Can you imagine a world without spices? It is like eating food that has no salt in it. Spices are what takes an ordinary dish to a whole new extraordinary level.
The history of spices goes as far back as the start of the human civilization where vast lands were discovered by the numerous civilizations that sprung during ancient times. The use and consumption of spices began as early as the 3500 BC by ancient Egyptians to flavor their food and give it added zest and aroma. Soon enough, the use and production of spices spread throughout the Middle East, all the way to Europe, the eastern Mediterranean, Indonesia, Sri Lanka and China. Spices also led to the great Age of Exploration, as well as to the ultimate discovery of the New World.
While you may already know about the importance of spices, did you know that a massive variety of spices is found in this world? You probably aren’t even aware of most it!
What’s the difference between herbs and spices?
Spices come from the root, bark or seeds of a plant. Herbs come from the leaves of a plant [source: Thekitchn]. The list here pertains to spices only.
Below is our mega list of spices every kitchen needs.
Types of Spices Chart
Mega List of Spices
You will be surprised to know how many different spices there are, all with their unique taste, characteristics, flavors, and aromas. Read all about the different types of spices and pick your favorite ones!
Latin name: Elettaria cardamomum
This spice is also known as the “Queen of Spices” in India, its country of origin. Cardamom has a strong, pungent flavor that has subtle hints of lemon and mint. Interestingly, it is a very versatile spice so it can be used to intensify both sweet and savory flavors. There are two types of cardamom that are typically used in Indian cooking, as well as all over the world: Green and Black.
Green cardamom is used more commonly than its black counterpart and has a very light and sweet flavor. It is often used in desserts and sweet drinks. Black cardamom, on the other hand, consists of a very strong smoky flavor so it is often used in spicy rice dishes and curries.
Cardamom has quite a rich history behind it in terms of its medicinal properties and has been used since ancient times as a digestive aid, as well as to treat inflammatory and respiratory conditions.
Latin name: Syzgium aromaticum
This is another fairly common Indian spice that was first found being traded at a port in Sri Lanka somewhere during 900-1100 CE. However, it is native to the Molucca Islands which is now a part of Indonesia. Cloves contain a very distinctive kind of a sweet smell with an equally sweet-spicy flavor.
An interesting historical fact about cloves is that before approaching their Emperor, the Chinese had to have a few cloves in their mouth as a way of sweetening their breath. This suggests that in ancients, cloves were also used as mouth fresheners instead of breath mints that are typically used today.
Whole cloves are often used in curries and other liquids since they also provide quite an aesthetic appeal while ground cloves are popularly used in a variety of sweet treats. They are also used for a number of health-related purposes including toothaches, vomiting, nausea, and indigestion, to name a few.
Latin name: Cassia senna
This spice is also known as “Chinese Cinnamon” and is often confused with the other ‘true’ cinnamon; however, it is actually a member of the pea family. It has an extremely pungent flavor that is less delicate when compared to that of the true cinnamon. Although cassia bark looks almost the same as cinnamon, it is actually very different and is used more often in savory dishes, especially in China.
Cassia bark is commonly grown and produced in Indonesia, China, and Burma and is perfect for homemade tea blends or spice blends. Many people use this spice to treat muscle and stomach spasms, menstrual problems, joint pains, the common cold, high blood pressure, and many other health ailments.
Latin name: Piper nigrum
This has to be one of the most commonly found and consumed spices all over the world. A pinch of it is added to almost every recipe you could possibly imagine. Black pepper has originated from India, particularly from the Malabar region and the Western Ghats. It comes from the berries of the pepper plant and you would typically also find white and green colored peppercorns. The difference in color primarily results from the varying developmental stages.
Since ancient Greece times, pepper has been a much cherished and prestigious spice because it was used as both, a currency, as well as, a sacred offering.
Black pepper consists of a very unique spicy taste and is typically used to provide a subtle heat kick to numerous recipes and dishes. Some of its amazing medicinal uses include using it as laxatives or for congestion relief.
Celery seed is usually ground up into salt, and can then be added to many dishes for a concentrated taste of celery.
Coriander produces natural citrus flavors when ground up. It is especially common with chicken-based dishes.
Crushed Red Pepper
Crushed red pepper has a distinctively fruity, yet spicy flavor, and is commonly used as a condiment on pizzas and salads.
