Adding seasonings to your recipes can bring out or complement the flavors of the main ingredients. They can be as simple as salt and pepper or more complex blends of spices and herbs. Always, seasonings are meant to enhance the flavor, not overwhelm or detract from it.
If using seasonings in a marinade using acids or oils, the flavor of the liquids should also be considered. Liquid marinades change the texture of food while also enhancing the flavor.
Salt and pepper are used too often as merely finishing seasoning at the end of preparation. But they truly need to be added before cooking to bring out the flavor of foods. If added at the end, one tends to taste primarily the salt or pepper instead of the enhanced flavor of the food.
Spice and herb blends may be used just as you would salt and pepper. Rubbing the mixture onto meat or seafood helps to get the mixture to adhere and to apply an even coat. This is generally referred to as a “dry rub”.
Toasting seeds and spices before grinding them will intensify their flavor. This may be done on the stovetop or in the oven:
- Stovetop: Preheat dry skillet to med heat. Add whole spices and seeds and toss and shake until they begin to release their aroma. Remove to a plate to cool. Be careful as it is easy to scorch the spices or seeds.
- Oven: preheat oven to 350°. Spread spices and seeds on a dry cookie sheet (with sides). Bake until aroma is apparent. Stir often or shimmy the pan to assure even browning. Remove immediately and transfer to a plate to cool.
Fresh herbs and other fresh ingredients such as garlic, bread crumbs, or grated cheeses can be blended into a paste or coating. You can add oils or mustard to create a mixture that will easily adhere to the food. Make sure herbs are clean but dry.
Herb and spice blends can be added to the initial browning of aromatic veggies for braises and stews as the fat used to brown them will release the flavor better then when added after the liquid is added.
Seasonings are applied in 2 basic ways
- Dry Rub – Ground up spices and herbs that is rubbed on meats and seafood before cooking and left to set in the frig. Often, salt is added to these rubs to help intensify the flavors. They may be left on during cooking or scraped off before cooking as in the case of some salt encrusted roasts.
- Marinades – Generally made from adding seasonings to a liquid in the form of oil, vinegar, fruit juice, wine, or even soy sauce. The liquid used has an effect on the food. Oils protect the food from burning when cooked and help the seasonings adhere to the food. Acids, such as vinegar, citrus and fruit juice, and wine, flavor the food themselves and change the texture. Acids can firm the food as in the case citrus juice on fish. Acids will also break down the connective tissues in meat to tenderize them. In beef bourguignon, the beef is marinated in red wine for several days. Times for marinating vary according to the food’s texture. Tender foods such as fish or poultry breast require less time then a lean beef roast, for example. Most fish should not be marinated more than 15 minutes in an acid liquid as it will literally begin to cook (ceviche). Heavy foods such as meat are better marinated for hours, over night, or even for days. Cooking the marinade after the marinating process makes a great accompanying sauce by either merely reducing the liquid till syrupy or by adding other ingredients to enhance and thicken such as butter or flour. Make sure you bring the liquid to a boil for several minutes to kill off any pathogens from the raw food!
Peppers and salts that you can experiment with
- Fleur de sel – a delicate salt that’s one of the best finishing salts. A good salt for dessert recipes.
- Kosher salt – coarse grained and multi-use at the table and also in recipes except for delicately textured recipes. Does not contain iodine.
- Sea salt
- Table salt – The standard shaker salt, finely ground that dissolves fast. Good for baking. Usually fortified with iodine, a nutritional supplement, but may give a bitter flavor. Use half the amount of coarse salt if substituting.
- Black peppercorns – unripe dried berries of the pepper plant. Used whole when used tied with other spices and herbs in a sachet for stews, soups. Also used cracked, the coarser the more bite.
- Cayenne pepper – Known as ground red pepper made from the dried red flesh of a variety of red chili peppers. Although it gives a lot of heat, it also has a lot of flavor.
- Dried chile pepper – pure chile powder contains only ground hot peppers such as Anaheim, ancho, Aji, habanero, with the spiciness dependant on the type of pepper used.
- Paprika – a powder made from a particular type of pepper variety. Bright red in color, flavor can be from mild to bold, and sweet or smoky.
- Pimentòn – also known as Spanish paprika, a blend of dried and often smoked red peppers. Three types are made: sweet (dulce), medium (agridulce), and hot (picante). Used in Spanish dishes such as paella.
- Red pepper flakes – also called crushed red pepper, this is a coarse seasoning made from the flesh and the seeds of dried chili peppers. The level of heat depends on the chili pepper used and the age.
- White peppercorns – Whether whole or ground, they are used for like colored dishes. It is not a direct substitution for black pepper.
Spices and Herbs are also used for seasonings. For the most part, spices are derived from grinding seeds while herbs are leafy trimmings from plants.
Spices have a pungent, distinctive flavor and smell. Here’s a few and ways to use them, some are combined for blends that appeal to many palettes:
- Allspice – russet brown pea-sized berry of a tree in South America. A scent like clove, cinnamon, and nutmeg often used with these spices. Used in desserts to impart a spicy note.
