Ultimate Herb Guide

All Spice


Allspice is native to Jamaica and the islands but it is also cultivated in Central America.

The British often called it “allspice” because the flavor or aroma of this spice gives hints of cinnamon, cloves, nutmeg, and juniper berries.

All Spice Overview

Flavor Profile

The British often called it “allspice” because the flavor or aroma of this spice gives hints of cinnamon, cloves, nutmeg, and juniper berries.

Grinding AllSpice

Allspice is predominantly sold in its ground form. However, like all spices, it retains its flavor better if you buy it whole and blend it as required for the recipe. Lightly toast the berries to activate their essential oils. Once cooled, you can then powder them using a mortar and pestle, or a spice blender.

Culinary Uses

• Both whole and ground allspice are staples in the culinary history of the Caribbean, Mexico, South America, the Middle East, and, perhaps surprisingly, Germany and Western Europe.

• Allspice is also used in herbal medicine as an antioxidant, digestive, and purgative.

• Its essential oils are used in perfumes, soaps, and as a deodorant.

• Allspice is mainly used for sweets and baking, particularly cakes, cookies, and some pieces of bread.

• You can also use it in savory cooking, particularly in flavoring sausages and chilis.

• Allspice is one of the primary ingredients in Jamaican jerk seasoning. The wood from the tree is used as a smoking wood for traditional Jamaican jerk dishes. 

• It’s an essential ingredient in pickling and is also occasionally used in the popular Mexican dish called mole.

• In Middle Eastern cuisine, allspice is used as a flavoring for meat stews. It’s also part of the very popular spice mix in the Levant, baharat, which is used in many dishes, including as a spice rub, marinade, and a flavoring in some pilafs.

• Allspice is also an ingredient in alcoholic drinks, particularly in mulled drinks and in liqueurs, including the popular Benedictine and Chartreuse. Allspice is a traditional flavoring in the French Canadian dish tourtière.

• The leaves of all the spice pimenta plant are also used similar to bay leaves, to infuse flavor into dishes. 


Native to the Mediterranean region, rosemary is cultivated and used as a culinary herb. It’s an attractive and distinctive looking evergreen herb with spiky blue/grey/green leaves with purple or blue flowers and a woody stem. 

It’s grown both as an edible herb and for aesthetic reasons. Rosemary is known as a “miracle” herb and has many uses beyond the culinary world. 

Rosemary Overview

Flavor Profile

Rosemary has a very distinctive, strong, resin-like fragrance, thanks to the essential oils in this herb. Some call the flavor almost pine-like, with camphor, mint, sage, and bitter woody aftertaste. Rosemary doesn’t mellow upon cooking, so it needs to be used with caution as it can very easily overpower less assertive herbs and flavors.

Culinary Uses

• Rosemary is mainly used all over Europe and the Mediterranean, as well as in North America, but can be found in other cuisines as well.

• If not used whole, rosemary needs to be finely chopped or crushed as it has a woody, tough leaves that’ll be chewy if left whole.

• Rosemary’s an essential part of the bouquet garni, a group of herbs used to flavor French dishes.

• It’s used in both sweet and savory cooking.

• Rosemary pairs well with hearty meat stews and is almost a cliché with lamb and other strongly flavored meats.

• Rosemary’s also used in marinades and flavorings for fish.

• You can toss a couple of sprigs in with roasted potatoes and vegetables for a delicious herby flavor.

• Add rosemary to the coals of a barbeque to impart a smoky note to barbequed meat.

• Use the stalks as skewers for kebabs.

• Rosemary can be used in cocktails like this Smoked Rosemary and Lime Gimlet.

• Rosemary also pairs well with chocolate in baking.

Basil Overview

Flavor Profile

Different varieties of basil all have their own flavors. Sweet basil starts with a slight peppery note and finishes with its distinctive sweet anise essence. Purple basil is more savory, while Thai basil (some- times called pepper basil) is known for its anise notes. While lemon basil, which is harder to find, has a citrus flavor.

