If food were a language, proteins would be the nouns, adding weight and substance. Fruits and vegetables would be the adjectives, colouring in the dish and giving it context. But if anything gives a dish life, in the same way as a verb breathes life into a sentence, it’s herbs and spices. These kinds of analogies are enough to get any linguist or food purist’s back up – and so it must be said that you’re welcome to disagree – but it can’t be denied that herbs and spices take your flavours to the next level, and imbue a dish with creativity and cultural identity. We’ve rounded up the most popular herbs and spices and put them together to find out when and how to use them. You’re welcome.



A single spice that contains notes of clove, cinnamon and nutmeg.


Apples, cabbage, gem squash, root vegetables like potatoes, sweet potatoes and turnips, beef or lamb, and various soups, desserts and breads.


Cardamom, nutmeg, cinnamon, cloves, ginger and mace.


Highly versatile and likeable, containing notes of spice (clove, cinnamon, anise and tarragon) with a minty grassiness.

Aubergine, baby marrows, bell peppers, potatoes and tomatoes, various cheeses, chicken, fish or pork, or with salad dressings, sauces, dry rubs and marinades.

garlic powder, rosemary, thyme, marjoram and oregano.


A satisfyingly bitter combination of nutmeg and vanilla.

Potatoes, tomatoes and mushrooms, as well as beans, lentils, and shellfish, risotto and soups.

Oregano, sage, thyme and marjoram.


Medicinal at first with notes of camphor and eucalyptus, but mellows beautifully into something gingery, citrussy and floral.

Carrots, citrus, corn, peas, sweet potatoes and squashes, as well as chicken, duck, lentils and pork, curries and rice dishes.

Cinnamon, cumin, ginger and turmeric.


At once familiar and exotic, cinnamon is sweet, warm and slightly bitter

Apples, carrots, pears, sweet potatoes and squashes, chicken and lamb dishes, as well as fruit sauces, desserts and breads.

Allspice, cloves and nutmeg.


A hot, hard flavour that relies on being paired with other earthy, sweet spices to complete a dish.

Apples, beetroot, squashes, tomatoes and sweet potatoes, lamb, curry, soups, marinades, desserts and breads.

Cinnamon, nutmeg, allspice and basil.


Fresh, green and woody notes with hints of bittersweet citrus peel.

Bell peppers, potatoes, onions and tomatoes, chicken, beef, fish, pork and tofu, as well as an array of curries, soups, sauces, stuffings, dry rubs and marinades.

Chilli powder, cumin, cinnamon.


A unique combination of hot, sharp, bittersweet, earthy and smoky.

Aubergine, baby marrows, carrots, mealies, green beans and tomatoes, as well as beans, chicken, beef, fish, lentils, pork and tofu, curry dishes, rice, soups, sauces, dry rubs and marinades.

Garlic powder, turmeric, ginger, cinnamon and oregano.


Piercingly savoury with hot, sweet, earthy and nutty notes.

Baby marrows, cabbage, tomatoes, carrots and mushrooms, beans, chicken, beef, fish and tofu, as well as curries, soups, sauces, stir-fries, dressings, dry rubs and marinades.

Oregano, cumin, coriander and turmeric.


Somewhat hot, lemony, woody and earthy.

Carrots, citrus, sweet potatoes, beetroot and squashes, chicken, beef, fish, pork and tofu, as well as rice, curries, stir-fries and marinades.

Garlic powder and coriander.


Pungent, warm, exotic, sweet, with subtle hints of citrus and mace

Broccoli, cabbage, carrots, squashes, cauliflower and sweet potatoes, lamb dishes, rice, stuffing and sauces.

Allspice and cloves.


Similar to thyme, but less compatible with sweet dishes.

Artichokes, baby marrows, bell peppers, mushrooms, potatoes and tomatoes, beans, chicken, fish, lamb and pork, as well as soups, salad dressings, tomato sauces, dry rubs and marinades.

Chilli powder, bay leaves, thyme.


Sharp and smoky, sweet and warm.

Bell peppers, squashes, cauliflower, broccoli, potatoes, as well as chicken, shellfish, lamb and tofu, rice, soups, salad dressings and marinades.

Garlic powder, chilli powder, cardamom, cinnamon and cumin.


Sweet pine and floral notes with subtle hints of eucalyptus.

Mushrooms, peas, potatoes and onions, beans, chicken, lamb, pork and fish, as well as marinades.

Garlic powder, oregano, thyme and basil.


Strong, with a sweet, herbaceous warmth, and sometimes smoky.

Carrots, tomatoes, baby marrows, cauliflower, green beans and peas, as well as beef, chicken, fish, lamb, pork and lentils, soups, salad dressings, dry rubs and marinades.

Oregano and rosemary.


Earthy, bitter and almost musky with hints of pepper.

Cauliflower, cabbage, potato and sweet potatoes, beans, lentils, chicken, fish, tofu, curries and rice.

Cardamom and garlic powder.

Get your South African, French and Italian herb and spice chart in
JAN the Journal Volume 7