Spicy Secrets

Spicy Secrets

Everything will taste better for a sprinkling of herb or spice. Spices are not just for curries!

When I was a student living in flat shares I would always dream of the day I'd have my own spice rack in my own kitchen...

It was the first thing I put up when I finally moved into my first 'own' flat. And it has been the first thing that I put up with every place I have moved since.

Home is where my spice rack is.


I use herbs and spices ALL the time. But from my conversations in the shop (where we sell a lot of loose spices) and with my students I found that there is a lot of fear lurking around 'getting it wrong' with spices, and many use spices only for 'spicy' dishes, like curries.

Which is a real shame because using herbs & spices is the quickest way to boost the flavour of your food, and the easiest way to create variety and new taste experiences while using similar ingredients and methods.

Always remember: Spices are not just for curries. Everything will taste more alive for a sprinkling a herb or spice (Don't believe me? Try a sprinkling of black pepper on your strawberries!)


Here are my top tips to get confident with using spices in your kitchen:

Get familiar

  • Get sniffing your spice jars: Practice telling them apart without looking at the label.
  • Make mental notes: Pay attention to the flavours you are drawn to when eating out or when browsing recipes, then refer back to them when you get cooking.
  • Intentionally look for spice inspiration: Search for recipes by spice not by ingredient to stumble on new ideas and become more familiar with tried & tested combinations.

Trust your taste

  • Sniff your pan as it cooks, then sniff your spice jars: which combination smells attractive to you? Try it!
  • Dare using your favourite herb or spice in random dishes and pay attention to the taste result.
  • Remember to aim for complement and contrast.
  • Use regional spice combinations to easily give similar ingredients/dishes a new twist (I have listed a few ideas below.)

Get cooking

  • Make it as easy as possible for you to actually use your herbs & spices every day.
  • Get just a small selection and get familiar with them by using them. Stop worrying about choosing the 'right' one.
  • Get ground spices if using a pestle and mortar seems like a pain you'd want to avoid.
  • Get started with a couple of made up spice blends if you feel unsure about how to mix them. 
  • In a real rush and can't even stop to think of what spices to add? Just add a bit of harissa or pesto or curry paste from a jar.
  • Don't listen to the foodies turning up their nose at ground spices or spice blends. Their argument is moot if it stops you from using spices in the first place!


Use a teaspoon or knife tip to get your spices from the jar into the pan. Do not be tempted to shake anything from a jar directly into the pan (unless yours have a shaker type top with holes). Inevitably only a little will slip in and you'll shake a bit more until a whole big chunk of spice breaks off the bottom of the jar and you end up with a landslide of spice in your pot! Well, that is too much! (Guess how I know...)

Should this still happen, immediately use a big spoon to remove as much of that spice pile as possible before it dissolves into the entire pot.

Last but not least: herbs and spices are real health boosters!

There is a reason why some plants and seeds have become known as what we call herbs & spices: because their taste and aroma is unusually strong. 

Which means they contain unusually high amounts of phytochemicals (flavonoids, carotenoids, anthocyanins, terpenes, sulphides and all that). There are literally thousands of these phytochemicals in nature - about 4000 have been identified to date, but only about 150 have been studied in depth. Aromatic herbs and spices are literally packed with them; using several herbs & spices together is creating synergy, so their effect is even more beneficial. They can be found in all plants not just those labelled 'super foods' (a humble carrot alone contains over 100 phytochemicals).


There is not much you can break by using herbs & spices. 

Start with a pinch of this and that, then TASTE it, and keep building the flavour. A pinch is rarely enough (for obvious reasons, be cautious with chilli.)

Check below for a few classic combinations to get you started. 

This list also makes for a good starter selection for a spice rack, if you don't already have one.


Go on, spice up your cooking, and you'll never look back!


Categories: COOK, EXPLORE


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