Warm and flavoursome, it is a key spice in curries and chilli con carne. It’s worth buying seeds for maximum flavour. Heat them in a dry frying pan for about three minutes or until aromatic. Cool, then grind. You can brighten the flavour of ready ground cumin by heating in a little oil until fragrant. The oil can be used in your recipe or drizzled over at the end.
Light and fragrant, cinnamon is made from the bark of the laurel tree. If you have a spice grinder, buy sticks. The most commonly used cinnamon in Australia is the strong and spicy cassia bark or Chinese cinnamon, sold as woody sticks similar to cinnamon sticks, or ready ground. Sri Lankan cinnamon is lighter and more floral, and sold as soft, flaky quills or ground. It’s also commonly used here. Cinnamon adds a spicy note to breads, cakes, biscuits, fruit pies, custards and compotes. Sticks or quills make great stirrer for mulled wine or punch, or they can be added to water when boiling rice.
This is a warm, gentle spice, somewhere between sweet and savoury. Whole seeds are used in pickling, ground seeds in curries, pickles, sausages and breads. Don’t use fresh coriander in place of the seeds, or visa versa.
Colourful and warmly spicy, paprika is central to Hungarian (think goulash). Austrian, South American and Spanish Cuisine. It’s also used in Indian and Moroccan dishes, and American barbecue sauces. It’s greatest asset is its vibrant colour. Most paprika is mild and used in larger quantities than other spices. Spanish paprika also comes in ‘agridulce’ (bittersweet), ‘dulce’ (sweet) and ‘picante’ (hot) varieties, as well as smoked. Smoked paprika is hot, gutsy and highly aromatic; it’s the main flavouring of chorizo and is an essential ingredient in paella.
Bright, bold and spicy, cloves are the dried, aromatic flower buds of the tropical clove tree. They are used in baking, as well as curries and other Asian dishes. Use sparingly when whole and remove the cloves at the end of cooking – or warn your guests and children. Otherwise grind them first with an electric grinder, a pestle and mortar, or by bashing them with a rolling-pin.
Sweet, with an assertive flavour, nutmeg is the seed of a tropical tree native to Indonesia. It’s essential grated over a baked custard or rice pudding. A pinch in mash potato, creamy sauces, in baking and mulled wine. Italian’s use it in tortellini fillings, Americans in pumpkin pie, and it’s found in Indian and Middle Eastern cooking. Always grate nutmeg finely from whole. Like cloves, use sparingly and measure with care – too much, and your dish will taste medicinal.
This pretty spice is the fruit of a Chinese tree. It’s used in Asian cooking and is an essential element in the Chinese five-spice blend. Usually added whole during the cooking process, it imparts a pleasing aniseed/licorice note to dishes, without being overpowering, and is soft enough to be ground in a spice grinder or with a pestle and mortar. In Chines medicine, star-anise is known as a digestive aid. This spice goes will with chicken, pork and seafood.
Black pepper adds flavour and heat, whereas white pepper will give more heat but less complexity of flavour. Always grind black or white peppercorns fresh, and add them at the final stages of cooking. Green and pink peppercorns are softer and can be crushed or eaten whole.
Hot and aromatic, dried ginger is the dehydrated root of the tropical ginger plant. Fresh ginger and stem ginger come from the same plant. Whole dried ginger is rock hard and likely to break your grinder, so always buy ground. It’s a traditional flavouring for sweet dishes, from gingerbread and biscuits to ginger beer. You can’t use it in place of fresh ginger, although fresh is sometimes used in bakes instead of – or as well as – dried ginger.
This dark red spice is made by drying and grinding a variety of hot chilli peppers. Rather than adding a flavour or aroma, it simply gives a clean, punchy heat. It livens up bland dishes and delivers the heat in curries. Use cayenne pepper sparingly, as a mere pinch will add kick to a dish.
- Spices are best stored in an airtight container in the cupboard.
- They need to stay fresh.
- Smell test – If they are still fragrant, they’re good to use. If they smell dusty, throw them out.