Spices Don't Start Out Looking Like This

Would you know the plants that these spices come from if you had to identify them?. (Photo: FotoSajewicz/Shutterstock)

If you came across the plant that produces cloves, would you know it? Most home cooks know what cloves look like, but they aren't familiar with the plant the spice originates from. Spices come from the non-leafy parts of plants, including roots, bark, berries, flowers and seeds.

Take a look at the plants — and the parts of the plants — that many of the common spices you use in your own cooking come from. Then, make a plan to use up those spices up before they lose their potency. Kept in a cool, dry space, most spices will keep their potency for two to three years — although it's often unknown how long they've been dried before you put them in your shopping basket, so that doesn't necessarily mean two to three years on your kitchen spice rack.

To help you use up your spices while they're still in good condition, I've included plenty of recipes that make good use of each spice, and many of the recipes use several spices.


When these flowers go to seed, the dried seeds become cumin. (Photo: Tukaram.Karve/Shutterstock)

These pretty white flowers eventually go to seed. When they do, they become cumin. The spice comes in both seed form and powdered form. In its powdered form, you'll find it in the spice aisle of the store as a single spice, but it can also be found in spice mixtures such as chili powder and curry powder, according to McCormick Science Institute. It's a spice commonly used in Indian, Mexican, Thai and Vietnamese cuisines, and its grown primarily in the Middle East.

Although cumin often is used in spicy foods, the spice itself isn't hot. It's pungent and has earthy flavors with green, grassy notes. The spice is rich in iron, and it may aide in weight loss. One study found that women who ate a little less than a teaspoon of cumin daily while also following a low-calorie diet lost more body fat and more weight than women who didn't add the cumin to their low-calorie diets, reports WebMD.

cumin, seeds, powder
Cumin seeds and cumin powder are used in a lot of Indian and Mexican recipes. (Photo: hongchanstudio/Shutterstock)

Use up the cumin on your spice rack in these recipes.

  • Ground Beef Taco Seasoning: Not only will your use the cumin on your spice rack with this recipe, you'll use several other dried herbs and spices including oregano and paprika. You'll never go back to packaged taco seasoning with preservatives in it once you see how easy it is to together this mix.
  • Spicy Cauliflower Stir-Fry with Peppers and Heirloom Tomatoes: You'll use both cumin seed and cumin powder, plus other spices such as turmeric and coriander, in this super healthy stir fry.
  • Jeera Biscuits: Cumin seeds go into these tea time biscuits. They're savory and sweet, salty, crispy and addictive.


cacao harvest
Inside this cacao pod are seeds that are dried and turned into cocoa powder. (Photo: PixieMe/Shutterstock)

The dried seeds from cocoa pods are roasted, ground and turned into cocoa powder, which is technically a spice. The beans are full of flavonoids, a type of antioxidant, which is why dark chocolate with 70 percent cacao or higher can be good for you in moderate amounts. These flavonoids may help lower cholesterol and blood pressure.

It's believed that the Mayan Indians were the first to discover the wonders of eating cocoa sometime around 600 AD. It wasn't until the 1800s, though, that cocoa powder was used to make what we know as chocolate bars, according to Mobile-Cuisine.

cocoa powder
But cocoa powder's flavonoid power to work in some baked goods. (Photo: martiapunts/Shutterstock)

You probably keep cocoa powder with your dry baking essentials such as flour and baking soda. Use the powder in these recipes.

  • Dark Chocolate Truffles: You get a double dose of cacao in these easy-to-make treats. The dark chocolate used to make them contains 70 percent dark chocolate and they're dusted with cocoa powder.
  • Chocolate Peanut Butter Overnight Oats: Who says you can't have chocolate for breakfast? Mix up cocoa powder with oats, peanut butter and a few other ingredients before you go to bed. When you wake, you'll have a healthy breakfast with the flavors of a candy treat.
  • Avocado Chocolate Pudding: A full 1/3 cup of cocoa powder goes into this pudding that also has a dose of healthy fats in from avocado. It can be made with milk and honey, or a plant-based milk and agave to create a vegan version.


ginger plant
These green leaves hold a surprise underground — the ginger root. (Photo: Tukaram.Karve/Shutterstock)

Ginger is the root of the the perennial herb Zingiber official. Above ground, the leaves look like tall grass. Below ground, the roots grow to be about 6 inches long. When the leaves start to die off, the ginger is ready to be harvested. The spice is used in cuisines around the world, and is frequently used to flavor beverages, both alcoholic like the Moscow Mule and non-alcoholic like ginger ale.

