Spice up your life

Learn how to give your food some flavor

Learning how to use spices and herbs is one of the most groundbreaking discoveries an aspiring chef can make. If you’re a college student looking to improve your cooking repertoire, you can benefit from understanding how to find, select and use a variety of spices and herbs.

First, you need to know where and how to look for spices and herbs. Some smaller grocery stores do not sell many options in this category. ALDI, for example, sells only a limited array in its dry goods section.

Additionally, some less common spices and herbs may only be available at higher-end grocery stores. For the widest selection, you may want to explore one of the many international grocery stores in Fargo.

If you are starting with an empty cabinet, acquiring a supply of spices and herbs can be expensive. To reduce the cost burden, you can gradually build up your pantry with the most common spices and herbs over a period of several months or even years.

Purchase one or two spices or herbs each month and integrate them into your cooking. This practice also gives you a focused opportunity to learn how to use each one.

You can also save money by buying generic equivalents rather than name brands, such as McCormick. Walmart usually offers a good mix of low-cost and premium brand items if you want to see your options.

If you happen to travel near an Amish store, you can often find high-quality spices in bulk quantities at very reasonable prices.

Once you’ve identified a strategy for finding spices and herbs, you need to decide which ones to purchase. The ingredient lists of most recipes call for only a core group of common spices and herbs, so you don’t need to go crazy and purchase several dozen.

So, which spices and herbs should you buy first? Real Simple magazine’s “Basic Spice Checklist” instructs young cooks to look for “bay leaves, black peppercorns, cayenne pepper, chili powder, ground cinnamon, ground cloves, cream of tartar, ground cumin, curry powder, ground ginger, kosher salt, whole nutmeg, dried oregano, paprika, crushed red pepper, dried rosemary, sesame seeds, dried thyme and vanilla extract.”

Each person’s food preferences are different, though, so let your favorite recipes guide you.

The final step in understanding the wide world of spices and herbs is learning how to use them on your own. While you can almost always find a recipe that tells you exactly which spice to use and how much, it can be fun to experiment with different options and amounts to create something unique and personal.

Still, if you are not familiar with the precise taste of each spice and herb in your cabinet, it can be daunting to determine which spices blend together best.

If that’s you, Bethany Moncel of The Spruce Eats laid out a few suggestions for common combinations.

Herbs de Provence

Lavender, fennel, basil and thyme.

Italian seasoning

Basil, oregano, rosemary, thyme, garlic and red pepper.

The Paleo food blog Real Simple Good also offers some tips for mixing and matching.

Poultry seasoning

Thyme, rosemary, sage, marjoram, ground pepper, celery seed and nutmeg.

Ranch seasoning

Parsley, chives, dill weed, garlic powder, onion flakes, onion powder, sea salt and ground pepper.

Taco seasoning

Chili powder, garlic powder, paprika, cumin, onion powder, sea salt, ground pepper, cayenne and oregano.

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