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Most underused spices in home cooking?

What do you think are the most underused spices in home kitchens? Paprika comes to mind (does anyone do anything with it other than sprinkle it on deviled eggs?), but I am interested in what others think are some overlooked spices.


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  1. I've always thought that for something with such a lovely flavour, dill often goes overlooked in the kitchen.

    On the other hand, parsley, IMO, is vastly overused and dreadfully boring tasting.

    6 Replies
    1. re: vorpal

      We added dill to this year's post-Thanksgiving turkey noodle soup, and it as aMAZing.

      1. re: dinnercraft

        I'm gonna say caraway .In the past I used more of it I also don't see it called for much.

        1. re: scunge


          That's my secret ingredient, much like nutmeg, caraway can add complexity to so many dishes and people never actually can identify it.

          Do not mention it again you will have the curse of the caraway god upon you.

          1. re: RetiredChef

            I use caraway in my potato cheddar ale soup, but not much else...any suggestions for uses?

            1. re: foodsnob14

              Caraway is a natural in coleslaw and braised cabbage. It's in the recipe for a sausage/cabbage/apple soup I routinely make although I've long since stopped measuring anything. This is a guesstimate for a 3qt pot:
              Chop 6 oz kielbasa and brown deeply in a tsp of oil in the soup pot, then add a fist-sized diced onion and a minced garlic clove and stir to deglaze. Add 2 quarts of chicken broth and one cup of apple cider. Bring to a simmer (sometimes I used wild rice, in which case I add a half cup at this point and simmer till it is 3/4 cooked). Add a pound of shredded cabbage and a diced carrot or two and simmer for 5 minutes. Add 1.5 tsp caraway seed and a peeled, cored, diced apple (a firm variety like Gala) and simmer another 10-15 min. S&P to taste. If I'm not using rice I add 1.5-2 cups of cooked navy beans at the same time as the caraway.

      2. re: vorpal

        I use paprika all the time when cooking chicken (baking, in a frying pan, or on the grill) as well as with rice & beans.

        I agre with the dill and parsley comments.

      3. Cloves, mace, marjoram, and mustard seeds to name a few....

          1. re: emily

            Please tell me how you use cardamom. I've got an unopened jar of cardamom seeds sitting in my pantry. I have no idea why I even bought it.

            1. re: CindyJ

              Use cardamom in a yeasty buttery eggy bread. Add golden raisins and braid it. Put an egg wash on and top with sanding sugar and slivered almonds! Yum.

              1. re: CindyJ

                I use cardamom all the time. In oatmeal with almonds, in cookies, in custards, in pumpkin pie, in muffins....

                1. re: CindyJ

                  I use it in my preserved lemons and I use it along with other flavors when roasted vegetables. It is also nice in rice pudding and fruit compotes.

              2. I think paprika is experiencing a resurgence in popularity, with the new interest in smoked paprika and it's ilk in rubs for BBQ.
                I use caraway once a year, in Irish soda bread on St. Pat's Day.
                Tarragon and chervil aren't very popular right now.
                I very rarely (if ever) use marjoram, although it's a lovely herb.
                Mace, forget it, same as Cherylptw.

                2 Replies
                1. re: bushwickgirl

                  I use paprika a lot. I also love tarragon. And I love nutmeg and allspice in savory dishes.

                  Ground caraway is great!

                  As for parsley, dried it's a non-starter, but I fresh flat-leafed parsley gives a nice subtle flavor and color kick to many things.

                  1. re: bushwickgirl

                    Tarragon was my first thought. I used to use it a lot, but I haven't done so in many years.

                  2. Cloves in savory applications.

                    1. Summer savory, especially for poultry. Chervil.

                      1 Reply
                      1. re: greygarious

                        I love summer savory in soups ... like split pea.

                      2. Mace. I went through a phase (long ago) with this stuff, but now I'd be hard-pressed to think of a way to use it.

                        Chervil is another delightful herb, overlooked.

                        Marjoram is a must on roast beef and sometimes in stews (and herby salad dressing). I use it a lot but also know that many of my foodie friends never do.