Latin name: Cuminum cyminum
Cumin is one of the most mainstream spices and is native to Europe, Asia and Africa; however, it has become a very essential ingredient all over the world. It is popular for its nutty and earthy flavor that consists of a subtle spice kick and some hints of lemon.
Some of its most distinctive characteristics include the intense fragrance coupled with the unique ridged brown seeds. Cumin can be used as a whole or in a grounded form. Either way, it adds a smoky touch to any dish and tastes absolutely delicious. Most people prefer using freshly grounded cumin in curry recipes and vegetable dishes to get the most of that intense, nutty –spicy flavor.
Cumin is by far the most popular spice that also has a multitude of health benefits pertaining to weight loss, cholesterol, diabetes, irritable bowel syndrome and many more.
Needless to say, curry powder is a primary ingredient in curry dishes, but it can also be used to flavor many stews, marinades, and meats.
Latin name: Myristica fragrans
Nutmeg comes from a tropical evergreen tree that is native to Moluccas Island in Indonesia, where it is also cultivated in abundance, as well as in West Indies. It is often used together with cinnamon due to the similar pungent fragrance and a subtle sweet taste. Although nutmeg is popularly used in baking and cold beverages, it is also an excellent addition to hearty dishes like mutton and lamb recipes, vegetable stews, etc.
In ancient times, sometime around the 1600s, nutmeg became an expensive commercial spice in the Western world and was commonly used by the Dutch as a subject to keep prices high. Some incredible health benefits of nutmeg include indigestion relief, diarrhea control, and appetite loss.
Latin name: Myristica fragrans
This is the outer covering of the nutmeg seed and is said to be a more pungent version of nutmeg, with a combination of pepper and cinnamon kind of flavor. Interestingly, the color of mace can help you figure out its origin. For instance, if the spice has orange-yellow blades, it means that it has come from Grenada, whereas orange-red blades indicate that it is from Indonesia.
This spice is popularly used in sweets and desserts like custards, puddings and cakes, as well as in savory dishes like soups, soufflés, sauces, etc. Its flavor is also said to be very warm, with a kick of lemony sweetness, so many people prefer to use it in place of nutmeg, especially in light-colored dishes.
Mace is often used as a digestive aid and as a treatment for nausea, vomiting, and flatulence.
Latin name: Brassica alba
These spice seeds come in a variety of colors like black, brown, and yellow, and are often used interchangeably in most cuisines. Mustard seeds consist of a nutty and smoky flavor that is best released when they are cooked in oil or when they are crushed.
The use of mustard seeds as a condiment dates back to ancient times during the Roman era. The Romans used to grind these seeds into a paste and mix them with wine. This spice was initially very popular in Europe even before the spice trade that began in Asia.
Mustard seeds are often grounded to a paste to be used in curries and stews whereas whole seeds are used for pickling purposes. Mustard seed oil is popularly used all over the world as a pain remedy and as a liniment for arthritis.
Latin name: Allium sativum
Garlic is probably the most popular and common spice seasoning that is used in almost every cuisine found in the whole world. Its popularity largely stems from its ability to add an incredible depth of flavor along with potency to any dish or meal.
As a spice, garlic is used in the form of garlic powder which is just ground, dehydrated garlic. It is native to South Asia, Central Asia, and Southwestern Siberia. Garlic consumption, however, goes back several thousand years to ancient Egyptian where it was commonly as food flavoring as well as in medicine. Some of garlic’s extraordinary medicinal uses include cancer prevention, treatment for respiratory conditions, high blood pressure, and low cholesterol levels.
Garlic powder is commonly used in pasta, grilled chicken, salad dressings, curries and rice recipes – to name a few.
Latin name: Zingiber officinale
Like garlic, ginger is also popular for its bold, pungent, and sweet-spicy flavor. Its flavor is also described by many people as peppery and fierce with hints of lemon. Ginger is also greatly used in a variety of different desserts like pumpkin pie and gingerbread.
Ginger is a herbaceous perennial that has originated from Islands of Southeast Asia and was later transported throughout the Indo-Pacific. It is often also used in desserts and sweet treats that call for a subtle spice kick. Ginger has long been associated with numerous health and medicinal benefits and has majorly been used as a digestive aid and to treat the common cold, flu, and cough. It also plays a key role in Ayurvedic medicine.
Many cuisines involve the use of fresh ginger for making a variety of dishes like curries, rice, soups, stews, etc.
