Make the most of culinary herbs and spices.


Handy Herbal Glossary: What Does this Mean?

by Sandra Bowens

Here's one that's full of our favorite recipes because we wrote the book! It is also full of information, helpful hints and ideas for using herbs and spices in your kitchen.

As with every occupation, cooks have their own language. Many of the terms below will apply to all cookery but a few have unique meanings pertinent to seasonings.


Bouquet garni--A bundle of herbs and spices used for flavoring but removed before serving. Usually includes parsley, thyme and bay leaves. May be secured in cheesecloth or just tied together at the stem ends. A teaball works well for crushed herbs and spices.


Capers--Immature buds of a shrub in the Mediterranean that are pickled. They may be packed in the brine or in coarse salt.


Chiffonade--To slice an herb or leafy vegetable into thin strands. This is easy to accomplish by stacking then rolling the leaves and slicing.


Dash--Generally considered to measure between 1/16th and 1/8th of a teaspoon.


Fines Herbes--A finely chopped blend of herbs that nearly always includes parsley, chervil, tarragon and chives. Common in French cooking.


Five Spice Powder--A Chinese spice blend typically consisting of cinnamon, star anise, fennel, Szechwan peppers and cloves ground together.


Grate--Rub against a special instrument, a grater, to produce small pieces, in the case of horseradish or ginger, or a powder, in the case of nutmeg.


Grind--To reduce whole spices or herbs to a powder. May be accomplished with a mortar and pestle (see below), a specially-designed spice grinder or a coffee grinder.


Herbs-- Roughly defined as the leaves of plants and shrubs without a woody stem although spices sometimes cross into this distinction.


Mortar and pestle--A bowl and blunt tool for pounding seasonings into a paste or powder. Often made of marble. The traditional method of making basil pesto is to place all ingredients into the mortar and blend.


Pilaf--A side dish of rice or other grains cooked in a broth with seasonings and sometimes tossed with vegetables or meat.

Pinch--See "dash."


Snip--To cut quickly with scissors into fine pieces.


Spice--Roughly defined as the seeds, bark, roots, fruit or flowers of plants although herbs sometimes cross into this distinction.


Sprig--The leaves of an herb still attached to the stem, often used as a garnish. If length is unspecified in a recipe, use sprigs about three inches long.


Tahini--A paste made from sesame seeds common in Middle Eastern cooking.


Toast--To brown the outside of a seed or nut to heighten flavor. This is easy to accomplish by shaking seeds in a dry skillet over medium heat until they just begin to brown and become aromatic.


To taste--Common reference to adding salt and pepper to a recipe according to personal taste. Start with a small amount, taste and adjust as necessary.


Zest--To remove the colored part only from the rind of a citrus fruit. Use a special tool to pull off strands. Or use a potato peeler being careful not to remove any of the white pith. Cut the peels into thin strips or chop fine.


Anything missing? Please contact us if you would like to see other terms added to this list.



Fully illustrated and categorized by flavor this is indeed a reference book for any kitchen.

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