Common Eastern European Herbs and Spices (from I to P)

Different herbs and spices on sale in market

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When discovering new regional cusine, the first thing people do is look up recipes that are of the most interest to them. While it may be easy to just pick a few random recipes and go grocery shopping for those ingredients to give them a try, it can be much more helpful to get the basic and most common ingredients in your pantry first. This way you will almost always be prepared to try a new recipe. This article covers the most common Eastern European herbs and spices beginning with "I" through "P".

Herbs vs. Spices

Herbs differ from spices in that herbs are the leaves of certain plants. Spices are the buds, fruits, flowers, bark, seeds, and roots of plants and trees.

The distinction can be confusing. What's more important is knowing how to use them and which ingredients they pair well with.

Store spices in a cool place, tightly covered, away from heat, light, and moisture. Whole spices keep longer than ground, but both lose flavor after about six months.

Fresh herbs should be stored either standing in water in the refrigerator or refrigerated without water in a zip-top plastic bag.

Common Herbs and Spices From I to P

  • Juniper berries (spice): Juniper berries are available whole. They are slightly soft purple berries with a piney flavor. They are used in marinades, game dishes, sauerkraut and to flavor gin.
  • Mace (spice): You can get mace whole or ground. This is the outer casing of nutmeg and it's similar in flavor. It's used in baked goods, desserts, fruits, sausages, pork, fish, spinach, squash, other vegetables, eggs, cheese, and chocolate.
  • Marjoram (herb): This herb is available fresh, dried, or in flakes. It has a pleasant aroma, slightly minty flavor, similar to oregano but milder. It's used in ground meats, lamb, poultry, fish, sauces, cheese, eggs, and vegetables.
  • Mint (herb): Mint can be bought fresh, dried, or ground. It has an aromatic, cool flavor in peppermint and spearmint varieties. It's used in lamb, fruits, tea and other beverages, peas, carrots, potatoes, jelly, sauces, relishes, and as a garnish.
  • Mustard seed (spice): Mustard seed is found whole or ground. It's pungent in yellow and brown varieties. You can use it in pickles and relishes, salad dressings, egg and cheese dishes, dips, spreads, meats, sauces, and gravies.
  • Nutmeg (spice): Nutmeg can be bought whole or ground. It has a warm, sweet, and aromatic flavor. It's used in soups, cream sauces, chicken, veal, vegetables, desserts, custards, breads, pastries, and as a garnish for beverages.
  • Paprika (spice): Paprika is the ground form of a dried sweet or hot red pepper. The Spanish variety is brighter but milder. The Hungarian variety is darker and more pungent. It's used in goulash, braised meats and poultry, sauces, cheese, salad dressings, dips, and as a garnish.
  • Curly parsley (herb): Curly parsley has less flavor than flat-leaf parsley and is used mainly for garnish.
  • Flat-leaf parsley (herb): This parsley is found as fresh leaves or stems or as dried flakes. This is the most widely used herb, often called Italian parsley. It has a delicate and sweet flavor. It's used in almost all foods and as a garnish.
  • Black pepper (spice): Black pepper can be found whole, cracked, or ground. This is the most widely used spice. It has a pungent flavor and aroma. It's used in most main dishes, sauces and gravies, salads, salad dressings, snacks, appetizers, and pickles.
  • Red pepper (spice): This variety is ground form of hot red peppers. It's very spicy. It's used in main dishes, sauces, gravies, salads, salad dressings, snacks, appetizers, pickles, soups, meat, fish, egg, and cheese dishes.
  • White pepper (spice): White pepper can be bought whole, cracked, or ground. It is the core of the pepper berry. It has a more pronounced flavor than black pepper and must be used with a light hand.
  • Poppy seed (spice): You can buy these whole. They look like tiny blue-black seeds with a faint but distinctive flavor. It's used in breads, rolls, buttered noodles, salad dressings, snack foods, and ground in pastries.