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PUBLISHED: 1:38 PM on Wednesday, November 16, 2005
Spice up your cooking for the holidays

  Spices range in uses and care.
Between now and the end of December, American cooks will buy almost 300,000 gallons of vanilla extract, more than 15.5 million ounces of cinnamon and enough ginger to make 450 million gingerbread men.

But those figures, released by McCormick & Co. Inc., tell only half - or five-sixths - of the story.

Once the holiday baking frenzy is over, what is a cook to do with all of those spices?

The following guidelines and suggestions were found at www.mccormick.com and www.spicesetc.com:

Allspice

A pea-sized berry with a strong clove-cinnamon flavor and aroma. It is sun-dried to a reddish-brown color.

Use: Desserts, sweet potatoes, vegetables and eggplant. Also a main ingredient in jerk seasoning.

Basil

A member of the mint family, this versatile herb generally is used as a flavor base in tomato sauce.

Use: Pasta, cheese, rice, salads, eggs, tomatoes and zucchini.

Cinnamon

A popular, versatile spice that is sold ground or in sticks.

Use for sticks: Hot spiced drinks and pickling blends.

Use for ground cinnamon: Desserts, pastries, rice and Mexican dishes.

Cardamom

A pungent, flavorful seed pod used extensively in Indian cooking. Whole pods may be toasted and added to dishes. Ground cardamom is used in curry powder.

Use: Indian dishes, yogurt, sweet potatoes, breads and pears.

Caraway seeds

The seeds have a warm, bittersweet flavor and are slightly nutty. Crush the seeds for more flavor, and apply at the end of cooking to avoid a bitter taste.

Use: Breads, cabbage, apples, sauerkraut, onions and pork.

Cream of tartar

It is used as a stabilizer for meringue and for baking. It comes from the deposits inside a wine barrel.

Use: Frostings, egg whites and cookies.

Cloves

This reddish-brown spice has a strong aromatic flavor and aroma. It must be used sparingly, though, because cloves can overpower other spices.

Use: Chocolate, carrots, ham, fruit, pork, pumpkin and marinades.

Ginger

Ginger is the dried knobby-shaped root of the perennial herb Zingiber officinale. It is pungent and aromatic, with a unique combination of lemon/citrus, soapy and musty/earthy flavor notes.

Use: Desserts, Oriental dishes and Indian curries.

Marjoram

The light grayish-green leaves of marjoram are similar to oregano, but they have a sweet, delicate flavor.

Use: Pizza, beans, deviled eggs and chicken.

Nutmeg

The oval-shaped seeds have a sweet, spicy flavor and a slightly nutty taste.

Use: Custards, carrots, seafood chowders, milk dishes and squash.

Oregano

Greek oregano is a staple for Italian cooking. Mexican oregano is slightly stronger and less sweet.

Use: Fish, pizza, potatoes, poultry and corn.

Sage

Cut sage refers to leaves that have been cut rather than ground into smaller pieces. Cut sage is preferred when the sage needs to be apparent in the end product. Rubbed sage is put through minimum grinding and a coarse sieve. The result is a fluffy, almost cotton-like product. The highly aromatic herb is characterized by a medicinal, piney-woody flavor.

Use: Sausage, poultry and fish.

Vanilla

Vanilla is derived from the dried, cured beans or fruit pods of the large, green-stemmed climbing perennial, Vanilla planifolia, which is a member of the orchid family. It has a delicate, sweet, rich flavor and is highly aromatic.

Use: Sweet foods such as ice cream, eggnogs, candy, puddings, cakes and cookies.

Sesame seed

The seeds are almond-like and have an earthy odor.

Use: Fish, green vegetables, bread, lemon and zucchini.

But is it still good?

The flavor experts at McCormick offer the following tips:

• Whole spices are good for three to four years.

• Ground spices last two to three years.

• Seasoning blends keep their flavor for one to two years.

• Most extracts are good for four years; pure vanilla lasts indefinitely.

• If the color of your spices has faded, chances are the flavor also has.

• Rub or crush the spice or herb in your hand. If the aroma is weak, it's time to replace the spice.

• Store herbs and seasonings away from heat, moisture and direct sunlight


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