A Handy Cook’s Guide to Different Types of Spices

Words: Jess Spiro

With winter well and truly settling in, the time for staying warm and toasty indoors is upon us. With that, what better way to fend off the chills with something hearty and warmly spiced? We’re loving slow-cooked meals this time of year, especially if they’re made with our favourite spices. Here’s a look at the different types of spices we’ll be using all winter, complete with some of our favourite recipes.

A list of different types of spices

types of spices - turmeric


Turmeric is a health powerhouse. If ever you’re not feeling up to snuff, you can add it to a cup of hot water to give your immunity a boost. It’s a natural anti-inflammatory too, so take it for any aches and pains that often come with flu. The flavour of turmeric is a curious one, with a rich, heady earthiness that’s so subtle, blink and you miss it.

The best way to take in lots of healthy turmeric is in a curry, Dhal or by enjoying a turmeric latte. This Tomato and Coriander Curried Dhal and Turmeric Latte recipe is fortified with spices and perfect for beating a case of the sniffles.

types of spices
turmeric latte


Not just for delicious desserts or baked goods, cinnamon is actually surprisingly good for you. It’s known to decrease blood sugar levels and is usually good for diabetics, specifically for this reason. It’s also an anti-inflammatory and loaded with antioxidants. When looking to add cinnamon to your diet, you won’t struggle to find a recipe that includes it.

This hardworking spice works well in desserts, tea and even savoury dishes. Chai is laden with cinnamon and a wonderful way to warm yourself up this winter, try our White Chai Hot Chocolate and Vanilla Chai Smoothie recipe.

types of spices

types of spices cassia

Cassia Stick

With similar health benefits (and appearances), cassia is mighty close to its more well-known cousin cinnamon. Though you may not know the name cassia, chances are you’ve eaten it before, as it’s often ground and sold as cinnamon because it’s cheaper than cinnamon. It’s also a main ingredient in Chinese 5-Spice.

There is nothing wrong with cassia though, in fact, if you’re making a full-bodied, spicy dish, then whole cassia has better flavour and is more economical. Cassia’s flavour is more robust and untamed, and won’t be lost after a long cooking process. In this hearty dish of Oxtail with a Chocolate and Chai Sauce, you can very easily sub out the cinnamon quills for cassia.

types of spices paprika


Paprika spice is the result of ground, dried red peppers or technically any of the capsicum family, including the hotter varieties of peppers. It adds a rich, fiery, pungent flavour to dishes. The smoked variety is just that, but using smoked peppers which are dried and ground. Paprika is incredibly good for you, so good that you could adding it to everything.

Get this — one teaspoon of the spice contains 37% of the recommended daily intake of vitamin A, the vitamin responsible for good skin and eye health. It also contains lots of vitamin B and E, along with loads of iron. Kick start your smoked paprika love affair with the marinade for these Pineapple BBQ Ribs, or try a classic Spanish Seafood Paella. Definitely one of our favourite types of spices to cook with.

pineapple ribs

types of spices pink peppercorns

Pink Peppercorns

Black pepper is one of the most important spices in food. It really is used in everything for the wonderful spicy and rounded notes it gives to food. Its lesser-known and potentially lesser-understood step-sibling, the pink peppercorn, is just as tasty — although not technically from the same plant.

Pink peppercorns are the dried berries from the shrub known as ‘Peruvian Peppertree’, and are actually closer related to cashew nuts than they are black peppercorns! We love the delicate citrusy and sweet flavour it gives to food. It has a kick but a much milder one, especially in Pomegranate Salt.

types of spices curry powder

Curry Powder

Is there anything more warming than a curry on a cold winter’s night? We think not. Curry powder is the all-encompassing spice you simply can’t do without. We get ours from Bo-Kaap neighbours, Atlas Trading Company, and trust us when we say this one is the best.

Some curry powder mixes are kept a secret, and we’re sure Atlas’ is too, but most of them include coriander, turmeric, cumin, fenugreek, and chilli peppers. Mixes can vary, and have anything from fennel seeds, ginger and black pepper added, to cinnamon, green cardamom and mustard seeds too. You could but it pre-mixed or make a blend of your own. Here’s a Pork Neck Vindaloo and a One Pot Lamb Curry that we love.

pork neck curry
types of spices

types of spices star anise

Star Anise

You either love or hate star anise; it’s a dividing spice. At face value, it has a strong anise (obviously), liquorice-like flavour. This spice quite good for you, its antibacterial and anti-fungal properties are said to be useful in the treatment of asthma, bronchitis and dry cough — some cough mixtures even contain star anise extract.

