9 Spices You Might Not Be Using Enough Of

In the corner of every kitchen’s spice rack, there sit a few dusty jars of spices that go unused. Some of them have fallen out of favor in today’s recipes, and others, well, we’re pretty sure we purchased them because we recognized the name, but never really had much of an idea what to do with them. We knew that a pantry contained marjoram, so we bought marjoram, and its been sitting there ever since.

Here are our picks for the spices from our cupboard that just aren’t getting a lot of play…and some new ideas for using them.

  1. Paprika
    While everyone uses paprika on their deviled eggs, we’re just not seeing it used in a lot of other ways. Remember that paprika is a very mild red chili powder, which gives it many more applications than just adding color to party snacks. The smoked varieties of paprika add a ot of flavor to dry rubs for pork or chicken, and also make for a great addition to a pot of black beans and rice.
  2. Dill
    Dried dill weed adds a wonderful punch of flavor to turkey-noodle soup. Or, try combining it by the fistful with sour cream, for a fast, delicious dip for a vegetable platter.
  3. Caraway
    Caraway is the spice that gives Southern German and Austrian foods, be it meat, vegetable or rye bread, their characteristic flavor. It makes for surprisingly complex addition to casseroles, and can add a “hard to put your finger on” quality to grilled meats.
  4. Cloves
    Cloves have an intensely strong, fiery aroma and flavor, and have applications in both sweet and savory cooking. Crushed cloves applied to a pork roast change the flavor remarkably, and combined with curry, can make for some great at-home experimentation with Indian flavors.
  5. Marjoram
    Marjoram was said to be important to the Goddess Aphrodite, and the ancient Greeks used the herb to sanctify marital bliss. Today, our uses for marjoram are a little less romantic,and marjoram seems to have fallen out of favor, but it still has a place in your spice rack. Tr yadding marjoram to Italian cooking, as a replacement in sauces that include oregano. Use marjoram to spice red meats such as beef, veal and roasts. The sweet flavor combines well with the juices of the meat. Marjoram also pairs nicely with garlic, thyme, and with onions.
  6. Cardamom
    Cardamom is very strongly flavored, and a little goes a long way. The flavorful seed can add a lot to many dishes including pastries, seafood dishes, and even in cocktails. Add the cardamom spice to other complimentary spices such as cinnamon or cloves, or try cutting it with black pepper for a less sweet taste.
  7. Tarragon
    Tarragon’s bittersweet leaves can add a very subtle licorice flavor to your favorite dishes, and combines wonderfully with garlic, mushrooms, and onions. Try adding tarragon to chicken dishes, and to lightly grilled or steamed fish. Tarragon’s flavor gets stronger as it cooks, so always start with just a little, and add more as needed later in the cooking cycle.
  8. Fennel Seeds
    A staple in homemade sausage or when cooking with pork, you can also try combining fennel seed with marjoram, basil, tarragon, and rosemary in a mortar and pestle or in your coffee grinder. Use the spice combination on grilled chicken.
  9. Saffron
    Because of its cost, a lot of home cooks aren’t using a lot of saffron. Consider adding a pinch of saffron to dishes that contain apple, pear, cheese, or almonds. Try some traditional saffron recipes, such as Spanish paella and French bouillabaisse, or for that matter, just about any fish or seafood dish you can think of. We also like to add a little saffron to our white bean chicken chili.

Those are our picks…what about you? What do you think are some of the more underused spices in kitchens today, and how are you using them in your dishes?

Malcolm Bedell is co-author of the critically acclaimed "Eating in Maine: At Home, On the Town, and On the Road," as well as the taco-centric blog "Eat More Tacos," and the junk food-centric "Spork & Barrel." His contributions include Serious Eats, Down East, L.A. Weekly, The Guardian, and The Huffington Post and his food truck, "'Wich, Please," was named "Hottest Restaurant in Maine" for 2015 by Eater. Finally, he finds it very silly to be trying to write this in the third person.

7 Comments

  1. I’ve been able to find wonderful Saffron from my local Asian grocery store for SUPER cheap. So check it out if you have a T and T 🙂

    Also, as a Ukrainian I have a few more tips for the use of dill: use LOTS of fresh dill in borscht and if you make a cream sauce with, well, cream, fresh mushrooms, dill, salt and pepper, it goes deliciously with pyrohy (perogies). It’s also amazing in vegetable soups and if you top roasted beets with a bit of it. Yum yum!! And did I mention it’s ridiculously easy to grow? Dill is actually a weed and it grows like one. It also freezes wonderfully.

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  2. Agree that cardamom is wonderful. I simmer lemongrass (the green part), ginger slices, and ground cardamom to make a concentrated tea. Then freeze in ice cube trays. In the summer here in Phoenix, there’s nothing better than to throw a few cubes into a glass of water for a quick iced tea. Sometimes, an added cube of frozen lemon juice is lovely too. My husband uses cardamom in his homebrewed Saison beer. Dill weed is my favorite fixin’ for egg salad. Also dill in scrambled eggs is nice. Or just lightly clipped into a salad.

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