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BookCulinaryVacations.com’s Extended Glossary of Herbs, Spices, Kitchen Terms & Measurements

by Cristina Costea

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Have you always wondered what ingredients are included in curry powder? Or what the most expensive spice in the world is? And what exactly is the difference between chopping and dicing? If you answered a resounding “Yes!” to any (or all) of these questions, you’re in for a treat! 

We are here to help you answer these questions and many more. As an awesome bonus, we’re also sharing our useful table of kitchen measurements that you can use as a handy reference when whipping up a storm in the kitchen. Enjoy!

Culinary Herbs and Spices 


Ajwain, also known as carom, are small fruits that resemble seeds; they have a strong pungent taste and a hint of bitterness. They look similar to cumin and smell like thyme. Ajwain is lovely with lentil dishes.

Allspice are small, round fruits that are used dried, whole or powdered. The reason behind its name is that it actually tastes like a bunch of spices put together. Allspice is a staple in Caribbean cuisine.

Amchoor is Indian for mango powder. It is a sour, yellow powder that is great in curries, to bring flavor to various dishes that require a type of tartness. It is very similar to lemon and can replaced or be replaced by it.

Anise, also known as aniseed, is different from star anise, but has a similar flavor. The seeds, which are actually fruits, are quite small, elongated and they have a strong licorice and sweet flavor. They can be used as a tea, to flavor sweets or in various drinks.

Asafoetida is a weird spice. It’s a powder made from the latex oozed by the Ferula root and it smells downright horrible. But, when used in cooking in small doses, heated up in oil, it releases a pleasant onion and garlic smell. It’s perfect in dhals (lentils), curries and in whatever you need a hint of onion and garlic. 

Fresh basil leaves


Basil is the king of herbs. There are dozens of types of basil, but the most common is the sweet basil. Basil and tomatoes are a match made in cuisine heaven, so wherever you’ve got tomatoes, basil is welcomed. Spaghetti without basil, is like a cat without whiskers.

Bay leaf is a large leaf that gives a strong and flavorful aroma to a dish. It doesn’t soften when cooked, so it’s not edible. It is an ingredient in the famous garam masala, and it’s perfect in curries, roast beef, and anything with beans.

Cardamom or cardamon are small seeds with a very unique and intense flavor. It is, after saffron and vanilla, the most expensive spice in the world. Cardamom is commonly used in Indian cuisine and it’s great in teas and sweets.

Chervil is one of the four fine herbs used in French cuisine. It’s also called French parsley, but it has a more delicate taste than parsley. Some say that it has a faint licorice flavor.

Chili pepper or simply chili is what gives the cuisines around the world their hotness. It has hundreds of varieties, including the most popular cayenne pepper, and it can be used in pretty much everything when you need a bit of heat, from soups to chocolate! 

Fresh chives plant

Chives is an herb that is related to onion. Its thin stalks have a strong onion flavor and it is mostly used towards the end of the cooking process, so that the flavor of the herb doesn’t dissipate. Great in miso soups, sauces, sandwiches and with fish.

Cilantro, or coriander greens, is the green part of the coriander plant. It is extremely popular around the world, especially in Asian cuisine and Mexican, similar to parsley but with a strong and even soapy flavor. Curry isn’t the same without cilantro!

Cinnamon is one of the most popular and most used spices in the world. Its distinctive taste adds flavor to cookies, stews, teas, chocolate and even beans.

Clove is not a seed, but a flower bud! Its specific flavor enriches the taste of meats, curries and goes great with apples and oranges.

Coriander seed is actually the plant’s fruit and it has a strong nutty, some say orangey flavor.  The seeds are medium sized, round and are used as spice in dhals, curries, pickles and more.

Cumin seeds are small, elongated and have a strong, almost minty flavor. They’re used in cuisines around the world, for both sweet and savory dishes. For those who consider the whole seeds to intense, ground cumin seeds work great as an alternative. 

green curry leaves

Curry leaf is a staple in Indian dishes and work great with rice, soups, chutneys and dhals. Their scent and flavor reminisce that of lemon, garam masala and some say even curry powder.