This spice that's been used for centuries as both a medicinal — it's known to help with digestion, for starters — and a culinary ingredient has a bit of zing to it, along with a little citrus and musty flavors plus a bit of heat. Fresh ginger has more of a kick than ground ginger.

ginger root, ginger powder
Fresh ginger and ginger powder can add zing to a variety of recipes. (Photo: pilipphoto/Shutterstock)

Ginger can be used in any of these recipes.

  • Golden Milk: A soothing combination of milk, ginger (fresh or dried), turmeric, cinnamon, honey and little coconut oil can be good for what ails you.
  • Fresh Ginger Moscow Mule: Instead of making this cocktail with ginger beer, fresh ginger and club soda are combined with the vodka and lime for a cocktail with a kick.
  • One Pan Orange Ginger Chicken: Citrus, ginger and Asian sauces and vinegars combine to make a sticky sauce for drumsticks.


nutmeg plant
See that brain-like seed? That's where nutmeg comes from. (Photo: Santhosh Varghese/Shutterstock)

When the red part of the nutmeg seed dries, it turns brown (and looks a lot less like an alien brain) and becomes what we know as nutmeg. The outer part, by the way, is dried and turned into another spice, mace. Nutmeg has a very long history. A recent discovery by archeologists in Indonesia found nutmeg residue in 3,500-year-old clay pots, the oldest evidence of the spice being used.

We sprinkle this spice — which may kill of bacteria and fungi — on eggnog and hot chocolate, bake into cakes, and stir it into stews.

Whole nutmeg and nutmeg powder have more uses than punching up the eggnog. (Photo: pilipphoto/Shutterstock)
  • Eggnog: This classic, boozy eggnog is the one my father made. It has nutmeg right in the beverage, but you can sprinkle a little on top, too.
  • Spiced Zucchini Carrot Bread: Use up the summer's bounty along with your spices in this quick bread that turns out moist and delicious.
  • Sweet Potato Soup with Nutmeg and Maple Syrup: This sweet pureed soup uses ground nutmeg and real maple syrup to create something satisfying and warming.


caraway plant
The seeds from the caraway plant are used for savory dishes. (Photo: Shutter Chiller/Shutterstock)

Caraway originates from North Africa, Western Asia and Central Europe. The spice comes from the stems that grow out of the plant's leaves that can reach up to 30 inches. The "seeds" that we often use to cook and bake with are actually the flowers of the plant, according to Soft Schools. When dried they have a sweet and pungent taste.

The seeds contain a small amount of oil that can be extracted and used for various purposes, including flavoring the Scandinavian spirit Aquavit. Caraway is most often used in its dry, seed-like form for baking and flavoring savory dishes.

caraway seeds
Dried caraway seeds can be used in savory dishes. (Photo: Michelle Lee Photography/Shutterstock)

Try the caraway seeds in your spice pantry in these recipes.

  • Hungarian Goulash: This beef soup (or is it a stew?) with vegetables is seasoned with caraway seeds, paprika, bay leaves and peppercorn.
  • Caraway Seed Loaf Cake: The ingredients in this cake, including 28 grams of caraway seeds, mix together quickly before they're poured in a loaf pan and baked to create a treat.
  • Nappa Cabbage Salad with Apples and Caraway Seeds: The caraway seeds are toasted before being tossed in with the other salad ingredients and dressed with a simple mustard vinaigrette.


cilantro plant
When a cilantro plant goes to seed, those seeds become coriander. (Photo: PP Meth/Shutterstock)

If the leaves of a coriander plant look very familiar with you, it's probably because coriander comes from the same plant as the herb cilantro. Coriander is the dried seeds of the plant after it has bolted. Coriander has been used for thousands of years. It's even mentioned in the Bible. It's name comes from a Greek word, koris, which means stink bug or bedbug because of the plant's strong aroma.

