Top Herbs and Spices for Cooking

Today’s post is in honor of Herbs and Spices Day. So before I looked in my spice drawers, I made a list of my most-used, can’t cook or bake without, top herbs and spices for cooking. Then I counted what I have on hand and it’s more than 50. I do use them all, but there are some top herbs and spices I recommend for cooking and baking.

Some top herbs and spices for cooking

The question people often ask is what is the difference between a herb and a spice? Well, both herbs and spices are obtained from plants, but herbs are obtained from the leaves of herbaceous (non-woody) plants and spices are obtained from roots, flowers, fruits, seeds or bark. There are some some plants that are both. The leaves of Coriandrum sativum are cilantro (herb), yet coriander (spice) is from the plant’s seeds.

Oh well, let’s move onto the list of top herbs and spices to have in your kitchen.

Allspice, also know is Jamaica pepper or comes from the dried fruit of the Pimenta dioica plant. The spice was discovered by Christopher Columbus and thought to be a combination of cinnamon, nutmeg, and cloves. Allspice is absolutely necessary for any Jamaican jerk chicken dishes, sweet and savory dishes, pickling, as well as mulled holiday drinks.

Bay leaves
This is probably one of the essential herbs I noticed my mother and grandmother using. Growing up in a cold winter climate, I remember the flavor and scent of soups, stews, and pates, and meat dishes with the bay leaf aroma. Bay leaves can also be used in wreaths, potpourri, and other decoration ideas.

Black pepper
I have recently expanded my pepper range and mainly use Tellicherry peppercorns on a daily bassis. The much larger peppercorns come from the Indian Malabar coast and are left on the vine longer in order to develop a much richer flavor.

Having lived in New Orleans for years, I was introduced to the fiery spice. On the Scoville scale which measures the spicy heat of chili peppers, the spiciness can range from 30,000-50,000. I love using it for many of my dishes including my Cajun and Creole dishes as well as Korean, Sichuan and other Asian dishes.

Cinnamon reminds me of coming home for the holidays. The warm scent of the spice is obtained from the inner bark of Cinnamomum trees. Not only does it complement baked apples and pears, but is widely used in candy, chocolate, and baked-bread recipes throughout many countries in the world. I recommend having the ground spice as well as the sticks on hand for holiday drinks and decorating too.

Coriander, also known as cilantro or Chinese parsley, is one of the oldest herbs and was even mentioned in the Bible. My husband sneaks a little into our dishes when I’m not looking. I must say that the flavor which is a mix of citrus and spice, somehow adds the missing ingredient to many of the stews and soups we cook. Thanks to my husband for secretly adding it to dishes !!

Nutmeg is an egg-shaped seed from Myristica species of trees. Around 8 years after planting, you’ll see the first nutmeg harvest. After 20 years the plant will reach full production which is why it was once a most valuable spice. I find it invaluable in the kitchen and purchase the nuts and use a nutmeg grinder to add fine shavings to my favorite dishes such as pasta with cream and nutmeg.

An absolute must-have for Mediterranean and Mexican cuisines, the warm aromatic flavor of oregano makes this list of top herbs and spices for the kitchen. Native to Northern Europe, you’ll find oregano growing in many regions of the world. Add it to pizza, infuse it with an olive oil, top it on bread or grilled veggies. I’m currently experimenting with the Turkish variety, which is a bit stronger than the Mexican variety.

Paprika was always something I had in the cupboard, but after a trip to Hungary, a whole new world of paprika opened up to me and my cooking world. I’m enjoying the smoky, hot, mild varieties but in Hungary more than forty types of paprika are grown. I guess I’ll have to try them all!

Kosher Salt
Technically it’s neither an herb nor a spice, rather a mineral–yet it essential for cooking. Everyone needs salt on hand whether to bring out the flavor in meats or just the pinch that is often needed in baking. In addition to using Kosher salt in your favorite recipes, I use the much larger grains in a mortar and pestle to help blend my spice mixtures.

Did you know the Ancient Egyptians used thyme for embalming? Thyme was also presented to knights and warriors by women to bring courage. With that said, use the dried herb which blends wonderfully with rosemary for meats, veggies, herbs, and more. The plant is easy to grow in the garden or a balcony, so you can dry your own at home.

So to all of the Foodies in the world, spice up your life and let me know what your top herbs and spices for cooking are.