Once you've stocked your cupboard with these versatile seasonings, you'll be convinced: Variety really is the spice of life.
Most cinnamon on the market today is actually cassia, the dried bark of a tropical laurel tree. (The real stuff is lighter in color and sweeter in flavor.) Cinnamon oil is a powerful antiseptic, and the spice is believed to help regulate blood sugar and cholesterol. Toss a stick into beef stew, or use as a stirrer for coffee, chai tea, or hot cocoa.
Once used to fight the spread of bubonic plague, nutmeg improves digestion and, when applied topically, soothes joint and muscle pain. Its woodsy flavor is most familiar from holiday classics such as apple pie, but this delicate spice adds an intriguing note to savory comfort food too. Dust it over roast lamb, macaroni and cheese, or creamed spinach.
This venerable spice, a distant relative of cinnamon and avocado, is an unsung hero of the modern kitchen. Its aromatic, slightly astringent flavor is essential to countless stocks, soups, sauces, and marinades. For a sweet adventure, add a leaf to rice pudding, poached pears, or stewed apricots. (As with savory dishes, fish out leaves before serving.)
This spice blend contains nutritional heavy hitters like fenugreek, which relieves everything from bronchitis to menstrual cramps, and turmeric, whose potent antioxidants help prevent cell damage. Add a dash to potato soup, or whip together with mayonnaise for a tasty egg salad.
Used as a medicine in ancient Egypt, cumin is still extolled for its health benefits: It's believed to stimulate the pancreatic enzymes responsible for digestion and the liver enzymes that handle detoxification. Incorporate cumin into black beans, or make a simple spice butter to serve with corn on the cob.