Latin name: Curcuma longa
Turmeric is yet another incredibly famous Indian spice with a mix of bitter, spicy flavor. It is also known by other names like Indian Saffron and Yellow Ginger. Turmeric is generally easily identifiable due to its bright color combination of yellow and orange.
Lately, turmeric has been gaining extensive popularity as ‘the golden spice’ and is now being featured in drinks like ‘the golden latte’. This is primarily due to the numerous health benefits that are associated with this spice, for instance, it is loaded with anti-oxidant and anti-inflammatory properties, and it can prevent cancer. Moreover, it is believed to have the ability to treat depression and arthritis.
Turmeric consumption goes as far back as 4000 years to the Vedic culture in India, where it held significant religious importance and was also popularly used for culinary purposes. The intense color of this spice gives curries and other dishes a beautiful golden shade and a strong flavor that greatly intensifies the overall taste of any dish.
Latin name: Trigonella foenum-graecum
The fenugreek seeds are small, caramel-colored, pebble-shaped wheat kernels that are extremely popular for their taste and aroma in Middle Eastern and Indian cuisines. They consist of a nutty bittersweet flavor that is more towards the pungent side. They also have a subtle spicy aroma with a butterscotch-type flavor undertone.
Fenugreek is largely cultivated in the Near East and it is widely believed that the Romans used to flavor their wine with this spice during the first century AD.
Fenugreek seeds are often used as whole or even in powdered form mainly in vegetable dishes, spice mixes, pickles, lentil-based recipes, etc. Interestingly though, this spice is also used to make ‘fake’ maple syrup that a lot of people believe tastes the same as the actual maple syrup.
Latin name: Crocus sativus
Best known as the most expensive spice in the world, Saffron greatly stands out due to its highly distinctive taste and the incredible orange-maroonish color. The fact that the production of saffron is the most labor-intensive of all is one of the main reasons why it is more valuable than gold in terms of weight and is so expensive.
Saffron is basically the stigma of crocus flowers which is typically picked by hand. The best type of saffron is the one that has a beautiful and rich dark red color. Generally, this particular variety comes from Spain, Iran, and Kashmir.
Saffron is also very famous for its floral, honey-like fragrance that provides an incredible aromatic smell to any food dish. The flavor of this spice is very unique and is said to be very intense, which is one of the reasons why it is used in such small quantities.
Saffron is often used as a sedative as well as a treatment for dry skin, menstrual symptoms, and asthma
Latin name: Pimenta dioica
As the name suggests, Allspice is a combination of all other spices and features an amazing combination of cinnamon, nutmeg, pepper, and cloves. This fusion of spices gives it a mixture of sweet-spicy-pungent taste which is why it is popularly used in several food dishes for that intense depth of flavor.
Allspice comes from Pimenta dioic which is an evergreen tree that belongs to the myrtle family. It is believed to be native to Jamaica, Honduras, and Guatemala. According to historical evidence, Christopher Columbus discovered this spice in the Caribbean and he brought it back to Spain.
Allspice is very popular in Jamaican cuisines, most notably being featured in the Jamaican jerk chicken. It is also used in many desserts in ground form due to its distinctive flavor and aroma. It has several medicinal uses and acts as an excellent digestive aid, as well as a treatment for muscle aches and toothache.
Latin name: Pimpinella anisum
Also known as anise seed and sweet cumin, Anise is a flowering plant that is native to Southwest Asia and the eastern Mediterranean region. It is often confused with ‘star anise’ primarily due to the similar name; however, both spices are quite different from one another.
Anise was first cultivated in the Middle East and regions of Egypt, after which it gained significant medicinal value in Europe. The flavor of anise is said to be very similar to that of licorice which is why it is commonly used with honey in a variety of baked goods.
This spice consists of a warm, fruity flavor, and a sweet aroma which is why they are also featured in a variety of tea blends and tisanes. Anise is widely used as a treatment for coughs, sore throat, indigestion, flatulence, and sleeplessness.
Latin name: Carum Carvi
Also known as wild cumin, Caraway is a biennial plant that belongs to the Apiaceae family. It is native to North Africa, western Asia and Europe.
Caraway seeds are most commonly used in the preparation of rye bread due to their warm, biting flavor and a sharp, pungent aroma that is highly similar to the aroma of dill. You may also find this spice being used in deserts, casseroles, and caraway seed cakes.
Caraway seeds have long been associated with a multitude of health benefits that include relief from constipation, ease of digestion, cholesterol reduction, and treatment for cramps.
