A (VERY) Beginner’s Guide To Spices

A Very Beginner's Guide To Spices

Over the years, I’ve learned the difference between delicious food and average food boils down to one main thing: seasoning. Fresh ingredients are also very important, but spices are the glue that hold a dish together.

I have a confession. I’m not a natural in the kitchen. (Yes, I’m aware that my blog is called Jane’s Dish, but don’t leave yet, I have more to say!) I wasn’t born with the ability to throw food in a pan and create a masterpiece with a little of this and a dash of that. With lots of practice – and LOTS of mistakes – I’m finally confident in my ability to season food and cook delicious meals for my family.

My husband Ross, on the other hand, was born with the cooking gene. He cooks amazing meals with little or no planning or forethought. Each time he makes food it’s like Iron Chef America with cupboards flying open and spices flying into the pan.

Ross Cooking

And I don’t think the man has ever read or followed a recipe. Oh wait, I take that back. One time he read about pot roast on The Pioneer Woman’s website and I heard all about how she’s way too chatty between ingredients. (Side note: He must HATE my blog because I write my fair share of commentary!)

After years of pulling a Jane Goodall in the kitchen and hiding behind pantry doors and stand blenders, I observed the major culinary difference between Ross and I. He free pours spices and I do not. If a recipe calls for a 1/4 tsp of basil, you better believe my dish features that  amount. While Ross, would add 1/2 tsp basil, a dash of oregano, a splash of parsley and a free pour of garlic powder. Going a step further, Ross innately knows what spices and seasonings to add to a dish based on the flavor he wants to achieve.

He says he can taste spices in his head before he adds them to a dish. (There might be a pill to fix that.)

I may never have a grasp on spices like Ross, but I began to memorize spice combinations that went together to enhance different types of cuisine. Ever so slowly, I began adding a dash of this. And a sprinkle of that. And I noticed that my food tasted so much better! There is hope for us “unnatural” cooks.

To help those in the very beginning stages of spice experimentation, I’ve pulled together a VERY simple beginner’s guide to spices based on cuisine-type. I certainly did not cover every spice that compliments a cuisine, but I did include basic spices that most people have in their cupboards right now.

Real chefs are choking on their Coq Au Vin at the simplicity of my list, but this is not for them. This is for YOU. (The busy mom who doesn’t want to order pizza one more time.)

Double spices

But first, let’s talk about salt…

You must not be afraid of salt. Did you know that salt allows your taste buds to detect flavors they couldn’t before? (If interested in the science of salt, check out this article.)

It will MAKE or BREAK your meal. It will be the difference between smiles or tears at the dinner table. Do you ever watch the competition cooking shows? From my completely un-scientific observation, more contestants go home for under (or over) salting a dish than any other reason.

I do not want you to start serving meals that are too salty, but I want you to know that a sprinkle of high quality salt may be the missing element in your cooking. Oh yeah, add a dash of pepper too. 🙂

A (VERY) Beginner’s Guide To Spices


Uses: Add to marinara sauces, pasta dishes, meatballs, Italian casseroles and bakes

  • Garlic powder – use liberally (I seriously free pour this stuff)
  • Onion powder – use liberally
  • Dried (or fresh) Basil – use moderately
  • Oregano – use moderately
  • Parsley – use moderately
  • Crushed Red peppers – strong, use sparingly
  • Rosemary – strong, use sparingly
  • Thyme – strong, use sparingly
  • sage – strong, use sparinglyeggplant-bake


Uses: Tacos, fajitas, Mexican casseroles, enchiladas

  • Chili powder – use liberally
  • Onion powder – use liberally
  • Cilantro (fresh) – use liberally
  • paprika – use moderately
  • Cumin – use moderately
  • garlic powder – use moderately
  • oregano – use moderately
  • cayenne pepper – strong, use sparingly


Uses: Stir fry, any Asian pastas and salads  

  • ground ginger – strong, use sparingly
  • garlic powder – use moderately
  • onion powder – use moderately
  • red pepper flakes – strong, use sparingly
  • Additional flavor enhancers: honey + soy sauce + sesame oilA Very Beginner's Guide To Spices


Uses: curry chicken

    • Curry powder – use liberally
    • Onion powder – use liberally
    • Garam Marsala – use moderately
    • Turmeric – use moderately

Sweet and Treats

Uses: muffins, cakes, breads, cookies

  • Vanilla extract – use moderately
  • cinnamon –  use moderately
  • nutmeg – strong, use sparingly
  • allspice – strong, use sparinglymmmm cookies

Do you want to know more about each spice? Kitchn.com has pulled together a nice quick guide for what all spices taste like.

I encourage you to experiment with spices next time you make a dish. Smell each spice and taste the dish along the way. The only way you’ll get better with spices is if you test them out. (And fail! Failure is great for learning!) I hope this simple guide to spices helps you cook delicious food for your family.

When it comes to spices, are you a “Ross” or a “Jane”?





Speak Your Mind


CommentLuv badge