarella salad and in pesto sauce.

Bay Leaf

Taste profile: A robust, fragrant herb from the evergreen bay laurel that lends a woodsy flavor to dishes.
Great in: Soups, stews, vegetables and meats – the leaves are generally removed from a dish before serving.

Caraway Seed

Taste profile: Has a nutty, delicate anise flavor and hails from the parsley family.
Great in: German, Austrian and Hungarian dishes and cheese, breads, cakes, stews, meats and vegetables. Often used in rye bread and sauerkraut.


Taste profile: Available ground or in pods of around 20 seeds, it has a pungent aroma and a warm, spicy-sweet flavor.
Great in: Scandinavian and East Indian cooking. Often used in chai tea.

Cayenne Pepper

Taste profile: Also called red pepper, this hot powder is made from ground dried hot chilies, and has a smoky, fiery flavor.
Great in: Mexican and Southwestern dishes; chili.


Taste profile: Sold whole or ground, it comes from the dried flower buds of the clove tree. Its flavor is penetrating and sweet.
Great in: Pickling spice, baked ham, mulled wine and baked goods. Chutneys, too.


Taste profile: The dried seeds of cilantro, which have a spicy citrus flavor, are used whole or ground.
Great in: Indian curries.


Taste profile: Shaped like a caraway seed, this strong spice with a nutty, earthy taste comes in seed and ground forms.
Great in: Middle Eastern, Asian and Mediterranean cooking, and for curries and chili powders.

Dill Weed

Taste profile: This feathery herb with a fresh, sweet, slightly licorice-like flavor is available fresh or dried.
Great in: Salads, vegetables, meats and sauces, as well as potato salad and cooked new potatoes.

Dill Seed

Taste profile: The dried fruit of the dill weed tastes like a mild version of caraway seed.
Great in: Pickling brine.

Fennel Seed

Taste profile: This licorice-flavored seed is available whole or ground.
Great in: Pork, pasta, bread, seafood and to flavor liqueurs.

Fines Herbes

Taste profile: A classic mixture that usually includes chervil, chives, parsley and tarragon. It has a delicate onion-like taste from the chives and also chervil's hint of anise.
Great in: Add to cooked mixture (such as chicken, beef or a casserole) shortly before serving. Nice in omelets.

Fresh Ginger

Taste profile: Has a peppery and slightly sweet flavor.
Great in: Asian and Indian cooking.

Ground Ginger

Taste profile: A common baking spice (not an appropriate substitute for fresh ginger) that is pungent and spicy and indispensable in sweets.
Great in: Soups, curries, meats and gingerbread as well as gingersnaps and other spice cookies.

Juniper Berry

Taste profile: These bitter, blue-black berries – the essential flavoring in gin – are usually sold dried and are crushed before use.
Great in: Meats, sauces and stuffings.

Spice Up Your Life


Taste profile: Has oval, inch-long pale green leaves and a sweet flavor similar to oregano, but more mild and delicate.
Great in: Meats (especially lamb and veal) and vegetables.


Taste profile: The seed of the mustard plant is sold whole, ground or prepared. It can be quite hot and spicy.
Great in: Whole, for pickling and in Middle Eastern dishes. Ground to season meat and salads. Prepared mustard is often found in deviled eggs, potato salad and vinaigrettes.


Taste profile: Sold ground or whole, it's delicately warm, spicy and sweet.
Great in: Baked goods, milk or cream-based dishes like custards, white sauces or eggnog, and on fruits and vegetables (potatoes, spinach and squash). Pumpkin pie.


Taste profile: Sometimes called wild marjoram, it has a strong, pungent flavor and aroma.
Great in: Tomato-based dishes and pizza.


Taste profile: Made by grinding aromatic sweet red pepper pods. Its flavor ranges from mild to pungent and hot; color from bright orange-red to blood-red.
Great in: Seasoning and garnish for savory dishes. Creole spice dishes, goulash, roast turkey breast and paprikash potatoes.


Taste profile: The world's most popular spice has a hot, biting, pungent taste. Freshly ground whole peppercorns have more flavor than pre-ground pepper.
Great in: Nearly everything – delicious freshly ground on salads, in eggs, pasta and even as an ingredient in some sweet dishes.


Taste profile: Available in whole leaf form and powdered, the silver-green, needle-shaped leaves are highly aromatic, and their flavor hints at both lemon and pine.
Great in: Soups, vegetables, meat (especially lamb and pork), fish and egg dishes, stuffings and dressings, fruit salads.


Taste profile: The narrow, oval, gray-green leaves of this pungent herb are slightly bitter and have a musty minty taste and aroma.
Great in: Pork, cheese and beans, and in poultry and game stuffings. Sausage makers use it to flavor their products.


Taste profile: The world's most expensive spice comes from the yellow-orange flower of a small purple crocus. Each flower provides three stigmas that are carefully hand picked and dried. Primarily used as a flavor and to tint food, it comes powdered and in threads and is delicate and pleasantly bitter.
Great in: Bouillabaisse, risotto Milanese and paella, and many European baked goods.


Taste profile: Narrow, pointed, dark green leaves with a distinctive anise-like flavor. Available fresh in summer and early fall and year-round in dried and powdered forms. Can easily overpower other flavors.
Great in: Classic French cooking including chicken, fish and vegetables, as well as Bearnaise sauce.


Taste profile: Has a warm, pungent, slightly lemony flavor. Fresh thyme is available in some supermarkets during the summer; dried thyme – in whole leaves as well as powder form – is available year-round.
Great in: Vegetables, meat, poultry and fish dishes, soups and cream sauces. Often used in French cuisine.


Taste profile: The root of a tropical plant related to ginger. It has a bitter, pungent flavor and an intense yellow-orange color. Adds flavor and color to food.
Great in: East Indian cooking and curries. Gives American-style prepared mustard its bright yellow color.

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