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Oct 12, 2009 07:09 PM

Spices in cooking and baking


I am very new to cooking and new to all kinds of spices. I find them are very interesting. There are a couple of recipes that I am interested in call for Paprika. I went to stores and found out there are a couple different kinds of paprika, what I can remember now is paprika and sweet paprika.

My question is that I don't want to buy all kinds of spices and all different kind of paprika due to budget. So as a beginner of cooking and backing, what are basic spices I should have on hand to start? Thanks a lot!!

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  1. When I first started out, I found spices fascinating..even now, I probably have just about every spice in the grocery store with the exception of the most exotic...I'd suggest starting with the basics: kosher salt, cayenne pepper, black peppercorns (for freshly ground pepper) basil, oregano, chili powder, ginger, sage, thyme,,then add in some things you think you might really like to try (if you haven't already) like rosemary, tarragon, curry powder, five spice powder, bay leaf etc.

    About the paprika, I'd just buy either regular or sweet paprika then if you come across a recipe using, say, smoked paprika, you could use what you have and add something to give the dish a smoky element like smoked sea salt or ancho chile powder. Another tip, if you want to try a spice that you haven't but don't want to buy a huge amount, try a spice shop or store that sells what you need by weight. Another good source is ethnic stores like latin, indian or asian markets which normally sell their spices cheaper than the regular supermarkets. And don't forget the spice blends that contain combinations of spices that can be used in many dishes.

    2 Replies
    1. re: Cherylptw

      Good point about ethnic markets. Some supermarkets even have "international" sections where they have spices in plastic packages that are a third the price of the ones in the bottles two aisles over.

      An even better option is to find a market that has bulk spices where you can buy an ounce (or less) very cheaply.

      1. re: Ruth Lafler

        Our local food coop (open to the public) and the local health food store carry bulk spices. You just measure out what you need into a little plastic bag they supply. This is great when a recipe calls for something like annatto which I very rarely use. I have also found bags of herbs and spices at an Asian market that are much cheaper than the bottled ones.

    2. Buy spices based on the types of dishes you will be making.

      That is the most natural, and economical, way of building a spice rack.

      1. Here are some basics for buying herbs and spices.

        1. Buy what you need, as you need it.
        2. Buy in small quantities. Herbs and ground spices loose their flavor over the course of a year or so. Whole spices can last a fair amount longer, but really, if you are not going to use it up in a year or so it is probably too much to buy.
        3. Fresh ground spices are more flavorful than pre-ground spices. So, if you find that you really like to cook, consider buying an inexpensive coffee grinder and dedicating it to grinding spices.
        4. Buy from a store where you know there is a lot of turnover. Once again, this is about freshness.

        If I were starting a new kitchen, cooking mostly American food, I would start with salt, whole peppercorns (and a pepper mill for grinding them), basil, oregano, thyme, bay leaves, rosemary, a mild curry powder, a mild chili powder, sweet paprika and cayenne. if i had to remove one from that list it would be the rosemary. If I added one it would be garlic salt.

        One final thought. if you have a Penzey's or similar store in your area, it is worth a visit. At Penzey's they have jars you can sniff so you can learn what everything smells like. Plus their small jars of herbs and spices are a great way to go - the unit cost is not that much more than a larger jar and the price per jar is low, so you can afford a greater variety. Plus, I have always been pleased by the quality and freshness.

        1. Some spices you can also grow for yourself, and it's extremely easy. I grow basil, oregano, and thyme because I do lots of italian savory foods.

          1 Reply
          1. re: Chefthekitty

            Great idea; I should have mentioned that..I had basil, dill, fennel, thyme and cayenne pepper in my garden...basil, thyme & cayenne can be grown in a window box; you'll need more space for dill (mine grew to at least 6 ft.) and fennel. they can be dried for later use by either using a dehydrator or by heating your oven on low, about 180F. degrees then turning it off, let it cool for about five minutes then place the herbs on a lined sheet pan and into the warm oven until dried. Store in small jars or you can put them in freezer bags and into your freezer.

          2. Buy a national brand (like McCormick or Durkee) just labeld Paprika. It is dried, powdered red bell pepper. If a recipe means smoked paprika, it will specify that, and you can sub somthing similar, as posted by Cherylptw. What is called either hot paprika or Hungarian paprika is spicier, but you could approximate it by adding a bit of cayenne or chili powder (or hot sauce or tabasco) to your ordinary paprika.

            Summer savory can be used in place of sage, bay leaf, or thyme. Old Bay seasoning is a blend that can substitute in recipes calling for several of its component spices.

            Beginning baking spices should include cinnamon, ginger, and allspice. Allspice is NOT a blend of spices; it is made from the allspice berry, which tastes like a blend of nutmeg, mace, clove.... As a beginner who does not want to buy an assortment of spices, you can sub allspice for any of those. You can skip the powdered ginger if you regularly buy fresh ginger. Vanilla and almond extract are essential. You can make your own light or dark brown sugar by blending molasses into ordinary sugar. Since you mention being on a budget, keep in mind that you will save a lot by not using boxed cake mixes, which charge a premium for what is usually not much more than flour, sugar, salt, and baking powder.

            Purists will object to these swaps but it's your prerogative to streamline your pantry if you want to.