Star anise is most widely used in Chinese and Vietnamese cuisine, where it forms part of aromatic sauces and seasonings, especially broths. Even if you aren’t a huge star anise flavour fan, you’ll love the gentle herby note it adds to this Chinese Braised Pork Belly. The perfect pairing for star anise and perfect for warming you up this winter.

Chinese Braised Pork Belly in an Aromatic Broth
types of spices

types of spices garam masala

Garam Masala

Garam masala is a blend of spices used in South Asian cuisines, and as with curry powder, recipes incorporating garam masala varies regionally or nationally. Mostly though, a traditional Indian garam masala contains black and white peppercorns, cloves, cinnamon, nutmeg, mace, black and green cardamom pods, bay leaf and cumin.

It’s widely used in pilafs, Rogan Josh and many curry recipes. This is due to the varying ingredients all adding a different flavour component, that can elevate any spiced dish. The addition of garam masala is great in Lamb Shank Rogan Josh, or in this local take, Chicken Korma Bunny Chows. Need we say more?

rogan josh lamb
chicken korma bunny chows

types of spices cardamom


It’s almost appropriate that the last three letters of this spice spell “mom”, because if moms were a spice they could well be cardamom. With its gentle, warming lemony, camphorous notes, it’s like a hug in spice form. As an addition to most savoury curries or pilaus, it’s also very popular in Scandinavian cuisine too.

It’s very versatile and offers a wonderful fragrant flavour to baked goods. The cardamom in this Lemon Yoghurt Cake recipe, forms part of the syrup’s flavour, with the lemon and orange echoing the spice’s own citrus notes perfectly. For something on the savoury side try this North Indian Lamb Curry.

types of spices cardamom
north indian lamb curry

types of spices sumac


When it comes to different types of spices, sumac is probably one of the lesser-known ones. Native to the Middle East, sumac is a berry that is dried and ground to form the powder we know. The flavour is quite an interesting zingy, citrus flavour that in Arab and Middle Eastern cuisine is used in everything from salads to meat. It forms part of the popular Za’atar mix, which usually tops the traditional fattoush salad. It’s one of the lesser-known in a list of types of spices but should definitely become part of your repertoire.

It’s believed to be a useful remedy for upset stomachs when made into a tea. You can use sumac in lots of different recipes but let it really shine with this recipe for Grilled Lamb Fillets, dusted in sumac.

types of spices vanilla


A vanilla pod is the fruit of the vanilla orchid, and is probably one of the ubiquitous flavours in the world — probably because it’s so easy to synthesise. However, this flavour is incomparable to fresh vanilla from actual pods. The intake of vanilla is actually quite good for you too, it’s believed to have a few cancer-killing qualities and can help cure depression.

People are most familiar with vanilla in desserts or sweet things, but can be used in savoury dishes too.

Vanilla has a perfumed aroma with a slightly smoky or woody palate and pairs well with lobster, poached fish, added to dressings or even mayonnaise! If that’s too adventurous for you, stick to these delicious baked goods and see how aromatic vanilla can be.

types of spices
types of spices

types of spices chilli flakes

Chilli Flakes

This one is exactly what it says on the packet, simply dried chilli flakes that have been crushed. Confusingly though, not only chilli peppers are used in this condiment, as it can be a mix of bell, jalapeño and cayenne peppers. Dried chilli flakes are often chosen over regular chilli powders to build heat.

If you add them at the beginning of the cooking process, they offer a slow, medium heat, depending on how much you add, of course. If you sprinkle them at the end of cooking or for serving (say sprinkled over pizza), they’ll add zingy pops of heat. You can essentially add chilli flakes to any of your favourite dishes, but we especially love them in Crispy Lemon and Chilli Squid, complete with a rich aioli. If you prefer sweet treats try them in these Decadent Chocolate and Chilli Brownies.

chilli squid
chocolate chilli brownies

Got a handle on different types of spices now? Check out this list of fragrant curries.

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