Here’s a closer look at some of the herbs that help shape the flavor of Thanksgiving dinner:
Bay leaves. They go into stocks and brines and are generally used whole. The leaves are removed after the cooking or marinating process is complete.
Their flavor is strong, with recipes often calling for only one or two leaves. But by mass, they’re a lightweight. According to the Penzey’s Spices catalog, 8 ounces of bay leaves would fill a gallon. Some cooks like to add a bay leaf to the water when cooking pasta.
Parsley. When used fresh, flat-leaf or Italian parsley is generally preferred for its richer, stronger taste, vs. curly parsley, which is more of a garnish. Parsley is valued for its role in blending other flavors, according to “The Joy of Cooking” by Irma S. Rombauer, Marion Rombauer Becker and Ethan Becker. It is generally sold in bunches rather than packaged in plastic like other fresh herbs and is also generally less expensive than most other herbs.
“That has to do with demand,” said Phil Dean, owner of The Herb Farm. “When there’s a huge demand, they can package up crates of it and a store will go through it. Whereas something like chervil, on the other hand….”
Rosemary. This herb has stiff leaves or “needles” that are quite pungent. Dried leaves can be crushed. Fresh ones should be finely chopped. Ground, or powdered, rosemary is also available.
Sage. Unlike most herbs, sage has a stronger flavor fresh than dried. Dried sage is sold both “rubbed” and “ground,” with rubbed sage generally preferred because it holds its flavor better.
AND HERE’S A LOOK AT THE SPICES:
Allspice. Contrary to its name, allspice is a single spice, not a combination of several. It comes from the allspice berry, also known as the Jamaica pepper.
Cinnamon. It comes from the bark of a tree that is then curled into sticks. In stick form, it helps flavor hot cider. When it’s ground, it goes into any number of baked goods.
Cloves. This spice is from the dried, unopened buds of the clove tree. The heads of the cloves are sometimes removed because of their intense flavor, and the milder part of the clove is what is used to make ground cloves. Whole cloves can be used to stud hams, onions and oranges. They should be removed before a dish is served.
Ginger. This rhizome is a key component of many Asian dishes.
Dried ginger can be steeped in water to create a liquid flavoring. Pickled ginger, which is thinly sliced fresh ginger that’s been preserved in rice vinegar, is used as a condiment with sushi. Candied, or crystallized, ginger can be used in baked goods, as can dried ground ginger.
The Spice House’s manager, Kate Erd, recommends adding crystallized ginger to cranberry sauce.
“It adds a little bit of sweetness from the sugar, but it almost gives it a little bit of a bite, because ginger is kind of hot,” she said.
Nutmeg. Nutmeg and mace come from the same plant. Mace is ground from the lacy coating that surrounds the hard nutmeg kernel.
“Mace is very much like nutmeg,” Erd said. “It’s used a lot commercially, but you don’t see it too much in cooking.”
Nutmegs are sold whole for grating or grinding at home, and ground. One whole nutmeg will produce 2 to 3 teaspoons of ground nutmeg. Just as some cooks prefer freshly ground black pepper, some like the fresher flavor of nutmeg they grate themselves.