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5 Culinary Spices You May Not Know (But Should)


Elettaria Cardamomum, or green cardamom, is one of the most exquisitely flavorful and valuable spices in the world. It is common in Middle Eastern, Indian, and Mediterranean cooking, and also appears as far north as Sweden and Finland. It has been a staple of global trade for thousands of years, dating back at least to the time of the ancient Greeks. The plant is native to India.

Cardamom is richly aromatic, delightfully pungent, and gives a slightly sweet, spicy flavor to beans, rice, vegetables, and meat. ‘Spicy’ in this context does not mean hot, like a jalapeno – cardamom has a bright, sharp, and very present flavor, but does not burn like a hot pepper. Cardamom is a common ingredient in Chai-spiced teas, where it lends the drink and warming, stimulating scent and pleasantly biting flavor. Try adding cardamom, along with coriander and garlic, to black beans, or with cumin to flavor beef.

Grains of Paradise

Aframomum melegueta, also known as ‘African Pepper’, Grains of Paradise are native to West Africa, but have made their way into European cuisine as a substitute for black pepper. They are less biting and more richly flavored than a black peppercorn, and can be used to add depth to a dish, while still retaining the spicy warmth. Grains of Paradise are also used in beer, cocktails, and liqueurs. Some brewers consider them superior to black peppercorns for spicing beer, as they complement the flavor of beer without overpowering the other ingredients. In cooking, you can use Grains of Paradise as a straight substitute for black pepper, to give your dishes a new, deeper, complexity. They can also be used as an apple pie spice, to complement cinnamon and cloves, livening up traditional recipe


Palmaria palmata, also known as sea lettuce, is in fact a red algae that forms long, leaf-like structures under the surface of the ocean. It is a dietary staple in the parts of the world where it commonly grows, but is most commonly found in the US as a powder or flake. Dulse has a salty, oceanic taste, and can be used in place of refined table salt to improve the nutritional value of food. Soups, stews, stir-fry, baked or grilled vegetables, meat dishes, anywhere you would normally use salt, try dulse instead. Dulse has a high vitamin content, contains all the necessary trace minerals, and even has some protein.

Herbs de Provence
Basil, rosemary, thyme, parsley, marjoram, lavender, tarragon

Herbs de Provence is a traditional French blend of herbs, that is often used on chicken and other poultry. Most of the herbs contained in Provence blends are familiar to American and European cooks, but the addition of lavender gives them a unique twist. The flavor is light, fresh, and good with butter. Also try them in soups and sauces to experience some uniquely French flavor in your own home.

Garam Masala
cardamom, cinnamon, cloves, cumin, coriander, black pepper

Garam Masala, like the Provence blend, is a combination of spices which are well known on their own, but become really special when combined. Garam Masala is a spice of Indian and Middle Eastern cooking, and gives meats and stews a flavor unlike anything we commonly encounter in the US. Beef becomes spicy and forward, rather than solely savory. It can make a beef stew really pop, without relying on heavy amounts of salt, bringing the meat to the forefront of the flavor profile without compromising its succulence. Use Garam Masala in vegetable or rice dishes to add spice and flavor to otherwise bland recipes. Beets and other root veggies, sliced and spiced with Garam Masala, and pan fried in just a touch of olive oil, can be the foundation of a rich and delicious vegetarian dinner.

When it comes to new and unfamiliar spices, don’t be shy! Get out of your comfort zone and try new recipes, new vegetables, and new spices. Let your nose be your guide, and experiment until you find what works for you. A couple of new cooking spices can shake up a dinner routine which has become boring or bland, and can add some much needed variety to tried-and-true recipes. The health benefits of a varied diet are well known, and expanding your knowledge of cooking herbs and spices can open up the whole world to you, and bring some adventure to your table.

Sean Fay