                        Anyone ever use borage? It's wonderful but never caught on here as it has in Europe.

                        10 Replies
                        1. re: shaogo

                          I have to agree that mace is perhaps the least used spice in my pantry. Because it's so similar to nutmeg (which I use often) it's more often passed by when selecting a spice for a specific dish.
                          Borage is something I have considered but, because it's not readily available and tends to store excess amounts of toxic alkaloids (in addition to the fact that it's difficult to find a use for it other than salads) I've lost interest in it.

                          1. re: todao

                            "Because it's so similar to nutmeg (which I use often) "

                            Maybe because it's the membrane that surrounds the nutmeg fruit?

                            (Actually, I think you probably know this, I just couldn't help myself.)

                            1. re: karykat

                              The flavor is a little bit like cucumbers

                              1. re: todao

                                Grow it, It makes a lovely vinegar for cucumber salad.

                                1. re: bushwickgirl

                                  Mmmmm. Sounds really good.

                                  Will have to remember that next spring.

                                2. re: karykat

                                  The borage flowers are beautiful little purple things that make perfect edible garnishes on anything. They have a cucumbery taste. The stuff grows like a weed in my yard. I have never used the leaves.

                                3. re: shaogo

                                  I think marjoram is essential for sauteed mushrooms.

                                  1. re: karykat

                                    Oh, I love fennel seeds...
                                    Lovage, not a biggie in my kitchen.

                                    1. re: bushwickgirl

                                      I have fennel in my garden now that's ready to be picked..they say you can harvest seeds from a lot of plants; I've harvested seeds from my tomatoes, cukes, peppers, etc. this past summer but I wonder if this could be done with fennel?

                                    2. re: karykat

                                      Fennel seeds are used in Italian sausages. I love to crush/chop some to throw in the pot with some other spices when we're jazzing up a bottled pasta sauce.

                                      I use paprika all the time in Mexican and Indian recipes.

                                    3. Paprika is one of the most heavily used at my house. And curry powder as well as all sorts of chiles; powder, flakes, etc. I also use mustard seeds (indian-type dishes), cloves (ginger snap cookies, quick breads), fennel (rubs), and marjoram (alongside oregano).

                                      But I rarely use mace, sumac, and dill.

                                      1. Some good mentions so far, these are the three in my cabinet that get used very rarely if at all:


                                        4 Replies
                                        1. re: RetiredChef

                                          I have never heard of any of these three spices! I think the only time I've ever even seen the word Sumac has been on a crayon!

                                          If you ever did use those spices (and you must, because they are in your pantry) what in the world did you use them on?

                                          I obviously need a bit more experience in the savory side of the kitchen. :-/

                                          1. re: ms.sarah

                                            Epazote: an herb used in Mexican and South American cooking. Fresh, it has a resinous, medicinal pungency, similar to anise, fennel, or even tarragon, but stronger. it smells like gasoline to me. It's used in bean and other dishes, as a carminative, to combat flatulence and add flavor, of course. It's better fresh than dried, if you can find it.
                                            Sumac: a flowering plant, you've probably seen it growing in North america. I've used it to make a faux lemonade, as it has a lemony taste. It's used in a powdered form, in Middle Eastern dishes like mezze, hummous, on breads and in salads. Get it at a Middle Eastern market. Very popular now.
                                            Mahlab: an aromatic spice from the St. Lucie cherry, with a flavor of bitter almond and cherry. Used in Middle Eastern, Turkish and Greek dishes, like sweet breads, cookies, cakes and bisquits. Has a strong aroma and is used sparingly. Comes in a powdered form and is also available in Middle Eastern markets.
                                            So there you have it.

                                            1. re: bushwickgirl

                                              I've not encountered epazote used in cooking outside of Mexico. Where have you seen it used?

                                          2. re: RetiredChef

                                            Love using ground sumac as an ingredient in a rub for lamb or chicken, or on roasted potatoes.

                                          3. One I never use is saffron. I absolutely can't taste it. Can't taste it at all. So it's just a waste of good saffron for me to put it in stuff.

