Spices were once precious commodities used in trade. Today, they’re essential to most recipes.
Spices, by earliest definitions, refer to the dried seeds, berries, stems, and bark of plants grown in tropical/subtropical climates. They’re not only a standard in many ethnic dishes, but can elevate plain, everyday foods to culinary pleasures.

Modern spice classifications have changed, however, and the term is generally meant to include all seasonings, including blends, herbs, and dried vegetables.


While herbs may have been a common medicinal and flavoring ingredient, many spices have reigned as prized commodities throughout history. Pepper was once used as currency for trading while much later, spice-laden ships became conquests for pirates.


The most-used spices include:

Allspice, fennel, ginger, cinnamon, clove, macemustard powder, nutmeg, paprika, pepper, red pepper (cayenne), star anise, turmeric, white pepper.

Spice blends:

Apple pie spice, chili powdercurry powders, Chinese five spice, garam masala (), Italian seasoning, pickling spice, pumpkin pie spice.

Buying Tips

Avoid whole pods and berries that are cracked or broken.

Storage Tips

While six months is the general recommendation for length of freshness, many ground spices will be usable much longer – often up to two years. They lose flavor and taste over time. Color changes and lack of aroma are indications that a spice is well past prime.

Whole spices will last up to four years.

Store in a dry, cool, dark place and always keep containers tightly closed.

Red spices tend to turn brown. Refrigerate (sealed to prevent humidity buildup) or freeze.

Usage Tips

To enjoy the true flavors of whole spices, a grinder is the best investment. Process only the amount needed in a recipe.

Before grinding, some spices will benefit from toasting for enhanced flavor.

Never sprinkle spices directly from the bottle into a steaming pot. This will encourage caking and mold growth.