Anise – small seeds that are used whole or ground. Distinct licorice flavor similar to fennel. Used to flavor savory and sweet dishes and also liqueurs.
- Cardamon – use the seeds for a sweet, spicy flavor. Use seeds or ground in dessert recipes. Common in Scandinavian, Indian and African cuisine.
- Celery seed – taste strongly of celery and aromatic. Use in small amounts in soups, stews, breads. Works well where the watery flesh of celery would not be appropriate in a recipe. Great substitute when you don’t have any fresh celery.
- Cinnamon – the dried bark of a tropical tree, it is rolled as sticks for flavoring punches and canned goods. Also used ground in many dessert dishes and also in savory dishes in the Middle East and Asia.
- Coriander – the seed of cilantro herb plant. Sweet and flowery, totally different from the cilantro leaf. Grind to release the flavor and use in soups and encrusted with a little mustard and honey on salmon. Used by fine chefs in every cuisine.
- Clove – dried, unopened myrtle flower buds. Used whole to stud roasts and ham, the flavor is spicy and woodsy. Ground cloves are used in gingerbread and spiced desserts such as apple and pumpkin pies.
- Cumin – Seeds that are dry roasted and ground for use in chili powder and curry powder. A staple in Southwestern, Latin American and Indian cuisines, use in spice rubs and marinades.
- Fennel – seeds from the herb plant fennel, not the bulb. Flavor like licorice, used in Mediterranean and Indian cuisine, and also in sausage.
- Ginger – a fibrous root grated, candied or dried and powdered. Has a sweet, spicy flavor used in Indian and Asian cuisine. Dried powder is used in deserts and baked goods.
- Mustard – Mature seeds of the mustard plant, which the young leaves are used also in salads or sautéed. Ground seeds are mixed with juice, vinegar, wine or water to form a paste or emulsion for use as a condiment or seasoning before or during cooking. Mustard powder is simply fine ground mustard seed. Use powder in dressings, dry rubs and other recipes.
- Nutmeg – hard egg shaped seeds that are grated fresh by most professional chefs. Also available in powder and used in savory and sweet recipes. Pungent in flavor, use a little in egg and custard dishes and also on sweet potatoes.
- Saffron – the orange-red threads are the stigmas of the fall crocus, (explains why it is so expensive). They are graded by their potency to determine the price. It is a prized seasoning for Mediterranean and Near Eastern cuisines, giving a distinctive vivid shade of yellow to any dish.
- Star anise – not to be confused with anise seed although has the same licorice flavor. These are star-shaped pods that contain a seed in each point. A member of the magnolia family, it is widely used in Asian cuisine and in canning and pickling recipes. A key ingredient in Chinese five-spice powder.
- Turmeric – a root related to ginger and used dried and powdered. Peppery and bitter, it is used in curries and many other Indian dishes, providing a golden hue.
Juniper berries- the bluish black fruit of the juniper bush, used fresh or dried to flavor meats and strong flavored dishes, and also gin.
Herbs are easy to grow and dry for extended use. Go to our Grow Page to find out how to grow and use individual herbs as we feature them.
Herbs and their uses
- Basil – leaves have many uses and called the “king” of herbs. Many varieties are grown, Sweet (Genovese) Basil being the favorite. Use in dishes using tomatoes, mushrooms, chicken, pasta rice and eggs. Fresh is best as dried brings out the minty component in its flavor. Pesto is a classic basil recipe. Used extensively in Italian cuisine.
- Bay – Use whole leaves crushed to release flavor, fresh or dried, discarded when finished cooking. Fresh leaves should be left a couple days to wilt to remove any bitterness. Dried leaves are more intense in flavor and need to be used sparingly in stews, soups, meat roasts and pasta dishes. Bay has a spicy, woodsy flavor. Very pungent.
- Chervil – fine leaves are found in ‘fines herbes’ essential in French cooking. Leaves similar to parsley but has a delicate flavor like anise. Use in poached fish and shellfish, egg dishes, butter sauces, cream cheeses and soups, and green salads. Add late in cooking as the delicate flavor will be lost if cooked too long.
- Chives – a member of the onion family, chives have a mild onion flavor used traditionally on baked potatoes but may be used for a green garnish in any savory dish. Also, garlic chives are a more pungent, bold flavor with hints of garlic flavor.
- Cilantro – the leafy part of the coriander plant. Used as a garnish or in many Mexican and Southwestern dishes such as salsa and guacamole. Lower, larger leaves are preferred to the fine upper leaves. A very unique aroma and flavor like anise.
- Dill – use leaves in egg and cucumber dishes. Use seeds in breads, braised cabbage, stews, and rice recipes. Add leaves fresh to fish combined with butter and lemon. Both leaves and seeds are used in Scandinavian, German, and Eastern European recipes.
- Fennel – leaves used in baked or grilled dishes, especially fish. Also in mayonnaise, sauces and dressings.
