Baking spices

Baking spices

All you need to know about choosing, storing, and combining classic baking spices.

Spices and herbs1. Allspice/Jamaica pepper

  • Not a spice blend as the name suggests, but a spice on its own.
  • It has the flavour of nutmeg, cloves, and cinnamon.
  • Ground allspice is used in desserts, cakes, biscuits, cookies, and puddings.

2. Anise seed

  • It has a sweet liquorice flavour.
  • Great for sweets, cakes, and fruit fillings.

3. Caraway

  • Its slender seeds are pungent.
  • Delicious used in cakes, sweet breads, rye bread, biscuits, cookies, and apple pies.
  • The seeds lose their flavour quickly, so it’s best to grind when needed.
  • Caraway and orange is a classic combination in cookies, flapjacks or seed cakes.

4. Cardamom

  • A fragrant spice that goes well with sweet foods.
  • It has a mild ginger flavour.
  • The seeds are sticky and the belief is the stickier they are, the fresher the seeds.
  • Use in cakes, pastries, and desserts.
  • Coffee and cardamom is a classic combination to use in mousses and cakes.

Note When buying cardamom, make sure the pods remain tightly closed so as to keep the aroma and flavour of the seeds. To grind the seeds, first loosen the pods by crushing them with a pestle and mortar then grind the seeds on their own.

5. Cinnamon

  • It has a warm, sweet, spicy, nutty flavour.
  • Ground cinnamon is great in puddings and stewed fruits.
  • Apple and cinnamon is a classic combination in apple crumbles and fruit pies.
  • Best bought ground, as it’s difficult to produce fine results.

6. Cloves

  • Have a fruity but spicy hot flavour.
  • The pungent flavour blends well with other spices.
  • Ground cloves are used in rich sticky biscuits and cakes that contain treacle or molasses.

7. Ginger

  • It has a very fragrant and slightly hot taste.
  • Ground ginger is used in cakes, biscuits, cookies, and puddings.
  • Ginger works well with other spices such as cloves, nutmeg, cinnamon, and cardamom.
  • Best bought ground as it’s difficult to produce fine results.

8. Mace

  • It has a delicate peppery nutmeg flavour.
  • It’s made from the red lacy covering of nutmeg seeds.
  • Best bought ground as it’s difficult to produce fine results.
  • Use like nutmeg.

9. Mixed spice

  • It’s usually a combination of cinnamon, ginger, nutmeg, and cloves.
  • Dried fruit and mixed spice is a classic combination to use in fruit cakes, currants buns, and plum puddings.

10. Nutmeg

  • It’s a versatile seed kernel with a sweet, spicy taste and earthy flavour.
  • Use in mousses, cakes, milky puddings, pumpkin pies, and custards.
  • It quickly loses flavour so it’s best to use freshly grated and add at the end of cooking.
  • It goes well with smooth milky rice pudding. Grate a little nutmeg into the rice while cooking and add a little more just before serving.
  • Good quality nutmeg gives off a little oil when pressed with your thumb.
  • Whole nutmeg can keep well for years if stored well in a cool dark airtight container.

11. Saffron

  • Saffron is the dried yellow stigmas from a small purple crocus flower.
  • This is the most expensive spice and it has a very complex flavour.
  • It can be used for cakes and breads even though it is usually associated with savoury dishes.
  • Use sparingly as its flavour is overpowering.

12. Star anise

  • It has a liquorice aniseed-like flavour and is prized for its shape.
  • Use with fruit puddings and strudel.

13. Vanilla

  • Well known for its fragrance.
  • Sold as essence, extract or pods.
  • When buying vanilla essence be careful the label says ‘essence’ not ‘flavouring’. Vanilla flavouring is an artificial substance usually made from clove oil and it has a bitter taste.
  • It goes well with other spices and chocolate.
  • Use in cakes, biscuits, desserts, and most sweet dishes.



  • Buy the best spices you can afford.
  • Ground spices lose their flavour quickly so buy whole spices and grind as you need. A cheap coffee grinder is good enough for the job.
  • Whole spices have a longer shelf life and better flavour than ground spices, and do not contain additives like salt.
  • If buying ground spices make sure you use them within their use-by date.
  • Buy ground spices in small amounts and not in bulk as they quickly lose their potency.
  • Do not use spices more than six months after opening the packaging.
  • Store spices in an airtight container, in a cool dry place, away from direct sunlight – freezing them is best. Avoid places near the window, stove and dishwasher as these expose the spices to light, heat and moisture respectively.
  • When using homeground spices, use a little less than the amount called for in the recipe as freshly ground spices are very potent. Where a recipe calls for a teaspoon, use three-quarters of the teaspoon instead.
  • Grate in small batches if you feel you don’t have the time to stop and grate while you’re baking. Do this especially when you are planning on baking and can spare some time.
  • Find a good spice vendor who supplies fresh spices and can give you information on how to use the spices.



It’s worth investing in one or all of these to take full advantage of the potency of freshly ground spices.

  • Pestle and mortar

This is the earliest method used to pound or grind spices. The final product is usually coarse in texture and therefore not suitable when baking light cakes that require finely ground spices. A pestle and mortar is mostly suitable for grinding small amounts of spices.

  • Coffee grinder

It grinds larger amounts of spices than a pestle and mortar. However, the grinder should not be used for anything else, like coffee, as the coffee will adopt a spicy flavour. To clean your coffee grinder, brush it with a bristled pantry brush then pulse with uncooked rice, rock salt or a mixture of salt and baking soda. Discard the salt and wipe clean. Baking soda helps to get rid of odours.

  • Grater

A fine grater is essential for freshly grating nutmeg.

Compiled by Karen Nyasha Marasha



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