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Beginners Guide to Dried Herb and Spices- How to Use Them

May 5, 2017 (Last Updated: March 11, 2020)

Knowing how to use spices can significantly enhance the flavor of all your favorite recipes. Spices can transform any dull meal by adding a range of delicious flavors, from a just hint of heat to a mild, more subtle taste. Seasoning with spices is often intimidating for beginners if you’re not familiar with their uses. I decided to share a simple Beginners Guide to Spices – How to Use them so that your beginners will feel more comfortable with using them in your recipes.

Have you ever wondered what types of cuisines or recipes that certain dried herbs and spices are commonly used in? You are not alone in this area of the kitchen. Often, I receive emails or messages on the blog asking about dried herbs or spices and their uses, and I honestly should have shared this a long time ago with all of you. So let’s get started today with a Beginners Guide to dried Herbs and Spices – How to Use Them.

I am a tremendous ambassador of fresh herbs, so let’s talk about a few dried herbs I’m not keen on due to the flavor changing once they are dried. Some herbs are best used when fresh versus dried, and you may notice they are missing from below.



Use Fresh instead of Dried

  • Cilantro
  • Chives
  • Parsley
  • Mint



These four herbs change in taste so drastically when dried; I flatly refuse to use them in my recipes. I’m not a food snob, but I am going, being honest with you. Trust me, and you’ll appreciate my candid honesty later down the road.
You’ll notice that your dried herbs lose their flavor quickly if they are stored where they are exposed to heat, sunlight, or oxygen. Always try to keep your dried herbs stored in an airtight jar inside a cabinet or drawer away from any heat source.








