The five basic flavour categories of spices

One of the objects of cooking is to develop flavors combining spices. Their individual flavour characteristics and in what quantities, is what gives us our amazing range of tastes. Each spice has its own flavour. Some are strong and could even be unpleasant when tasted just on it’s own, but they can make an important contribution to the balance of spice blends. On the other hand, spices like cinnamon or vanilla bean have such a delightful flavor that they can enhance a dish on their own. For that purpose spices are grouped into five categories based on flavor - sweet; tangy; pungent; hot, and amalgamating.

Sweet Spices

Well just as the name says these are the ones we associate mostly with sweet dishes such as desserts, puddings, cakes, and pastries. It is also useful to remember, that they are good to balance savory foods as well. Sweet spices do vary in strength and one can determine this with a quick sniff.

Sweet spices include Allspice

   Allspice

   Cassia

   Cinnamon

   Nutmeg

   Vanilla Bean

Tangy Spices

This spices make an important contribution to some spice blends as each of the tangy spices have a distinct acidic flavor which is unique and combines well to produce exotic flavors.

When using these spices remember to reduce the amount of lemon juice or vinegar in the recipe due to their own acidic flavor.

Tangy spices include

   Sumac

   Tamarind

   Amchur

Pungent Spices

Pungent spices have very strong aromas and even in small proportions they contribute a fresh vibrant element to a dish that may otherwise be lacking. They need to be used sparingly, but don't let this put you off, as they are very useful.

Pungent spices include    

   Ajowan

Galangal

   Asofoetida

Ginger

   Bush Tomatoes

Juniper

   Caraway Seed

Licorice

   Cardamom

Mace

   Cloves

Nigella seed

   Cumin Seed

Star Anise

   Fenugreek Seed

Wattleseed

Hot Spices

It is often the hot spice that causes a dish to be termed "spicy”. You need to use  them sensibly, as they can make or brake the dish. Hot spices should be used sparingly so that the heat does not dominate the flavor of the meal.

Hot spices include

   Chilli

   Mustard

   Pepper

Amalgamating Spices

These spices are generally mild tasting and combine well with most other spices. They are found in the majority of spice blends, because they perform a special role in uniting the flavors of other spices.

Amalgamating spices include

   Coriander seed

   Fennel seed

   Paprika

   Poppy

   Sesame Seed

   Turmeric