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The 5 Best Herbs and Spices For Beginning Cooks

by Caterina Christakos

Herbs and spices can make or break a meal. Even at the bare minimum, just putting a little bit of pepper into a dish can really bring out the flavors while making the meal tastier and fuller. Still, there's only so much you can do with the basics. But the problem is that there are so many different herbs and spices to choose from, and it can be hard to know which ones to use for which dishes, particularly if your chef's palate is not well developed. If you're not the most experienced cook in the world but you want to start developing a sophisticated sense of seasoning, get to know these first.

Basil: Basil is a staple of many international cuisines, most notably Italian. If you're cooking any type of Italian dish, particularly northern Italian, there's a very good chance that at least a dash of basil will fit right in. On the other hand, it works great as a main ingredient in dishes such as tomato basil soup or margherita pizza. Meanwhile, the herb is also useful in Middle Eastern, Indian, and certain types of Asian foods.

Chili powder: Want to add a little bit of bite to your meal? Chili powder is surprisingly versatile. In small quantities, it goes well in a wide variety of dishes from almost all types of cuisine. Mix it into any dish that is supposed to be spicy, including Mexican or Southwestern foods, and also keep it handy for southern Italian dishes such as spicy pastas. Just always make sure to add a little at a time, and do a taste test before you add anymore. Chili can overpower a meal if you use too much, and there's no way to balance it out when you go too far.

Cinnamon: Cinnamon, made from the bark of a type of small tree that mainly grows in certain parts of Asia, especially Sri Lanka, China, and Indonesia, is a wonder-spice for practically all types of desserts and many breakfast dishes. Add it to pies, cakes, sweet breads, fruit-based desserts, ice cream, hot cereals, pancakes, waffles, and french toast. You can also mix it into coffee, cider, or hot cocoa to give the drink more character.

Cumin: Cumin is an underappreciated spice that goes well in many types of international cuisines such as Indian and Middle Eastern, but it's also a very welcome addition to Southwestern or Latin American dishes. For example, as a perfect side dish to a Mexican meal, make some beans and rice, and mix in a few dashes of cumin along with a little salt and pepper. Once you get into the habit of using Cumin, it will become one of your go-to spices for all kinds of meals.

Oregano: Another herb that goes great in most Italian dishes, oregano is very strong, so use it in relatively small quantities. While it goes well with basil, it also works great in spicier dishes from southern Italy. It's indispensable in Greek and Turkish cuisine, and it's a common addition to many types of soups and sauces-especially pizza sauce, where it can be used quite liberally. In fact, oregano originally became popular in the U.S. as a pizza ingredient, and it has since spread to other types of dishes.

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