The ground seeds are frequently used in Asian, South American and Mediterranean cuisines. It brings a spicy, citrus flavor to meat dishes, curries and soups. The whole seeds are frequent used in pickling and they're one of the ingredients frequently used in amaro liqueur.

coriander seeds, coriander powder
Coriander seeds and powder often show up in Mediterranean recipes. (Photo: SMDSS/Shutterstock)
  • Vegetarian Chili: You'll use many of the spices in your kitchen, including ground coriander, in this spicy chili that gets its protein and heartiness from mixed beans.
  • Carrot and Coriander Soup: Sweet carrots and ground coriander are nice complements in this pureed soup that can be spiced by adding some pepper flakes.
  • Chickpeas Simmered in Masala Sauce: Serve these chickpeas that are seasoned with coriander, fresh ginger, cumin and more over rice.


sumac plant
From these colorful spires comes the sumac spice. (Photo: Algirdas Gelazius/Shutterstock)

Sumac comes from the bright red berries of the sumac bush, which is completely different than poison sumac. This tangy and fruity spice is used frequently in Middle Eastern cooking. It's color comes through in the foods it's used in, and it's frequently used in soups and stews, rice, salad dressings, dips and more.

This pretty spice has medicinal properties, too. It can be used in anti-inflammatory diet and help to lessen the effects of coronary heart disease and diabetes.

Sumac berries and ground sumac. (Photo: mahirart/Shutterstock)


cinnamon tree
Cinnamon comes from the bark of a tree. (Photo: Ciprian23/Shutterstock)

There's some evidence that not all cinnamon is created equal. While both types of cinnamon, Ceylon and Cassia, have potential health benefits that help those who suffer from diabetes, Parkinson's disease, and hyperglycemia. Ceylon cinnamon contains less coumarin, a potential liver-damaging compound.

Taken from the inner bark of a cinnamon tree, cinnamon is one of the most common spices found in most people's homes. It's used to sprinkle on hot beverages, flavor cookies, cakes and pastries, and season various savory dishes.

cinnamon sticks, ground cinnamon
Cinnamon sticks and ground cinnamon are something most cooks always have on hand. (Photo: Dionsvera/Shutterstock)

Sprinkle some cinnamon on these recipes.

  • Candy Apple Cocktail: This bourbon-based cocktail made with apple cider is sweetened with a cinnamon simple syrup made with cinnamon sticks.
  • Pumpkin Spice Cupcakes with Cinnamon-Cardamom Frosting: Light and fluffy cupcakes are topped with a spiced frosting. Perfect for the holidays but just delicious in mid-summer.
  • Almond Butter with Honey & Cinnamon: Make your own almond butter and customize it with honey and cinnamon for a lot less money than a grocery store jar costs.


clove plant
Once dried, these magenta flowers will look like the cloves you're used to seeing. (Photo: Tropical studio/Shutterstock)

Cloves have many benefits, including relieving toothaches, reducing inflammation, helping to control blood sugar and supporting healthy digestion. They may also be an aphrodisiac. Eugenol, a compound in the cloves, is an oil that contains antibacterial properties.

This spice comes mainly from Indonesia, Sri Lanka and Madagascar, and it's used to spice baked goods, meats and dressings. Cloves can also be used as a pickling spice.

ground cloves, whole cloves
Ground cloves and whole cloves can be used in a variety of recipes. (Photo: moving moment/Shutterstock)

Use these cloves, named for the French word "clou" that means cross, in these recipes.

  • Spiced Orange Shrub: This vinegar-based shrub uses many spices including cloves to make a holiday season-worthy shrub. It can be mixed with club soda, or mixed into a cocktail.
  • Smoked Ginger Chicken with Cardamom, Cloves and Cinnamon: A butterflied whole chicken is rubbed with plenty of spices then cooked on the grill to get smokey and crispy.
  • Stewed Apples with Cinnamon & Cloves: A simple and healthy dessert with some Greek yogurt on the side to complete the treat.


juniper tree
The dried berries from a juniper tree are one of the most common botanicals in gin. (Photo: Bildagentur Zoonar GmbH/Shutterstock)

Juniper looks like a berry, but it's not a fruit, it's a cone. Juniper is the only spice that comes from an evergreen tree. It's another spice that's mentioned in the Bible, and the Egyptians were using it as far back as 1500 BC. Its flavors are earthy and a little pine-y.

You probably know juniper best as the spice that's most associated with gin. It's also used to season meat dishes, flavor jams and pies, and balance the sweetness of baked goods.

dried juniper berries
Dried juniper berries can be used in drinks and even meat dishes. (Photo: bekka/Shutterstock)

Try juniper berries in these recipes.