Culinary Uses

• Pesto is one of the most popular dishes that use basil. Fresh basil leaves are blended with pine nuts, garlic, olive oil, and parmesan and pecorino cheese and served with pasta. In Genovese cooking, pasta, new potatoes, and crisp green beans are boiled together and served with fresh basil pesto.

• There are several other dishes starring basil, including the famous Margherita pizza.

• Basil seeds are also edible. They’re used as coolers in many countries, and expand and go fuzzy when soaked in cold water and drinks, especially in the Indian classic, falooda.

• When subbing dried Basil for fresh, use 1/3 of the amount.

• Basil pairs very well with oregano, thyme, rosemary, and sage.

Growing and storing basil

Basil is native to Asia and Africa and is widely cultivated in Europe and North America as a culinary herb. Basil is a finicky herb to grow and needs a lot of sunlight. Plant the seeds indoors and transfer them outdoors to give no room for frost. Harvest the leaves regularly to encourage growth by picking off the center stems to prevent flowering. You can also grow basil indoors. Check out our tutorial in growing herbs indoors for more information.

If you can’t bring your plants indoors, you can harvest basil by pinching off large bunches of leaves, then quickly drying and freezing them. This helps preserve them for the best flavor. You can also dry the leaves completely (you can even dehydrate them) and store them in airtight jars.

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CINNAMON Cinnamomum verum

Can anyone resist the warm, soothing fragrance of cinnamon? This aromatic spice is used in everything from mulled wine to curries to baking in cuisines from around the world.

There are several varieties of cinnamon, but our focus is on the genus called “True” Cinnamon, commonly grown in Sri Lanka (Ceylon Cinnamon).


Flavor Profile

“True” cinnamon has a sweet, intensely fragrant, warm, woody aroma. It’s also been known to have a slightly citrusy flavor. It’s an instantly distinguishable spice and is used in a wide variety of cooking and baking. A powerful spice, a little goes a long way. Its particularly good paired with chocolate, as the Mexicans do.

Producing Cinnamon

“True” cinnamon is mainly produced in Sri Lanka (also known as Ceylon) and the southern states of India. It has a fascinating colonial history and is considered a spice fit for kings. True Cinnamon is painstaking to produce, as the bark has to be first carefully stripped off, after which the inside of the tree is gently stripped into thin layers. These layers have to be processed quickly, at which point they curl into their characteristic quills. There are several grades of cinnamon, and it’s usually graded on color, aroma, and appearance. It’s sold in quills or ground.

Culinary Uses

• Ground cinnamon is used regularly in pretty much any baking and cooking recipes that call for just cinnamon.

• You can also grate or powder up the quills, as they’re not as hard as cassia bark, cinnamon’s sister spice.

• Cinnamon has been prized everywhere since the Egyptians discovered it around 2000 BCE. It’s not surprising that it’s a staple in Middle Eastern cooking as well as in cuisines from all over the world. Mexican cuisine prizes its “canella” and no Indian spice cupboard is complete without its distinctive curls and bark.

• Cinnamon is particularly good paired with chocolate (as the Mexicans do).

• Although available in any supermarket, it’s worth buying whole cinnamon from Asian groceries where they have a high turnover of spices, as the flavor does degrade once it’s been ground. Whole cinnamon will also degrade in flavor, but not as much as ground. It’s a pretty stable spice otherwise.

CLOVES Syzygium aromaticum

Did you know that cloves are unopened pink flower buds that are dried? These little aromatic buds pack a powerful punch of flavor and are used in culinary traditions all over the world. 

Cloves are native to the Spice Islands (Maluku or Moluccas, the heart of the spice trade in Indonesia). They’re now cultivated in major tropical regions including Zanzibar, India, Sri Lanka, Madagascar, and most recently in Brazil.  

CLOVES Overview

Flavor Profile

Cloves are one of the most common and earliest known spices in the world. With a strong, almost medicinal aroma. The main source of cloves’ strong flavor is the powerful compound eugenol. Their flavor has been described as floral but with strong undertones of eucalyptus. 

Cloves can very easily overpower other spices, especially if they’re used with the oils still intact.