Latin name: Trachyspermum ammi or Carum copticum
This spice is an annual herb that belongs to the family Apiaceae and is commonly known by many other names like bishop’s weed and ajowan caraway.
Ajwain seeds are small and oval-shaped and greatly resemble many other spice seeds including cumin, caraway, and fennel. These seeds consist of a bitter, pungent taste and a very aromatic smell which is similar to that of the herb, thyme. It is mainly cultivated and produced in India and Iran.
This spice is typically dry-roasted or fried in oil which allows it to develop a complex aroma and a subtle taste. It is most popularly featured in Iranian, Asian, Pakistani, North Indian and Ethiopian cuisines. Its texture is quite similar to that of caraway seeds and it is also often used in baked foods to get that depth of flavor and smell.
Some common medicinal uses of ajwain include relief from indigestion, nausea, diarrhea, and vomiting. Many people also use it as a treatment for appetite loss and respiratory distress.
Latin name: Capsicum annuum or frutescens
This is a famous hot chili pepper that is related to other hot peppers like jalapeno. Cayenne peppers are typically red-colored peppers that are packed with a lot of heat and a spicy kick of flavor. Dried cayenne peppers are turned into ground powder which is used as a spice in a variety of cuisines all over the world.
Surprisingly, cayenne peppers are considered to be the ‘king’ of medicinal herbs, especially due to the fact that they have been used since ancient times to treat a variety of health problems and ailments. Some incredible benefits of this spice include enhanced metabolism, lowered blood pressure, ease of digestion, pain relief, reduced risk of cancer and decreased hunger.
This spice is also quite popular in the culinary world where it may be either used in its fresh form or as dried powder on casseroles, curries, cheese dishes, stews and meat-based dishes.
Latin name: Capsicum annuum
Similar to cayenne peppers, Chili peppers come from the plants of the genus Capsicum and are commonly used in food dishes for that extra spice and heat kick. The dried and powdered form of chili peppers is called what you typically refer to as ‘chili powder’.
Chili peppers mainly originate from Mexico. However, many of its cultivars spread to most parts of the world. They are now commonly grown in Europe and North America in great abundance.
The flavor of red chili powder is considered to be extremely pungent with a very distinct spice kick that adds great heat to dishes. Just like other peppers belonging to the same family, red chili peppers also provide numerous health benefits like relief from pain, congestion, and colds.
Latin name: Anethum foeniculum
Also called “the fish herb” in Italy and France, Fennel seed is found in two main varieties. The first is Bitter Fennel which has a licorice-like aroma and a slightly sweet flavor profile. The other variety is Sweet Fennel, which, as the name suggests has a really sweet, nutty aroma and taste.
Fennel is basically a hardy perennial herb that is native to the Mediterranean shores. Fennel was greatly prized in ancient times, particularly by Greeks and Romans who mainly used it in their food and for its medicinal properties. Some of its medical benefits include relief from muscle spasms and flatulence.
Ground fennel seeds are popularly used as a spice in several cuisines all across the world due to its sweet and grassy flavor that has subtle hints of anise and star anise. Ground fennel is widely featured in dishes originating from Scandinavia, the Middle East, and the Mediterranean.
Fascinatingly, fennel spice was significantly used thousands of years ago by the Chinese and Hindu people as a cure for snake bites. Also, according to historical evidence, fennel was hung over doorways to ward off evil spirits, especially during the Middle Ages era.
Latin name: Capiscum annuum
Like chili pepper and cayenne pepper, paprika is also a type of pepper that belongs to the same family. Paprika spice is a ground version of this pepper that is greatly featured in the Spanish, South American, and Hungarian cuisine.
This spice has complex undertones but mostly consists of a smoky flavor coupled with a mildly sweet and earthy taste. Paprika peppers are native to the New World and have originated from Central Mexico. They were then introduced to Spain in the 16th century after which the paprika spice began to be popularly used in a variety of dishes, mainly for its flavor and the deep reddish-orange color.
It is often used as a seasoning in soups, stews, rice dishes and many other dishes. In the United States, this spice is usually sprinkled on foods as a garnish; however, the best way to get the maximum flavor out of it is by heating it in oil.
Latin name: Rhus coriara
This incredible spice is popular for its beautiful, purple color and a tangy flavor that is highly characteristic of vinegar or lemon. The word ‘sumac’ is believed to have come from the Old French during the period of the 13th century which translates to ‘red’ in the English language.
