Often when we think of spices like cinnamon, cloves, and vanilla beans, we think of them for dessert recipes. They get pushed to the back of spice cabinets. Only to be taken out when you’re craving pancakes or chocolate chip cookies.

But why use these spices for only special occasions when they can also add intense flavor to savory dishes? In order to cook with these sweeter spices, it is important to understand how their flavor complements other aromas in your dish. Embrace the idea of cooking with spices in an unusual way with recipe suggestions from our Food Monster App.


1. Cinnamon

Cinnamon/One Green Planet

The spice has been around for thousands of years, used by the Egyptians as early as 2,000 B.C until it was eventually brought to Europe. In the early days of cinnamon trading, it was marketed as a luxury spice in order sell it at exorbitant prices.

Now cinnamon is inexpensive and widely used as a spice to flavor sweet, warming dessert recipes. However, in Indian cuisine, cinnamon is an essential spice in flavoring savory dishes, and has long been thought to cure many ailments in Ayurvedic medicine.

Because cinnamon is robust in taste, it enhances the overall flavor of a dish very nicely. It pairs especially well with beans, chilies, cumin, curry, squash, turmeric, and sweet potatoes. It’s also found in Chinese 5 Spice Powder, and Garam Masala.


It can be found in delicious entrees like this Nutty Quinoa Stuffed Delicata Squash, High-Protein Jamaican Jerk Chili with Tempeh, Moroccan Red Lentil Soup, and Fennel-Roasted Potato and Butternut Squash Green Curry with Brown Rice.

2. Cardamom 

Cardamom/One Green Planet

Native to Southern India, cardamom comes from the seeds of members of the ginger family. Like cinnamon, cardamom has been used for thousands of years, originally used by ancient Egyptians for medicinal purposes.

Cardamom is commonly used in Indian and Middle Eastern cuisines, and is a very popular spice for flavoring curries.


Delivering a powerful punch of intense, sweet flavor, a little goes a long way with cardamom. It highlights the flavors of coconut, curry, grains, nuts, paprika, saffron, and rice.

Try cardamom in dishes like this Miso Braised Carrots and Leeks with Cilantro Cardamom Basmati, or add a dash of cardamom to this Tomato Coconut Curry with Cauliflower and Chickpeas.


3. Cloves


Cloves, dried flowering buds of evergreen trees native to Indonesia, have a history almost as rich as their taste. Originating in Indonesia, Madagascar, and Sri Lanka, wars were fought over this spice to secure the profitable rights of trade and used to be incredibly expensive to purchase.

It is a common ingredient in spiced cakes and cookies, but it also goes well with carrots, fennel, cilantro, root vegetables, curry, and veggie sausages.

Step outside your comfort zone and try cloves in dishes like this Easy Adobo Sauce, or Paneer Tikka Masala.


4. Nutmeg

Katharine Hanna/Flickr

Native to the West Indies and Indonesia, nutmeg comes from the seeds of tropical evergreen trees. Nutmeg was once used by the Romans as incense. Soon, it became a popularly traded spice in the Western World in the 1600’s.

Because of its piquant, yet sweet flavor it is a common spice used in European stews and soups. It also adds an appealing quality to asparagus, cabbage, carrots, potatoes, onions, and thyme.

For a savory interpretation on nutmeg try this Baked Spinach Tofu Ricotta and Nutmeg Dip, or throw a dash of nutmeg on these Skillet-Roasted Chili Carrots, or these Potato Dumplings in a Spiced Tomato Sauce.

5. Allspice

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Allspice is an unripe berry of an evergreen tree called Pimenta dioica, and originates in Jamaica, Honduras, and Guatemala.

Although very much its own spice, allspice tends to remind people of a combination of cinnamon and cloves because it is slightly sweet and spicy.

Because of its ability to enhance other spices and foods, especially beets, mustard, onions, root vegetables, cabbage, and ginger, it is typically used in Jamaican jerk seasoning and in pickling liquid.

Bring out the flavors of other spices by using allspice in recipes like this Jamaican Jerk Plantain Veggie Burgers, Caribbean Jerk Sweet Potato Falafel, or add a dash to these Pickled Radishes.

6. Star Anise


Star Anise is grown almost exclusively in southern China and Japan today, and comes from the fruit of a tree native to the area.

Popular in Chinese cooking, it complements stews, soups, figs, garlic, carrots, and fennel because of it’s intense licorice flavor.

Try star anise in dishes like this Turmeric Tofu Cashew Curry, Vietnamese Noodle Soup, or Pho with Mushrooms and Tofu.

7. Vanilla Bean 

Vanilla Bean/One Green Planet

Grown in Madagascar, Papua New Guinea, Uganda, and Indonesia, vanilla beans come from the pods of a tropical orchid plant called, Vanilla planifolia.

Because of its sweet, yet smoky flavor, it’s often used to intensify the flavors of beverages and certain sauces.

Although typically thought of a spice to add to sweeter recipes, you can also add vanilla beans to this Homemade Ginger Beer, or this Peach Habanero Hot Sauce.

To learn more about spices like Spotlight on Cinnamon, we recommend downloading our Food Monster App, which is available for both Android and iPhone and can also be found on Instagram and Facebook. The app has more than 10,000 plant-based, allergy-friendly recipes, and subscribers gain access to new recipes every day. Check it out!

Lead Image Source: green/Flickr