Culinary Uses

• Cloves can be used both whole and ground. the world. With a strong, almost medicinal aroma.

• In Asian cuisines they’re used in spice mixes, to add fragrance to broths, like
Pho, and pilafs, and are an important part of drinks like masala chai.

• In Europe, cloves are used to add flavor to meats, in baking, and seasonal specialties like mulled wine and gingerbread.

• Cloves are also considered to be a “warming” spice and contain several nutrients that make them an incredibly healthful spice.

Cilantro / Coriander

CORIANDER Coriandrum sativum

Coriander seeds and fresh coriander — also known by its Spanish name, cilantro — are staples in cuisines all over the world. Coriander is one of those ingredients that’s both a herb and a spice. 

Coriander seeds are one of the oldest spices in the world. The largest producers and commercial exporters of coriander are Russia, India, North Africa, and (surprisingly) Holland.

Cilantro Overview

Flavor Profile

The flavors of coriander as a herb and spice vary. As a herb, coriander or cilantro has variously been experienced as fresh, clean, bright, and sometimes even “soapy.” It’s one of those herbs that people either love or can’t stand. And studies have shown that there might be a genetic link to this!

Coriander seeds have a different flavor profile: highly aromatic, warm, and nutty with a hint of citrus.

They come in two varieties, Indian and Moroccan. Indian seeds are golden and slightly larger than Moroccan seeds, which are a darker brown. They can be used interchangeably, as there’s no real difference in flavor between them.

Culinary Uses

The best way to buy coriander seeds is whole. They can be used raw for a slightly more bitter flavor, but the best way to use them is to dry roast them first. Dry roasting brings out their nutty, warm aroma, and hugely enhances the dish you’re using them for. To dry roast coriander, heat a heavy-based pan on high heat, and throw the seeds in. Dry roast for about 30 seconds, shaking the pan constantly until the spice is fragrant. Let it cool before grinding or blending into a spice mix.

Coriander seeds can also be lightly crushed in a mortar and pestle and added to various recipes. Coriander is one of those spices that degrades fast once it’s been ground, losing a lot of its flavor. Whole coriander seeds last a lot longer and can be stored in an airtight container in a dark place.

Fresh Cilantro is also a magic ingredient, especially for instant pot dishes.


CUMIN Cuminum cyminum

Cumin is a familiar spice in many cuisines and is mainly grown in the tropics or subtropical areas. Cumin is the fruit of a plant from the parsley family, The fruit dries as it matures, leaving behind the distinctive ridged seeds we know as cumin. 

Cumin seeds are sold in spice markets either whole or ground. There are two common varieties — brown and black — and both are used in similar ways.

CUMIN Overview

Flavor Profile

Cumin has a very distinctive flavor, characterized by its warm, earthy, slightly funky and musty notes. It’s intensely fragrant, with slight spicy hotness and a gentle bitterness to it, which mellows during the cooking process. Brown cumin has a stronger flavor than black cumin, which is mellower and sweeter.

Don’t confuse cumin with caraway seeds, which look similar but have a much sweeter taste.

Culinary Uses

• Cumin is used in many cuisines, including Indian, South East Asian, Thai, Mexican, Middle Eastern, Mediterranean, and North African.

• Whole cumin seeds can also be toasted in oil to release their flavor and added whole to dishes. They’re part of a common oil seasoning in India, called the tarka or tadka, where whole cumin seeds are toasted in hot oil, along with dry red chilies and bruised garlic, and then added to dishes.

• Whole cumin seeds are also used as a flavoring stimulant and for inflammation and stomach upsets. for pieces of bread. Black cumin seeds (not to be confused with nigella seeds, which are a different spice) are mostly used in Indian cuisine spice mixes.

• Ground cumin and oregano can work as a substitute for chili powder.

Dry Roasting Cumin

The best way to buy cumin is to get whole seeds. They last for a long time and retain their flavor longer. To use cumin, it needs to be dry roasted first. This activates the essential oils, which give it its characteristic earthy fragrance, and strengthens the taste.