- Garlic – Although leaves may be sliced and used for seasoning, more flavor is achieved by using the root bulb. Indispensable in the kitchen, may be used to enhance almost any dish. Use whole, sliced or minced. The smaller you chop it the spicier the flavor. Good fresh, dried or preserved in oil.
- Lemon Balm – leaves have a delicate lemony fragrance and flavor, a great substitute for lemon or a great balance with lemon to cut the acidity. Fresh leaves are used over dried as the dried lose their flavor very quickly when stored. Use in egg dishes, teas, drinks and desserts. Adds zest to veggie dishes.
- Marjoram and Oregano – listed together as they are cousins with oregano being a stronger flavor. Use fresh or dried leaves in vinegars and oils for dressings. Flavor Italian tomato sauces and pizza sauce. While oregano can be added for long simmering cooking, marjoram should be added towards the end of cooking.
- Mint – best to use fresh leaves over dried in drinks, soups, salads, sauces and with fruit, meats, poultry and fish. Although many varieties to grow, spearmint is most widely used for mint sauce or jelly for lamb, and also for mint juleps. Peppermint is used for flavoring liqueurs, and sweet candy and desserts.
- Parsley – comes in flat and curly, but flat is preferred for cooking as flavor holds up better. A garnish of fresh leaves adds color and flavor to many recipes like soup, salads, stews, pasta, cheese and on and on. Essential in ‘Gremolada”. Dried leaves can be used but flavor is diminished.
- Rosemary – leaves carry a strong, pungent smell and taste. Used to flavor roasts, lamb and roasted veggies. A classic with poultry and potatoes. Strip leaves from the stem and chop. The dried leaves maintain their flavor well for storage. You may also use sturdy stems as BBQ skewers to make kabobs.
- Sage – leaves are used fresh or dried, dried being very potent. A classic in stuffing and poultry recipes and in “Saltimbocca”. Also pairs well with pork, sausage and rich, fatty meats.
Savory- leaves have a strong, peppery flavor similar to thyme. With winter and summer varieties, the summer is more commonly used. Add to sauces and vinegars, beans, stuffing, fish and cheese. Fresh or dried may be used. A main ingredient in “Herbes de Provence”
- Tarragon – a classic in French cuisine found in ‘Fines Herbes’. Use fresh as flavor is quickly lost if dried. May be preserved fresh in vinegar. Add to Bẻarnaise sauce, omelets, mushrooms, fish, poultry and beef. May also substitute Mexican tarragon for the French version in the South as French variety will not grow in the Florida.
- Thyme – A classic in European cuisine. Use the fresh or dried leaves of common or German thyme in slow cooked dishes using beef, pork or poultry. Use lemon thyme with fish and chicken and in teas. Strip tiny leaves from fresh stems by raking with a fork. A main ingredient in “Bouquet Garni”.
Lemongrass- stalks have flowery lemon scent and taste. Mature stalks are harvested and used fresh or dried. Common in Asian cuisine but may be used in any recipe calling for lemon.
Spice and Herb combos
- Bajan – Popular spice blend from Barbados using shallots, garlic, hot peppers, and equal amounts of ginger, thyme , marjoram, ground cloves and salt. Great as a rub for grilled fish.
Bouquet Garni- Bay, parsley and thyme
- Curry Powder – Roast 6 dried chili peppers, 2 tbsp. coriander seeds, ½ tsp. mustard seeds, 1 tsp. black peppercorns, 1 tsp. fenugreek seeds over med heat in heavy skillet. Grind and then combine with ½ tsp. ground ginger, and ½ tsp. ground turmeric
- Fines Herbes – Classic French blend of 4 herbs: parsley, chervil, chives and tarragon. Best if chopped fresh. Also may be added, thyme, rosemary, sage, and savory.
- Herbes de Provence – Classic French herb blend of thyme, savory, marjoram, oregano, rosemary and lavender flowers.
- Herb Salt – 1 lb sea salt, 4 crumbled bay leaves, 2 tbsp. dried thyme , 2 tbsp. dried rosemary and 1 tsp. dried oregano. Any other combination of dried herbs may be used to your liking.
- Pickling Spice – 1 tbsp. each whole peppercorns, yellow mustard seeds, hot pepper flakes, allspice berries, dill seed, and mace. Add 1 crushed cinnamon stick, 2 crumbled bay leaves, 1 tsp. whole cloves, and 2 tbsp. ground ginger.
- Quatre-Epices – French spice mix of ground 1 tbsp peppercorns, 2 tsp. whole cloves. Mix with 2 tsp. grated nutmeg and 1 tsp. ground ginger.
- Scarborough Fair – Foursome of parsley, sage, rosemary and thyme. Mix fresh amounts with parsley double the amount of others and use with meats and oily fish.
- Spiced Salt – Add your favorite combination of sea salt, peppercorns and other spices and let infuse for a month.
- Zảatar – Middle Eastern spice mix of sumac berries (not North American poison type), thyme, roasted sesame seeds, marjoram, oregano and salt. Use in bread, rice, veggie and meat dishes.