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5 months ago



Herbs and spices are indispensable in Spanish and Latin American cuisine. Spanish and Latin American dishes are generally prepared simply; they get their distinctive taste from the herbs, spices, and flavorings used. Here’s a roundup of our top ten favorite dried herbs and spices–they’re used in Latin American cuisine, but all of them are versatile enough for everyday cooking.



One of the most versatile herbs you can have in your pantry, thyme is well suited to all types of meat, seafood, and even vegetables. Stews? Casseroles? Roasts? Name the dish, and you can count on thyme to lend its rich aroma and earthy, woodsy flavor. There are many varieties of thyme available, with some more pungent and acerbic than others.

For an easy breakfast that’s packed with flavor, try mixing thyme with eggs to make an omelette.



Rosemary can be used for stuffing, sauce, soups, meats, and vegetables. It has a unique flavor that is described as “pinelike”, bittersweet, and almost minty. It pairs well with lamb and pork.

Aside from its culinary uses (here’s one: purée fresh rosemary with a little olive oil and use as a dip), rosemary is also useful for its aroma. Tuck a few sprigs under your sheets or in your closet and enjoy its fresh pine scent.



Similar to marjoram but with a stronger and more robust flavor, oregano is commonly used with rosemary and thyme but also does well on its own, adding a balsamic, warm, and slightly bitter flavor to the dishes it’s used in. Oregano rounds out the flavors of pasta and pizza sauce well.

Make your own oregano-infused olive oil by adding a few sprigs of fresh oregano to a bottle of olive oil. Use it as a base for pasta sauces, salad dressings and for drizzling over dishes.



Coriander is the dried form of cilantro but they have different flavor profiles. Coriander has a subtler but deeper flavor than cilantro; it’s warm, earthy, and a little gingery with citrusy notes. It pairs well with cumin and can be used for curries, fish, meat, and vegetables.

To get the most flavor out of coriander, bloom it. Blooming is a technique that releases a spice’s flavor. Heat coriander together with a little oil to make its flavor more intense.



This spice’s name comes from the Sanskrit word “sughandan” which means “good smelling”. While “good” may be a matter of opinion, cumin is known for its pungent aroma and strong flavor. It tastes bitter yet earthy and makes a great addition to meat-based dishesMexican food is generally associated with the taste of cumin. Dry-fry or taste cumin before use.

Try adding a dash of cumin to vegetable burger patties to give it a meatier flavor.


Clove /Clavos

One of the staples of Mexican cooking, cloves are usually paired with cinnamon and cumin and are used for both sweet and savory dishes. It has a warm and sweet flavor similar to nutmeg. Its flavor is very intense so use it sparingly and always remove the cloves from the dish after cooking and before serving it.

Keep away flies by inserting about 30 whole cloves into a ripe apple. Flies hate the smell, and the clove-studded fruit makes a great centerpiece and conversation starter.



Saffron is the most expensive spice in the world; just a pinch can significantly alter a dish’s flavor. Saffron is rich and pleasantly bitter with hints of sweetness, brine, and honey. It’s commonly used in Spanish paellas. There is no substitute for saffron’s flavor although its color can be replicated with turmeric or safflower.

Try adding a little saffron (¼ tsp per loaf, or less if your saffron is more potent) when baking bread for a luxurious twist on a staple.



Annatto seeds are usually used in Spanish and Latin American cuisine to color dishes but they give dishes a boost in flavor, too. Annatto is a little musky and nutty. At the same time, it’s peppery and just a little sweet, with hints of nutmeg. It’s used to give dishes a subtly earthy and smoky taste.

Make annatto-infused oil by heating ¼ cup of annatto seeds in two cups of oil for 5-6 minutes. Strain, pour into a sterilized bottle, and store in the refrigerator.



There are different types of paprika; their intensity ranges from mild to extremely spicy. Hungarian paprika is often used for sausages while Spanish paprika is used to give dishes sweet, spicy, and smoky dimensions. Paprika is made from dried sweet red peppers. Use it generously to add some smoke and heat to your dish, and to give it a nice brown color.

The next time you make fried chicken, add paprika to your breading batter. It will give the batter a spicy kick and attractive red flecks.



Cinnamon is warm, sweet, and spicy. While it’s often used for desserts, it adds complexity to savory dishes. Cinnamon is especially great with poached fruit and pudding. It’s available in stick or bark form which can be broken off into chunks, or powder form. Always remove cinnamon barks and sticks before serving dishes.

Add a teaspoon of ground cinnamon to your meatballs recipe for an extra dose of flavor. Try using cinnamon sticks to stir hot chocolate for a fragrant twist.


Words by Janelle Año

Photogrpahedby Zac Moran


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