To dry roast cumin, heat a heavy-based pan until it’s quite hot. Throw in the cumin seeds and shake the pan vigorously, until you can see a puff of smoke and the cumin starts to smell intensely fragrant. This only takes 15 to 30 seconds. Cumin burns easily so you need to be quick. If you accidentally burn it (you can tell by the acrid smell), throw it away and start again, as burnt cumin isn’t pleasant.

Once the cumin is toasted, remove from heat immediately and let it cool completely. Don’t try to grind hot cumin, as the oils will make it stick to your grinder or blender. Once cool, the cumin can be ground in a mortar and pestle or a spice grinder. Ground cumin can be stored in an airtight container away from light for around three months, but it’s always best to grind cumin as required, for the best taste.


DILL anethum graveolens

Besides being a beautiful addition to your herb garden, this annual, self- seeding plant is surprisingly easy to grow and can be used in cooking and canning.

Dill can be used both in its fresh form as well as its seeds, commonly distinguished as dill weed and dill seeds. Dill is native to Southern Europe but is cultivated all over the world.

Dill Overview

Flavor Profile

Fresh dill has an aromatic, sharp, tangy, and very gentle anise-like flavor. Many people describe it as “fresh green” or “bright.” It’s a distinctive taste, with the anise flavor milder than fennel. 

Dill seeds have a stronger, more concentrated fragrance similar to cumin, and are found in many pickling spice mixes. Dill isn’t a substitute for fennel, despite coming from a similar family of plants.

Culinary Uses

• Dill can be used as a primary flavor or as a garnish and is particularly used in Eastern and Southern European as well as Scandinavian cuisine.

• The best way to use dill is fresh, but freeze-dried dill keeps its flavor longer than dried dill.

• Fresh dill is a lovely addition to summer salads, soups, and stews. It can be used as a garnish or as a vegetable.

• Dill is commonly used in Scandinavian countries to flavor gravlax and smoked salmon.

• Dill flowers and flower pods can be used in pickles and salads.

• Freshly chopped dill adds a delicate green, tangy note to a lot of dishes.

• Dill is perfect with fish and white meats.

• It’s one of the primary ingredients in dips and sauces.

• Dill seeds are commonly used in pickling but are also used in flatbreads and Scandinavian-style bread and cakes.

• Cucumber dill pickles are a popular condiment all over the world (the technique is almost 400 years old), and a lot of families have their own “secret” recipes.

Other Uses
• An essential oil can be extracted from dill, and is known for its anti-bacterial properties.


TURMERIC curcuma longa

Turmeric is currently having a moment in the spotlight, particularly due to studies on its health benefits. This perennial rhizome, native to South India, is grown all over the tropics, including South East Asia. 

It requires a significant amount of rainfall and thrives in warm, wet conditions. Originally a member of the ginger family, there are over a hundred varieties of turmeric, and they are propagated using roots.


Flavor Profile

Turmeric can be used fresh or dried. The flavor of fresh turmeric is slightly stronger than the dried, powdered version. Fresh turmeric is red or yellow, but once dried it turns into the everyday bright yellow spice that we know it as. It has a pungent, earthy fragrance, a mix between ginger (which it’s closely related to) and pepper. 

Fresh turmeric has a more hot-gingery taste than dried, which has a slightly more powdery, musty fragrance. The taste of turmeric is hard to describe, but it can vary from a gentle spice with lightly bitter overtones to being stronger and more bitter.

Culinary Uses

• Fresh turmeric is used similar to ginger. You can grate or slice it to use in
curry pastes. Fresh red turmeric is used quite a lot in Thai cuisine.

• You can also use frozen fresh turmeric; while the taste isn’t as pungent, it
works well as a substitute for fresh but you may have to use a little more
than the amount of fresh turmeric called for.

• Many recipes harness the antioxidant powers of turmeric,
such as turmeric-heavy powder that you can use in place of generic curry

• You can also add a teaspoon of turmeric to most Indian recipes, even if they
don’t call for turmeric.

• You can add a quarter teaspoon to plain rice for a beautiful golden color
and an ever so slightly smoky flavor.

• Turmeric is often used in teas, golden milk, and even in smoothies.