A Little Guide to Herbs and Spices

Stuck in a cooking rut? This article will show you some of Ann-Kristin Afflerbach's favourite spices and herbs, how to use them, and how to (literally) spice up your life!


Herbs and spices are my favourite way to transform meals into something amazing. I love cooking in general, but sometimes it's hard for me to find the time for it. Spices can make the most out of boring dishes, so I use them a lot when I want something fancy without a lot of effort. I have a few staple spices that I love and use in most of my dishes, some spice mixes that work great with curries and stews, and some rather special seasonings that I don't use very often. This article will show you some of my favourite spices and herbs, how to use them, and how to (literally) spice up your life!

Cardamom

You can find both green and black cardamom, but I recommend green cardamom. It has a unique taste that can make a big difference in a lot of dishes. It can be spicy, but also warm and sweet. I love to use it for Indian food, baking, smoothies, and homemade chai tea. 

Cumin

I love cumin! However, you need to be careful with the amount you use. Start with a little and work yourself to the amount you like, otherwise it might easily become too much. Cumin has an earthy, warm, and nutty flavour to it and can be used for a lot of Asian and Indian dishes, as well as stews and sauces. 

Fennel seeds

As fennel seeds have a taste similar to that of anise and licorice, not everyone likes them. I really do, and I think they are great for Italian dishes, bread, and pasta. I like to use them for a little boost in my tomato sauce. 

Turmeric

This yellow powder has made it into a lot of smoothies and “shots” lately, and it really deserves the hype. It has an earthy taste, a bit like mustard, a bit bitter sometimes. It works perfectly for any kind of curry, Indian dishes, Moroccan dishes, rice, and cauliflower. Turmeric also turns your dish a vibrant yellow which is great for when you have guests over that you want to impress!

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Nutmeg

Nutmeg can be bought as whole seeds or already ground into powder. It is quite popular around Christmas time in mulled wine and the like, but it can be used for much more than that! My favourite way to use nutmeg is to add a little to mashed potatoes or to spinach, but it also tastes great in simple cakes and other baked goods.

Za’atar

This is one of my favourite herb and spice mixtures of all time. It's made up of thyme, sesame seeds, and sumach, a rather sour fruit, and is commonly used in Middle Eastern cuisine. I use it as much as I can for basically everything I cook. With its warm taste it fits most dishes. I particularly like it in salads, couscous, and hummus, but it works just as fine with vegetables and meat.

Ras El Hanout

Ras El Hanout is another Middle Eastern spice mixture whose name I can never pronounce properly, but I still like to use it quite frequently. It's spicy yet sweet and can be used for beef, couscous, stews, and soups, but also for dates and prunes. I even found a granola bar with the mixture on it, so the possibilities are endless. 

Herbes de Provence / Italian seasoning

This mixture usually contains basil, rosemary, oregano, and thyme as a base, and sometimes many more herbs. It gives your dishes a well-rounded taste, and with little effort you can turn the most boring vegetables into something amazing. It is versatile and you can use it for most dishes: pizza, pasta, soups, roasted vegetables – anything you can think of. 

Fresh herbs

Sometimes I really want to add a little something to my salad, which is where fresh herbs come in. Mint, parsley, or cilantro really make a difference. It is impossible for a salad to be boring when you add some fresh herbs!

As with most things in the kitchen, I recommend you simply try and experiment with herbs and spices. If you get too many at once, you might be overwhelmed, but maybe you can take this little guide as a starting point and work your way to a full shelf of spices!