Curry powder is a mixture of herbs and spices, and usually includes coriander, cumin, turmeric, ginger, fenugreek, pepper, cinnamon, mustard and cardamom. It’s the key ingredient in curries, and goes great with both meats and vegetables.

Dill herb or weed is an herb with small and wispy leaves that have a very distinctive and strong flavor. It is a star ingredient in Greek tzatziki, and goes great with stews, mushrooms and bean soup. Unfortunately, dry dill loses almost all of its flavor, which is why it is recommended that you buy fresh dill, when possible.

Fennel seeds look almost identical to cumin seeds, but they’re a hint greener and mintier (similar to anise) in flavor. Fennel seeds are used in cooking, but also in the manufacturing of absinthe.

Fenugreek can be used for both its seeds and greens. The seeds are small, brown, and cube-shaped and are wonderful with vegetables. Fenugreek is extremely popular in Ethiopian and Eritrean cuisine.

Galangal is a spice made from the rhizome of a plant in the ginger family. Due to its origins, the powder/rhizome resembles in taste and flavor to ginger.

Garam masala is an Indian spice blend. It mainly consists of ground peppercorns, cloves, mace and/or nutmeg, cinnamon, cardamom, bay leaves and cumin. It’s perfect in curries and with pulses. 

Ginger is often used in cooking various dishes

Ginger is one of the most popular spices in the world. It’s made from the rhizome of the ginger plant and it is used in both sweet and savory dishes, as well as beverages. Ginger beer is one of the most appreciated drinks in North America.

Kaffir lime leaves are the most used part of the Kaffir lime plant. The leaves have a sweet lemony flavor and are used in stews and curries in Thai, Lao and Cambodian cuisine.

Lemongrass is an herb that is extremely popular in Asian cuisine. True to its name, it imparts a lemony flavor on the dishes it is used in. It’s commonly used with fish, and poultry, in teas, curries and soups.

Lovage is an herb that has a similar flavor to celery leaves. It is highly popular in Romania, where it is used to flavor broths and in UK for cordials.

Mace and nutmeg come from the same plant. Mace is the red part that covers the seed and it is used in savory dishes and it has a more intense flavor than nutmeg. It’s a type of combination between cinnamon and pepper.

Marjoram is an herb that has a citrus and pine flavor. It used to be quite popular in Europe more than half a century ago, but its popularity has decreased. Marjoram can be used to flavor soups, stews, and sauces. 

mint leaves makes a great garnish and flavoring

Mint is one of the most beloved herbs in the world. It has hundreds of varieties and goes well with a plethora of dishes, both savory and sweet. Just find the type of mint you love and go wild!

Mustard seeds are the small, yellow and round seeds of the mustard plant. They’re best used at the beginning of the cooking process, popped in hot oil. Great in curries and stews.

Nigella or kalonji seeds are tiny black seeds that have a flavor that reminisces of oregano, onions and pepper. They’re quite bitter, so use them scarcely. Kalonji seeds are great to flavor curries and vegetables.

Nutmeg is one of the main ingredients in ginger bread and it is very popular in Indonesian cuisine as well as Indian and Middle Eastern cuisine. A hint of nutmeg in a red lentil soup brings out the best in lentils. 

fresh oregano sprinkled on homemade pizza

Oregano is another star herb that is famous in Mediterranean cuisine. It’s one of the few herbs whose flavor is stronger when dried. It can be added to salads, various meat and vegetable dishes and it’s the infamous pizza herb.

Paprika is a red spice made from the dried chilies. The most popular types of paprika are sweet, hot and smoked (which is called pimenton). It is usually added to a dish at the beginning of the cooking process.