The sumac spice is greatly featured in a variety of different cuisines and dishes due to its tart, lemony flavor that is not as overwhelming as a lemon itself.
Sumac comes from the flowering plants belonging to the Rhus genus and it majorly grows in temperate and subtropical regions of North America, East Asia, and Africa.
Medicinal records from medieval times show great evidence of this spice being used as a treatment for a number of health ailments like bowel conditions, headaches, asthma, cold, fever and flue.
Latin name: Cinnamomum zeylanicum
This has to be the oldest known spice that dates back to written records found during the 5th century. Cinnamon is most popularly used as a flavorful and a highly aromatic condiment in a number of cuisines, and a variety of sweet and savory dishes.
As the name suggests, this spice sports a mid-brown color. The largest cultivation and production of cinnamon comes from China and Indonesia, however, its consumption dates far back as the 2000 BC.
The cinnamon spice is popularly used in the production of chocolate in Mexico, whereas in the United States, it is greatly featured in bread-based dishes and is also used to flavor different cereals. The aroma and taste of cinnamon are quite similar to the spice cassia bark and is usually described as soft and sweet with a distinctive spice kick.
Latin name: Allium cepa
Onion powder comes from dried and dehydrated onion bulbs and is commonly used as a seasoning for soups, stews, rice dishes and many others for that extra onion-ey kick of flavor. It is also a very common ingredient that is often used in spice mixes and seasoned salts.
Onion powder is prepared through a variety of different techniques, namely flow-drying, freeze-drying, dehydration, and vacuum shelf-drying. It can then be used as a flavored condiment for grilled chicken, pasta, pizza, etc.
This spice has also been used to treat a number of health conditions like skin issues, nasal and chest congestion, and numerous respiratory ailments.
Galangal Root Powder
Latin name: Languas galangal or Alpinia galanga
Galangal root powder comes from galangal, which is an East Asian tropical shrub. It primarily grows in Southwest India and in the Eastern Himalayas. Galangal was first introduced in Europe back in the 9th century after which the spice started gaining significant popularity in the culinary world.
Galangal has been referred to as the “spice of life” back in ancient times considering how it was believed to play a huge part in Saudi herbal medicine.
Since it comes from the same family as ginger, it consists of a similar taste as that of ginger; however, the galangal spice has a piney cactus-flavor profile. Thai cuisine uses galangal in almost all of its dishes from tom yum soup to numerous curries and gravies. The versatile flavor of this incredible spice also makes it an excellent addition to citrus drinks, lemonades, and margaritas.
Latin name: Illicium Verum
This spice comes from a medium-sized evergreen tree that is native to Southwest China and to northeast Vietnam. Star anise is also known by several other names like Chinese Star Anise, Badiane, and Star anise seed.
It is often confused with the spice anise due to the similarity of name, flavor profile, and shape; however, they are still quite different. Star anise is basically used as a less expensive substitute of anise in the culinary world and also in liquor production.
Star anise is widely featured in the Indian, Chinese, Indonesian, and Malaysian cuisines and is mostly grown in China, India, and Asia. Some of the most common dishes that star this spice as its main ingredient are masala chai, Vietnamese pho, and the French mulled wine called vin chaud, which translates to hot wine in English.
This spice greatly aids in digestion and also helps with rheumatism and flatulence.
Latin name: Nigella sativa
This popular spice comes from an annual flowering plant that is native to south and southwest Asia. Black cumin seeds are popularly used in the Polish cuisine, as well as Middle Eastern and Indian cuisines.
This spice tastes like a delicious mixture of oregano, black pepper, and onions which gives it a highly pungent and bitter taste and aroma. It is most commonly used in dishes like curries, stews, cheese dishes, or often simply sprinkled on salads for that added kick and texture.
Black cumin has several medicinal uses including curing allergies, asthma, headaches, toothaches and indigestion problems.
Though poppy seeds are commonly cooked along with baked goods, they can also be used as condiments to add a sweet, fruity flavor.
While pumpkin spice is a primary ingredient of pumpkin pie, it has also become popular as a flavor enhancer for coffee and other sweet drinks.
Isn’t it absolutely incredible how there is such a vast variety of delicious spices that are found all over the world? Now that you know some of the most common and popular spices, you will be able to identify them in most of your foods and dishes!