Spice advice: all you need to know about the flavours of the region

We sniff out a delightful dozen spices, then take them into the kitchen to create Middle Eastern marvels

With their alluring scent, intoxicating flavour and attractive colours, spices are of infinite intrigue. Learn a little more about 12 of our favourites:

1. Red chilli flakes

Also known as crushed red pepper, there are two common ways to use this spice: to add it at the start of cooking and infuse a dish with its spiciness or to sprinkle over at the end for a burst of colour and heat.

2. Caraway seeds

This spice’s name is misleading – not actually seeds, they are in fact the dried halves of the caraway fruit. Part of the parsley family, caraway has a bitter yet distinctly aromatic flavour.

3. Cinnamon

At home in sweet dishes as well as savoury, cinnamon is soothing, warm and familiar, yet also exotic and perfumed. Try the sticks in braises and pilafs and scatter the ground spice over roz bel laban (Middle Eastern rice pudding).

4. Cardamom pods

Native to the Middle East, North Africa and Scandinavia, cardamom is an essential ingredient in Arabic coffee. When cooking, it’s important to use freshly ground seeds to ensure you get the best out of this complex spice.

5. Sumac

Pleasingly sour and with a lovely lemoniness, the dried then ground berries from the sumac bush can be utilised in marinades, dressings and rubs, while they are also integral in zaatar.

6. Fennel seeds

Slightly sweet and with a hint of liquorice, fragrant fennel seeds are key in the nut, seed and spice blend dukkah. Use to coat meat or fish, sprinkle on top of salads and dips or as a way of lifting roasted vegetables.

7. Paprika

Made from dried sweet peppers ground to a rich red powder, paprika is mainly a chance to introduce colour and flavour, rather than heat. With sweet, mild and smoked varieties available, you can mix and match to suit any recipe.

8. Turmeric

Although its vibrant hue suggests otherwise, turmeric is one of the milder spices in this collection. Its aromatic taste plays a major role in countless curry bases and is also renowned for its health benefits.

9. Allspice

Featuring notes of clove, bay, cinnamon, pepper, mace and nutmeg, dried allspice berries from the West Indies offer flavour matches aplenty. In Middle Eastern cuisine, allspice is often referred to as bahar – try dusting over kibbeh.

10. Cumin

Earthy and savoury cumin has been cultivated in the Middle East, India and the Eastern Mediterranean for thousands of years and is also characteristic of Oriental food. Try toasting and scattering over rice, lentils and braised onions.

11. Saffron

A spice that certainly isn’t afraid to assert itself, saffron is loved for its inimitable colour. Admittedly the rarity of its reddish-gold threads puts it at the expensive end of the spectrum, but you do only need to use a few at a time.

12. Coriander seeds

More delicate than many other spices, coriander seeds’ pepper and citrus qualities lend plenty of fresh flavour. The seeds make a great addition to a pickling mix and are perfect for preserved lemons.

Use four of the above spices (namely, cinnamon, cumin, coriander and chilli flakes) in this classic Middle Eastern dish – spiced lamb kibbeh with kale and feta salad:

These little balls of herb-rolled mozzarella cheese are full of flavour, and take just 10 minutes to prepare:

Spice up your next mezze with this Middle Eastern-inspired take on chips and dip – smoked paprika hummus with zaatar crisps:

Find all these spices and more in Spinneys stores now