Seasoning

There is something tantalizingly exotic about the spice sellers in Spanish markets with their bags of spices and herbs, sweet and pungent, dull and bright, so reminiscent of more Eastern markets and oriental cuisine.

Though the use of spices and herbs in Spanish cookery is subtle, it is a constant. Saffron to colour rice dishes, aromatic wild thyme in the rabbit stew, nutmeg in the meatballs, a sprig of fresh mint in the consommé. Generally, spices and herbs are purchased whole and freshly ground in the mortar as needed for use in a dish. Ground spices are sold in supermarkets. Their flavour diminishes rapidly and they should be replaced within a year. Wild herbs are free for the picking all over the region and many people enjoy growing them on patios.

Allspice
pimienta de Jamaica

A spice which combines the flavour of cinnamon, nutmeg and cloves.

Aniseed
matalahuga

Extensively used in Spanish sweets and fried pastries, often in combination with cinnamon and lemon peel. Seeds are usually used whole or may be ground in the mortar. They are sometimes toasted or fried in oil which is then incorporated.

Basil
albahaca

Pots of sweet basil adorn many Spanish kitchens, but in spite of this popularity, it is seldom used in traditional Spanish dishes. It can be bought dried and, in the spring, pots of it are to be found in flower markets.

Bay-leaf
laurel

Essential to many stews and potages. Bay is usually added whole to the pot, but is sometimes fried crisp, then pulverized in the mortar.

Cardamom
cardamomo 

Remove the black seeds from the hull. If the spice vendor doesn't have it, try the herboristería, herbalist or health food store.

Chili pepper
pimineto chile, cayena

The chili is used with great moderation in Spanish cuisine. Whole hot peppers come fresh or dried, usually strung in ristras. Generally, the larger the pepper, the milder the flavour. The tiny ones, called guindilla, are the hottest. There are also dried sweet peppers, ñoras or pimientos choriceros. Ground chili pepper is called cayena.

Celery
apio

A leafy stalk of bitter celery is used in a bouquet garni to flavour soups. Both the seed, semilla de apio, and celery salt, sal de apio, can be purchased in jars from spice vendors.

Chive
cebollina

Grow this member of the onion family from seed.

Cinnamon
canela

This sweet spice comes ground and in sticks. It is much loved in sweets and pudding, but also in some meat and poultry dishes.

Clove
clavo

The word in Spanish means "nail", which the whole spice resembles. It goes into everything, usually crushed in the mortar with whole peppercorns. Use sparingly, as the flavour is strong.

Coriander
cilantro

One of the ingredients in pinchito spice and curry powder. The seeds can be bought whole or ground. Sprout them to grow the herb for its leaves, which resemble parsley. Freshly cut, the herb has a sharp, acrid smell, which diminishes after addition to food.

Cumin
comino

This is one of the exotic spices brought to Spain by the Moors which really caught on here. Cumin is often used in tomato sauces and even in gazpacho, though always in small quantities.

Fennel
hinojo

Grows wild throughout the countryside, a tall, rangy plant with ferny leaves. The young sprouts are added to soup and are good with fish. The seeds, which form after the yellow flower, can be used with vegetables, fish and breads. Fennel is added to home-cured olives.

Garlic
ajo

Garlic is sold in the markets by the head, cabeza, or plaited into strands, ristras. A single clove of garlic is a diente, or tooth.

Ginger
jengibre

Ginger root is available dried, in bulb form and powdered, and in tins. Can be grown from rhizome starters.

Marjoram
mejorana

Similar but slightly sweeter than the much more common oregano.

Mint
hierba buena

In Spanish it is called the "good weed". Next to parsley, this is probably the favourite home-grown herb in Spanish kitchens and is usually available fresh in vegetable markets.

Mustard
mostaza

Available in seed, en grano, both black and yellow, powdered and prepared.

Nutmeg
nuez moscada

A very versatile spice, it goes in custards and a number of meat and chicken dishes. Whole nutmeg best preserves the flavour and is quickly grated fresh. Also available ground. Mace, macis, is the thin outer shell of the nutmeg.

Oregano
orégano

The Mediterranean herb. Used in meat stews and in most marinades with vinegar.

Paprika
pimentón

As with chili pepper, this is a type of capsicum pepper, this one sweet rather than hot, which is dried and ground. Comes both strong, fuerte, and sweet, dulce.

Parsley
perejil

Ubiquitous, it goes into just about everything but sweets. Sold fresh at vegetable stalls.

Pepper
pimienta

Pepper is most fragrant when freshly ground. Spanish style, it is crushed in the mortar. Buy whole peppercorns, en grano, and crush in mortar or in pepper mill. White pepper is pimienta blanca. Tinned green peppercorns are pimienta verde de Madagascar.

Pinchito Spice 
especia para pinchitos 

Pinchitos are skewered meat, very similar to the brochettes of Morocco. A blend of spices, with cumin and coriander predominating, is used to marinate the meat before grilling.

Rosemary
romero

Grows wild on the mountainsides, an attractive shrub with violet flowers. Its powerful, resinous aroma and flavour is milder when the herb is dried. It is little used in Spanish cookery.

Saffron
azafrán

The word comes from the Arabic, zafran, meaning "yellow". Though grown in Spain, this precious spice is expensive. It takes the stigmas of 75,000 Crocus sativus to makes single pound of the dried herb. Besides paella, it colours and flavours many typical Spanish dishes.

Sage
salvia

Grows wild in many parts of the country, though not widely used in Spanish cooking.

Sesame seed
ajonjolí

Used in holiday pastries such as mantecados and polvorones. When not available where spices are sold, try the pastry shop.

Tarragon
estragón

Used to flavour vinegar, this herb lends an interesting piquancy to everything from chicken to beans to eggs. Best when fresh, so worth growing.

Thyme
tomillo

Several varieties of this aromatic herb grow wild on rocky hillsides. It is a standard ingredient in the home-curing of olives.

Turmeric
cúrcuma

A basic ingredient in curry powders, turmeric imparts a bright yellow colour and a pungent flavour.

Vanilla
vainilla

The English word comes from the Spanish vaina, meaning "pod". Available in pods, the vanilla "beans" and also as bottled vanilla extract.