Beginners Guide to Dried Herbs and Spices-How to Use Them

  • Achiote (Annatto) – Often, a reddish-brown paste or powder ground from annatto seeds with an earthy flavor. It can be used in many Latin dishes like rice, sauces, pasteles, and tamales.
  • Allspice – Is very similar to cloves, but more pungent and intensely flavored. It is used in Caribbean jerk seasoning, in Middle Eastern cuisine,  such as stews and meat dishes. In Arabic cuisine, many main dishes call for allspice as the sole spice added for flavoring. It can also be used in fall baking recipes such as cakes, pies, and cookies.
  • Basil– A must-have for Italian cooking, basil pairs well with thyme, garlic, oregano, lemon, and tomato sauce. It also complements rice, potato, and egg-based dishes.
  • Bay Leaf – Can be used to add a  more woodsy flavor note to most soups, stews, and sauces.
  • Caraway Seed –  anise-flavored seeds can be used for soda bread, sauerkraut, and potato salad.
  • Cardamom -Has more of a warm, aromatic spice that can be used in Indian cuisine. It’s also great for baked goods when used along with spices like clove and cinnamon.
  • Cayenne Pepper – Made from dried and ground red chili peppers. It can be used to add a more sweet tasting warm heat to soups, sauces, meats, and spice mixes.
  • Chili Powder-  Used in many Mexican or Southwestern dishes. Typically a  blend of spices, typical chilies, oregano, coriander, and cumin.
  • Cinnamon  – Popular in many cuisines, cinnamon can be used to serve as double duty spice in both sweet and savory dishes. An aromatic spice with a bittersweet flavor can be used in baked goods, and coffee drinks may also be used to contribute an earthy flavor to curries, chilies, and stews.
  • Cloves – Sweet tasting yet a warming spice. Cloves are used in the cuisine of Asian, African, and the Near and Middle East countries, used to flavor with meats, curries, and marinades
  • Coriander Seeds – Coriander has a sweet, aromatic taste with a touch of citrus. Coriander seeds are often used in Southern Europe and the Mediterranean recipes such as pickled foods, curries, and spice blends.
  • Cumin – More of a smoky yet earthy flavor. They are used in many Southwestern cuisines in the United States, Mexican, North African, Middle Eastern, and Indian recipes. Cumin often an ingredient in most curry powders and many spice blends. Used savory recipes, like chili, stews, meat, fish, and vegetables.
  • Fennel Seeds – A lightly sweet tasting yet licorice-flavored spice. Commonly used in recipes such as fish, cheese spreads, vegetable dishes, sauces, sausages, dry meat rubs, and even some cookies.
  • Garlic Powder – Garlic powder is made from dehydrated garlic cloves and can be used to give dishes a sweeter, softer garlic flavor. It can be used to flavor soups, sauces, pasta, pizza, ranch dressing, and meats.
  • Ginger – Ground ginger is made from dehydrated fresh ginger and has a spicy, zesty bite. It can be used in teas, sauces, some baking recipes, fish, and Asian dishes.
  • Kosher salt–  A coarse salt without iodine, can be used to season recipes in place of your table salt. Kosher salt can be used in many recipes, but it’s generally not recommended for baking dishes that use little liquid, as it will not dissolve well.
  • Mace – comes from the same plant as nutmeg, but tastes more subtle in flavor. Mace can be used in sweet dishes like nutmeg, and this spice shines in savory dishes. It’s often used in spice blends for flavoring meat dishes, vegetables, stews, curries, savory sauces, homemade pickles, and is a common ingredient in Indian cuisine.
  • Nutmeg – Sweet yet pungent. Great in baked goods, but can also be used to add a warm note to sauces and savory dishes. Nutmeg is used for sweet dishes in India and savory ones in the Middle East. In Europe, potatoes, eggs, and meats are spiced with nutmeg, as well as soups, sauces, and baked goods.
  • Onion Powder– Ground, dehydrated onion. They are often used to flavor soups, stews, sauces, vegetables, and meats when you do not have a fresh onion on hand.
  • Oregano – Robust, somewhat lemony flavor. They are used often in Italian, Mexican, and Mediterranean recipes. Lends terrific flavor to soups, salads, sauces, meat dishes, and eggs.
  • Paprika – Adds a sweet note and a red color. It can be used to season and color rice, stews, and soups, and some meats when mixed other spices.
  • Peppercorns – Peppercorns come in a variety of colors such as black, white, pink, and green. Used to season sauces, soups, vegetables, and meats
  • Red Pepper Flakes – Dried and crushed red chili peppers,  another common spice or herb used to flavor pizza and also often used in pickling, chowder, spaghetti sauce, pizza sauce, soup, and sausage.
  • Rosemary – Strong and piney, rosemary has an aroma similar to that of lemon and pine. It’s often used in Mediterranean, Italian, and French recipes. It also makes a tasty addition to focaccia, tomato sauce, pizza, chicken, and some pork dishes.
  • Saffron – Saffron has a subtle but distinct floral flavor and aroma, and it also gives foods a bright yellow color. Saffron is widely used in Persian, Indian, European, and Arab cuisines.
  • Sage – Savory, slightly peppery, pine-like flavor, with a bit of lemon and eucalyptus notes. Sage goes well with pork, beef, duck and chicken recipes, and fatty meats in particular.  It’s also commonly used in European and American cuisines, such as stuffing, casseroles, and sausages.
  • Smoked Paprika – Adds a sweet smokey taste to dishes, as well as a red color. They are commonly used in making paella recipes, stews, potatoes, and dry rubs for various meats.
  • Star Anise – Whole star anise can be used to add a sweet licorice flavor to sauces and soups.
  • Sumac – dingy and lemon-flavored, sumac is a Middle Eastern spice that’s great with marinades and spice rubs.
  • Tarragon – Used in French cooking, tarragon, has a slightly bittersweet, peppery taste. It’s a crucial part of béarnaise sauce and pairs well with fish, omelets, and chicken.
  • Turmeric – Commonly used more for its yellow color than its flavor, turmeric has a mild woodsy character. It can be used in place of saffron for those on a tight budget.
  • Thyme – Adds a pungent, woodsy flavor. Great as an all-purpose seasoning in Mediterranean, French, Cajun, and Creole dishes, such as vegetables, meat, and poultry.



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  • Reply
    Linda Shapiro
    May 24, 2017 at 11:52 am

    Heidy! It’s been far too long since I visited your blog! Love your guide to using dried herbs and spices which I know will be so helpful to many. Sharing! xoxo

  • Reply
    Deborah Smikle-Davis (@debsmikdav1)
    May 5, 2017 at 4:29 pm

    I really enjoyed your guide to herbs and spices. This is such a handy reference. I tend to use the same spices all of the time so this inspired me to try others. I’m pinning and tweeting this post!

    • Reply
      Heidy L. McCallum
      May 5, 2017 at 11:17 pm

      Thank you, Deborah, glad the post inspired you to try something different. Stay tuned for more updates on spices as well as kitchen tips.

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