                                            1. One that I don't ever seem to remember is juniper berry. I use it in cured salmon and bluefish on occasion, or brines for poultry -- but I suspect there are many other interesting things I can do with it that I just don't know about.

                                              1. FRESHLY GROUND pepper (used a lot, but should be used all the time)

                                                Finishing Salts - like Fleur de Sel and potent ones like smoked sea salt.... you'd be surprised how often a bit of a decent salt goes on almost ANYTHING coming out of a restaurant kitchen, even the desserts..

                                                1. I rarely see anyone but the Lebanese and Jamaicans use allspice. As its name implies it is such an all-purpose spice, it is a shame more people don't take advantage of its flavor outside of Thanksgiving time.

                                                  6 Replies
                                                  1. re: JungMann

                                                    Allspice is a great edition to black eyed peas.

                                                    1. re: JungMann

                                                      I was going to say allspice - I put it in everything. It's even in my pepper mill.

                                                      Have to agree that mace is underused too.

                                                      1. re: JungMann

                                                        Allspice is magical with lamb. Try a pinch of it on yr next lamb chop

                                                        1. re: JungMann

                                                          Allspice is good with oatmeal for breakfast. Cardamom too.

                                                          1. re: JungMann

                                                            Allspice was also my first thought, so I scrolled this thread to see if/when it came up. I think it's great for savory grilled items and certain soups and braises. Just as we use cumin to give a powerful note to Indian and Mexican/Southwest preparations, allspice has a related but quite different note, maybe a bit more floral? Anyway, the African/Carribean quality is a very nice change from the kind of rub flavors that we usually see in the USA.

                                                            1. re: JungMann

                                                              I use it in my Swedish Meatballs and my spice cookies.

                                                            2. I use paprika to add color ...

                                                              1. Mace, for its ineffable flavor that's like but isn't nutmeg (to me more lemony, toward the cardamom side) - one of the spices traditionally used in doughnuts and poundcake, without which they aren't the same.
                                                                Cardamom, both in savory (Indian) dishes and in Scandinavian breads and other baked goods (the Time-Life Scandinavian Cooking has a great recipe for a Finnish sand cake with sour cream and cardamom, yum).
                                                                Paprika, good in curries and cooked with pork (I thought growing up you were only allowed to use it on deviled eggs and on top of coleslaw and potato salads).
                                                                The Umbelliferae seeds caraway/cumin/dill/fennel, each with its individual attraction in savory and some sweet dishes (Elizabeth David recommends a speck of cumin in spices for spiced breads, very nice indeed).
                                                                Nigella seeds, delicious on flatbreads and in some curries.
                                                                Black mustard seeds, ditto.
                                                                (Of course the ones specifically identified with Indian food are only underused in regular North American home cooking.)
                                                                Juniper berries, great in sauerkraut and marinades/sauces for pork and game.
                                                                Thene there are the ones that I find should be less used because I don't care for them - allspice (there's just something about it that tastes spoiled or off to me for whatever reason), dried rosemary for its overpowering pineyness and spiky needles, and dried sage (summed up astutely by the great Elizabeth David as tasting like dried blood).

                                                                1. Caraway. Delicious in soups (esp. cheddar beer soup with potatoes and ham) and with beef or lamb pilafs. Oh, and pork shoulder roasts. Or stuffed pork tenderloins.

                                                                  1. While I bet most chowhounds use cumin frequently, it is not a common ingredient in a lot of American kitchens. My friends take my chili or black beans or any number of other things and are always asking what that flavor is. My mother asked me what it was when she was in my spice cabinet over xmas.

                                                                    2 Replies
                                                                    1. re: mojoeater

                                                                      Good point--I bet our foodie demographic uses 50 times the cumin of an average middle American.

                                                                      1. re: mojoeater

                                                                        i just went to the indian store to get more cumin. chili ain't chili without it.

                                                                      2. I use paprika in a spanish shrimp dish. I use it in my chili, along with other spices for homemade chili powder. I use it on fried onions and mix in sour cream to make a sauce for fried pierogi.