Parsley is the star herb of the Mediterranean area. It’s almost green-like taste adds a bit of freshness to the dishes and it’s commonly used as a garnish. Middle Eastern cuisine also loves this stunning herb (Tabbouleh salad, anyone?).

Pepper, with its black, white, and green varieties is, after salt, the most popular and widely used spice in the world. There isn’t a dish that couldn’t be made more savory with pepper! It’s a staple in any kitchen and it’s cheap!

Fresh rosemary herb

Rosemary is a popular herb all over the world. Its leaves are thin and medium-sized and they go great with all types of meats, especially lamb and chicken. It’s also the perfect herb for potatoes.

Saffron is the world’s most expensive spice. Saffron is actually the style and stigmata of the saffron crocus plant. It is used to flavor and color to dishes, especially rice. As with everything, there is good saffron and less than good saffron, and we suggest you do a bit of research before spending your hard-earned money on this spice.

Sage is one of Britain’s essential herbs. It has a savory flavor and it is used with poultry and pork. It is popular in European cuisine, especially Balkan and Italian.

Savory is closely related to thyme and rosemary and it’s a star herb in Italian cuisine. It goes amazing with beans and it’s an ingredient in the herb mixture herbs de Provence.

Shiso is an herb from the mint family that is highly used in Asian cooking . Both the leaves and the seeds are edible.  

Star anise

Star anise is the star in garam masala and it is used on its own to flavor various meat dishes. It’s one of the main ingredients in mulled wine and the famous Vietnamese soup, pho.

Sumac is a red, gritty powder that is made from dried sumac berries. It has a tart and lemony flavor and it is used in Arab cuisine, in salads and various other dishes.

Szechuan or Sichuan pepper is not similar to black or white pepper. It’s actually quite lemony and creates a funny tingling in the mouth, and even numbness. It is very popular in Chinese, Tibetan and Indian cuisines.

Tarragon is an herb with long and thin leaves and a strong flavor. It is one of the four fine herbs in French cuisine, along with parsley, chervil and chives. It can be used to flavor meats, vinegar and sauces (tarragon is the main flavoring ingredient of Béarnaise sauce).

Thyme is one of the most popular herbs in the world and one of the main ingredients in the famous herbs de Provence herb mix, along with savory, marjoram, rosemary and oregano. It is stellar in bean soups and stews, meat dishes and even teas. 

Sliced fresh tumeric

Turmeric is brightly orange spice used in Indian, Pakistani and Bangladeshi cuisine. It’s a healthy food extraordinaire and it’s great in curries and various other dishes. Turmeric can also be used as a dying agent, so be careful with it, as it can stain even a plate!

Vanilla is one of the most expensive spices in the world. Did you know that vanilla pods are made by a variety of orchid? Without vanilla, the cooking world simply wouldn’t be the same! We recommend vanilla infusions and the pods themselves. Stay away from artificial vanilla flavoring!

Za'atar is an herb and spice mix popular throughout the Middle East. It consists of thyme, marjoram, oregano, sesame seeds, salt and even sumac. It can be sprinkled on hummus, eaten on a pita with olive oil or with yogurt. 


Cooking Terms 


Cooking terms

Baste: to brush or drizzle sauce or juice on food while it is cooking, to keep it moist and prevent it from drying and forming a crust.

Blanch: to put food in boiling water for mere seconds to loosen the skins and to bring out the color.

Braise: to cook and brown meat on high heat, followed by cooking it in the oven in little liquid, and covered with the purpose of softening the meat.

Broil: to cook meat or vegetables under high, direct heat to brown the outside, and keep the inside soft.

Caramelize:  to cook vegetables or meats in a pan on low heat, in order to bring out their natural sugars and browning them.

Chop: to cut food; the pieces can range from very small to large.

Coddle: to poach food in water that is simmering slowly. 

Sliced peach

Core: to remove the core of various vegetables or fruits.  

Cube: to chop food into pieces that are shaped like cubes.

