Navigating the world of herbs and spices can be tricky. There is such a wide variety of these culinary aids available that knowing what they pair well with is, at times, daunting. In order to help alleviate confusion, we have selected 10 unusual herbs and spices that are actually delicious! Stepping out of your comfort zone by trying unique herbs and spices will most certainly add a new dimension to your cooking skills. And who knows, you may even have some fun along the way!
Check out these 10 unusual herbs and spices:
Tarragon – This French “King of Herbs” is the foundation of barnaise, rigavote and tartare. Its licorice-anise aroma and tart, lingering appetite-appealing flavor makes tarragon an excellent addition to chicken, eggs and fish. It is also great on turkey, veal and game, and is surprisingly tasty when mixed with mayonnaise, melted butter sauce, or French dressing. If you have not tried this unique herb lately we highly recommend you give it a try today!
Anise Seed has a sweet, licorice-like flavor with notes of fennel. It is often used to season baked goods, such as cookies, cakes, Biscotti, and traditional Old World breads like Scandinavian rye. Anise seed’s licorice-like flavor also makes it ideal for fruit dishes and vegetable or fish curries. Anise seed is also used to flavor many types of liquors, including French Chartreuse, German Jägermeister and Greek ouzo.
Saffron is traditionally used to color Indian rice dishes, Italian risotto and Spanish paella. It is also used to color Cornish saffron cake, a spicy yeast cake containing dried fruit, as well as the French seafood soup, bouillabaisse. Saffron’s unique flavor and radiant color goes well with fish, seafood and chicken.
Lavender has a sweet, floral aroma with mint and citrus undertones. Its flavor is quite intense and can easily overpower a dish, so use sparingly. Lavender works well in sweet dishes that contain cream, such as cake icing and ice cream. It is also a great addition to savory foods, including chicken, lamb, pheasant and rabbit. We use lavender in our Herbs de Provence blend. It can also be found in some recipes of the Moroccan spice blend Ras El Hanout.
Chia Seeds have a mild, nutty flavor and taste similar to poppy seeds when raw. Chia seeds can be used to thicken foods, to make puddings, or added to salads, soups and baked goods. They are also tasty on yogurt and cereal, and can be sprouted to produce microgreens for salads, sandwiches and wraps. In Mexico, chia seeds are mixed with water, lime and sugar to create the popular drink chia fresca.
Ancho Chile – Arguably the most commonly used dried chile in Mexican cuisine, Ancho chiles are simply the dried version of poblano peppers. They have a mild, fruity flavor with notes of tobacco, coffee, wood and raisin, with a little less heat than a jalapeño. Ancho chile powder is commonly used to flavor mole, chilli, rice and beans and many other traditional Mexican dishes. Ancho chile powder should not be limited to Spanish-style foods however, as it is a great addition to rubs and seasoning blends.
Cardamom Green Pods are a great compliment to both sweet and savory foods. In its native India, cardamom is often referred to as the “Queen of Spices” and is used in many types of curries, as well as Garam Masala. It is also traditionally used to flavor Danish pastries, cakes, biscuits, custards and fruit dishes. Green cardamom pods are a staple in Indian cuisine, where they are often crushed and added to many dishes, mainly curries. Also try adding a few to coffee grounds before brewing for a subtle, Arabian brew or include them in homemade chai tea.
Coriander Seed – Coriander has a delectable flavor reminiscent of lemon peel and sage. It is almost impossible to use too much of this spice. Coriander can even be used to balance out the pungent flavors of cloves or cardamom if too much of these spices has been added to a blend. Coriander often roasted and added to many Indian, Asian and North African dishes. It is great in chili, soups, stews, and with chicken, fish, game and meat dishes.
Marjoram is closely related to Greek Oregano, although it has a slightly milder flavor that resembles Thyme. It has a very nice sweet flavor with some light, bitter undertones. It is often used to flavor meat dishes as well as in chowder, soups, stuffing, chicken, beef, lamb pork, seafood, and many sauces.
Szechuan Peppercorns – Not a true peppercorn, Szechuan peppercorns are actually the outer pod of the fruit of an aromatic shrub native to the Central Province of China. They have an unusual, sharp, slightly woody flavor with a hint of citrus. They also produce a slight numbing effect which bursts into a tingling sensation on the tip of the tongue. This complex and surprising flavor adds intensity to chicken, seafood and vegetable dishes and is a must-have for Chinese cuisine. Dry-roasting the berries for 3-4 minutes over medium heat will bring out the best flavor (be sure to discard any burnt berries). Let cool, then grind and use as needed.
Be sure to contact us with any questions you have on the listed herbs and spices, including how to best utilize them in your own dishes. Happy cooking!