The list of spices below are the base of flavor for most of the cookies you will be baking. Above, shown in their natural form, are pictures of the most commonly used spices in cookie baking. You will be using most of these spices in a prepared powder form. Except for vanilla, which comes in a liquid extract.
Allspice is one of the most versatile spices in the world. Its flavor combines notes of cinnamon, clove and nutmeg. In fact, because it encompasses these three distinct tastes, many people believe that it is a blend instead of a single spice.
It is about one inch high with eight segments and a dark brown rust color. Like regular anise, star anise gets its distinctive licorice taste from a chemical compound called anethol. Licorice, the source of licorice extract, has a similar flavor but is a completely separate plant from a different family. However, since aniseed oil is often used to enhance the flavor of licorice candy, distinguishing the flavors can be difficult.
Although star anise has a similar name and contains the same distinctive aromatic compound (anethole) as anise, it is from the Illiciaceae family and is not related.
Cardamom has a strong, unique taste, with an intensely aromatic fragrance. It is one of the most expensive spices by weight and little is needed to impart the flavor.
Cinnamon is one of the most popular ingredients on our list of spices. Trying to imagine the holidays without the aroma and flavor of cinnamon is like picturing Thanksgiving without turkey. More than 15.5 million ounces of cinnamon are purchased in U.S. grocery stores during the holiday season.
Cinnamon is the dried bark of a tropical evergreen tree. It is of a golden-yellow color, with the characteristic odor of cinnamon and a very hot aromatic taste.
The flavor of cloves is strong, pungent and sweet – almost hot. Because of their perceived medicinal properties, they have been used throughout history as a breath freshener and also to provide relief from toothaches. Cloves can be used in cooking either whole or in a ground form, but as they are extremely strong, any of our recipes that call for it will use the ground form.
Coriandrum sativum, is a plant in the parsley family. Ground Coriander seed is traditional in desserts and sweet pastries. Coriander has a mild, distinctive taste similar to a blend of lemon and sage.
Ginger is the rhizome, or underground stem, of a small plant that grows two to four feet in height. It is a beautiful, green decorative plant with a grouping of long leafstalks.
Powdered dry ginger root (ginger powder) is typically used to spice gingerbread and other recipes. Fresh ginger can be substituted for ground ginger at a ratio of 6 parts fresh for 1 part ground, although the flavors of fresh and dried ginger are not exactly interchangeable. As you are gathering your list of spices, remember that most of the recipes on this site we will be using the powdered form.
Liquorice extract is produced by boiling liquorice root and subsequently evaporating most of the water. By itself the taste of 100% pure liquorice extract is bitter and intense.
The annual world production of nutmeg is approximately 13 million pounds, relatively small when compared to the other holiday favorite – cinnamon.
Indonesia grows about 75% of the world’s nutmeg. Nutmeg is the actual seed of a Nutmeg tree (Myristica fragrens). It is an evergreen that grows primarily in Southeast Asia. Nutmeg powder is used almost exclusively in sweet dishes. You can purchase nutmeg as a whole seed or in powder form.
We don’t consider Sesame Seeds to be much of a spice but we put it into the list of spices because they are used often in baking. Sesame is grown primarily for its oil-rich seeds, which come in a variety of colors, from cream-white to charcoal-black. In general, the paler varieties of sesame seem to be more valued in the West and Middle East, while the black varieties are prized in the Far East. The small sesame seed is used whole in cooking for its rich nutty flavor.
Vanilla, with its absolutely unmistakable aroma and taste, is one of the most popular flavors in our list of spices. For centuries, people have treasured this venerable bean. Vanilla is a vine that is a member of the orchid family. It is the only orchid to bear an edible fruit. Vanilla is indigenous to tropical Mexico and Latin America.
Vanilla can be bought as a dried bean and grated on top of cookies or bought in its most common form, Vanilla extract.