Cure: to preserve food, usually meats, by drying, smoking, pickling, or salting.

Deglaze: to add a liquid to a pan where food has been cooked, with the purpose of dissolving the small bits that have stuck to the pan; the liquid is reduced to intensify the flavor.

Dice: to cut food into small cubes of about 14-inch.

Drain: to remove fat or liquid from foods; can be done with a strainer or with paper towels.

Dredge:  to lightly coat vegetables or meats with bread crumbs or flour.

Emulsify: to combine two liquids that don’t usually bind together, such as vinegar and oil.

Flambé: to pour alcohol over food, and then light it on fire, in order to evaporate the alcohol and maintain the flavor of the drink.

Fold: to gently incorporate one ingredient into another one; usually done with a spatula.

Glaze: to coat food with a sweet liquid. 

Grate: to shred food, such as carrots or cheese, with the help of a grater of food processor.

Grease: to coat a pan or bowl with any type of fat, to ensure that the food doesn’t stick. 

a bowl of fresh fruits

Hull: to remove the leaves and stems of berries.

Julienne: to cut fresh vegetables or fruits into matchstick-size slices.

Leaven: to add a rising agent to dough or anything that can rise.

Line: to cover a baking sheet or pan with various types of baking papers.

Macerate: to put fruits or vegetables in a container, cover them with a liquid and leave them until they have softened and absorbed it; the liquid is usually an alcoholic liqueur or a mixture of sugar and citrus juice.

Mince: to chop finely chop something.  

Muddle:  to mash together ingredients in a muddler.

Pan-Broil: to cook something on a stove over high heat, removing any fat or liquid that comes out of it.

Par Boil: to prepare something in boiling liquid until partially cooked.

Pare: to remove the skin of a vegetable with a thin and short knife. 

hand made olive oil

Pit: to remove the pits from olives or fruits.

Poach:  to gently cook something in an almost boiling liquid.

Pound: to hit a piece of meat in order to tenderize it.

Proof: to check if yeast is still alive, usually by dissolving it in liquid and waiting to see if it bubbles up.

Puree: to squash solid food until it becomes smooth.

Reduce: to simmer a dish until its sauce or liquid thickens with the purpose of intensifying the flavor.

Roast: to cook by circulation of dry heat.

Sauté: to cook food in oil for a small period of time, until soft and lightly browned.

Scald: to cook liquid, over low heat, to the point right before boiling.

Sear:  to cook meat quickly in a hot over or in a pan over high heat with the purpose of sealing in its juices.

Shred:  to tear or cut food into long and thin sections.

Sliver: to finely cut food into long and thin bits.

Steam coming out of a pot

Steam: to expose to steam, any type of food.

Steep: to leave food in nearly-boiling water for a period of time, with the purpose of extracting flavor or color.

Stew: to slowly cook vegetables and meats in a covered pan.

Stir-Fry: to quickly sauté food in an extremely hot wok or skillet, while stirring often. No water should be present, otherwise, it’s not called stir-frying!

Toss: to carefully mix food, using a large spoon and form, with the intention of coating with it oils or sauce.

Whip: to beat quickly, with the purpose of increasing volume.

Zest: to remove the outer peel of citrus fruits. 


Kitchen Conversions  


When it comes to kitchen conversions, things can get quite tricky. The United States uses ounces and cups and usually measures things by volume, while most of Europe uses milliliters, liters, grams and kilograms and usually measures things by weight (except liquid). We’ve created this handy-dandy kitchen conversion chart for you to help you convert quickly and without too much hassle. Feel free to print it and hang it on your fridge!


BookCulinaryVacations.com's table of kitchen and cooking measurements

For even more useful information on how to become a wizz in the kitchen, check out our 10 useful tips and tricks article!


In the mood to do some grilling or maybe cooking a pot of curry? How about a culinary vacation in Europe to learn more about herbs and spices? Be sure to head on over to our website and browse through our extensive cooking holiday offers!


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