                                                                        1. Tarragon...I rub dried tarragon and garlic on pork roast. The roast that is triangle shaped with a decent fat pad. I roast it fat side up on a rack and flip it half way through the roasting time. Lovely hot and even better sliced cold for pork sandwiches the next day.

                                                                          1. Okay, one I was going to list and found it's not listed YET is coriander. Whole seeds ground on demand have a wonderful orange, citrus like taste. Used in many Asian and Middle Eastern cuisines. I just pulled some salmon out of a wet brine of salt, brown sugar and lots of ground coriander. It will make some awesome lox

                                                                            3 Replies
                                                                            1. re: scubadoo97

                                                                              Agreed. Freshly ground coriander is a great element in many kinds of spice rubs.

                                                                                1. Star anise--used extensively in several Asian cuisines, but not much in Western cooking. It adds an interesting licorice-like flavor component to poultry dishes.

                                                                                  True (Ceylon) cinnamon, at least in the US, where cassia cinnamon rules for baking.

                                                                                  1. Coriander seeds! I love to use these in rubs, pasta sauces, and it is amazing in the slow cooker! It is the seed of cilantro, when you bite into it you get a burst of citrus. :)

                                                                                    1. Paprika is not only underused as in not enough people use it. It's underused as in most people don't add enough of it when they do. Except for the smokiest of smoked paprikas, most paprika should be used generously or not at all.

                                                                                      1 Reply
                                                                                      1. re: cowboyardee

                                                                                        Agreed, I have some Spanish pimenton I like to mix into scrambled eggs fried with hazelnut flour, northern beans, saffron, red bell pepper, onion, and garlic, and I always feel strange throwing in at least a tablespoon. But that's what it seems to take to work.

                                                                                          1. re: ipsedixit

                                                                                            I have white pepper and occasionally use it for fish but deep down I can't really see how it's any better than black pepper. If anything it seems like a harsher and less complex version of black pepper. What really is it good for?

                                                                                            1. re: lamb_da_calculus

                                                                                              Taste and dissolution.

                                                                                              White pepper has a bit of heat, a bit of bitterness, and a nice wallop of earthiness. The key distinction between white and black pepper is white pepper’s earthiness.

                                                                                              In dishes where earthiness is important, white pepper is a good choice. In dishes where a note of heat needs to be accentuated, black pepper is good.

                                                                                              Also, white pepper dissolves on sauces and liquids in the way that black does not which not only makes a difference visually but in uniformity of flavor.

                                                                                              So, it's not an issue of "better" but just different. Sort of like white versus brown sugar.

                                                                                          2. I sprinkle paprika on my chicken thighs before grilling, along with garlic powder, s&p. I sprinkle it on my pepperoni stuffed breads after I brush them with beaten egg. There is Hungarian paprikash, of course.

                                                                                            Dill I use in my tuna, cucumber and shrimp salads, shrimp dip and dill rolls and chicken soup.

                                                                                            2 Replies
                                                                                            1. re: Jerseygirl111

                                                                                              We can all agree that most of the spices sitting in our cupboards are so old they have no flavour left in them. So why bother?
                                                                                              The best trick I learned long ago was to put just one whole star anise seed pod in any beef I cooking. Doesn't matter what cut.
                                                                                              But ONLY leave the pod whole in the, say pan I'm cooking a steak in for a minute. Then take it out a discard.
                                                                                              The meat will take on that rare flavour note you get at a really good restaurant.
                                                                                              When searing cubes of shoulder cut for BB I leave the seed pod in while a few pieces are browning at a time.

                                                                                            2. Fresh thyme. I grow a potful (it's a perennial here), and I add it to many chicken dishes, but have begun experimenting--this morning, it was lovely in a simple omelette with goat cheese.

                                                                                              While ground cumin has become popular, whole cumin seed is hardly used (I roast it in a CI skillet first), and now I'm using black cumin (shah jeera) in my chili. Guess that could bring up a whole host of "foreign" spices from other cuisines?