Herbs and Spices - Cinnamon to Filé Powder

CINNAMON (Spice):  Aromatic bark of cinnamon tree, a tree of the laurel family, grown mostly in Ceylon. Spicy but sweet, mildly pungent. Most people can't tell the difference between true cinnamon and cassia "cinnamon." The former is lighter in color and milder in flavor than cassia. Stick cinnamon is the dried bark of the tree. Ground cinnamon is made from stick cinnamon.

Uses: It is the most popular spice of all and used in many types of cooking and baking. Sticks are often used in pickling, for spiced coffee, cider, chocolate, and wine. Pumpkin pie, puddings, rolls, spice cake, and the popular cinnamon toast are just a few recipients of this ground spice flavor.

CILANTRO (Herb):  Leaf of carrot family plant, pungent, parsley-like. Sold fresh and dried and chopped. Also called Chinese parsley - see Coriander.

CLOVES (Spice):  Nail-shaped dried brown buds of evergreen clove tree, a myrtle family tree, grown in East and West Indies. Pungent, hot.

Uses: Whole, for baked ham, pickling, special syrups. Ground, for chocolate pudding, candy, cake. Stud a small onion with 3 whole cloves; add to meat stew.

CORIANDER (Spice):  Dried fruit of small plant of parsley/carrot family. Flavor resembles combination of lemon peel and sage. Sold as seed or ground. Coriander is native to southern Europe and North Africa to southwestern Asia. Also called cilantro or Chinese parsley.

Uses: Whole, in mixed pickles, gingerbread, cookies, cakes, poultry stuffings, mixed green salads. Rub ground coriander on pork before roasting.

CUMIN or COMINO (Spice):  Aromatic seed of a caraway type herb which it resembles in shape. Strong, pungent, savory, sold as seed or ground. Mexican cooking would not be the same without it. It comes from Mediterranean islands, Mexico, Syria, Iran, India, and other places. It is one of the oldest known spices.

Uses: It is a favorite in Mexican and South American cooking. Used in Germany to flavor bread, in Holland for cheese, and in Norway for anchovies. It's an ingredient in sausage, pickles, chili, and curry powder. Use it in cheese, stuffed eggs, pies, soups, and in some canape spreads.

CURRY POWDER (Blend):  It is a blend of spices (about 16 ingredients) which include cumin and other seed, several varieties of red peppers, ginger, and turmeric. Because of the yellow turmeric which it contains, curry powder colors as well as flavors the foods in which it is used.

Uses: It is basic in the cookery of India where curried dishes include fish, meats, poultry, and rice. It's good with eggs, in cheese spreads, and in fish chowders. Try it in tomato soup, French dressing, and in scalloped tomatoes.

DILL (Herb):  Seed or leaf (weed) of parsley family plant. Pungent, aromatic. Sold as sprigs or seed. Ancient digestive aid. Much of the dill seed is imported (grown chiefly in India and Europe), dill for our pickling is homegrown.

Uses: Pickling, salads, eggs, soups, and seafood sauces. Dill should be used more often to flavor potatoes; it's good with sauerkraut, fish, and in salad dressings and stews. Try it with green apple pies, cabbage, turnips, and cauliflower.

FENNEL (Spice):  This small seed-like fruit of a plant of parsley family has a flavor akin to licorice. The vegetable fennel as found in the markets resembles celery but smells and tastes more like anise. It may be cooked like celery. The roots are cooked like celery root. Relished particularly by Italians. Also known as finocchio.

Uses: The seed is used in sweet pickles, "boiled" fish, candies, pastry, and liqueurs, salads, eggs, soups, sauces, seafood sauces, garnish. Italian bakers use the seed on rolls and breads. Try a dash of the seed in apple pie.

FILÉ POWDER (Herb):  Also called gumbo filé, is a spicy herb made from the dried and ground leaves of the sassafras tree (Sassafras albidum), native to eastern North America. It is used in the making of some types of gumbo, a Creole and Cajun soup/stew often served over rice; other versions of gumbo use okra or roux as a thickener instead. Sprinkled sparingly over gumbo as a seasoning and a thickening agent, it adds a distinctive, earthy flavor and texture. Filé can provide thickening when okra is not in season. Filé translates to "string", suggestive of the powder's thickening ability. "Filé gumbo" is famously mentioned in the classic country song by Hank Williams Sr., Jambalaya (On The Bayou), as it is considered a staple of Cajun cuisine. Unlike sassafras roots and bark, the tree's leaves, from which filé is produced, do not contain a detectable amount of safrole.