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For example, Iike cayenne pepper is spicy and marjorum has a smoky flavor. I just want to learn the different flavors of each seasoning, so I can know exactly what seasonings to use for the different types of food. Trying to educate myself, I want to become a chef someday.

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Also see cooking.stackexchange.com/questions/7346/… –  Martha F. Dec 29 '11 at 14:41
    
I think this is a hard question to answer because describing base flavours and seasonings is almost as hard as describing smell. We just do not have that much vocabulary to describe taste and smell in the English language. We usually describe taste and smell by associating it with a noun that have similar taste or smell. –  Jay Dec 29 '11 at 15:48
    
@Jay: The herbs and spices we use are the vocabulary. That is why, for example, wine makers might use phrases like "hints of nutmeg" to describe a particular batch. This isn't uncommon; we do the same thing with colours, having colours named "sienna", "cream", "cornflower", etc. For that reason, I'm not sure if this question is answerable because the majority of spices and seasonings aren't generally made up of more basic flavours, unless you're willing to start researching and classifying the chemical compounds that make them up. –  Aaronut Dec 29 '11 at 20:35
    
@Aaronut: Yea that is pretty much what I was trying to get at. It's hard to decribe something that is already the base. If we were to try to describe what nutmeg tastes like, the only thing we can really do is say either what other spice taste closest to nutmeg or list food that has a distinct nutmeg flavor. –  Jay Dec 29 '11 at 21:53

4 Answers 4

I once read that mixing a bit of spice in an unflavored yogurt and allowing it to rest is the best way to learn its basic taste.

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Great idea, yogurt tends to take well all kinds of aroma without changing it. And the dilution it provides, as well as the moisture, will let you discern the subtler tones of the aroma which are lost were you to sniff or lick a dried spice or herb. –  rumtscho Jun 16 at 15:05

Spices can sometimes taste different when their context(other spices and foods) or preparation is altered. Other than trying known recipes, I occasionally taste an unfamiliar spice in several states over a period of time:

  • raw in cheek for a little while
  • Infused (like tea). Try some plain, some with salt, and some with sugar, (an acid like lemon juice or vinegar may be a third option).
  • Cooked and raw with a grain like brown rice. Try some plain, some with salt, and some with sugar.
  • Cooked and raw with meat.

Some spices have surprised me, such as turmeric, which was familiar to me with savory dishes, but which I had never previously tried with sugar. Some spices taste about the same everywhere raw or cooked but you'll find new uses, like cinnamon in broth, while others will only be useful cooked or uncooked.

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Brown rice, or oat groats, are a wonderful place to test out new spices and spice combinations. The result is almost invariably edible. –  Wayfaring Stranger Jun 16 at 13:57

Not to sound obvious, but the best way to learn what each spice tastes like is... to try them!

Smell them, taste them, and explore different combinations with different foods.

Start with the classics (for instance, taking recipes from a book) and start exploring variations of those. Sometimes you will end up with awefully tasting things, that is a necessary part of the learning (and part of the fun too).

Don't restrain yourself to recipes. If you think cumin tastes good with xyz, there you go, put it in, even if it is not the classic spice to put in it does not mean you cannot use it.

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Excellent question! I've wondered this myself many times, and I can't claim to know the best way. This is what's worked for me.

I browse through recipes, food blogs, and videos that I find interesting. I try making some of what I see and learn by taste. In other situations, I just get an idea by reading about the recipe. From there, I might associate cayenne with spiciness and try to remember that when I eat foods with cayenne in them. Overall, it just happens with time and experience.

One other thing that helps is to stick to making one or a few types of cuisine, at least for a few preparations. Cultures tend to have their own core spices. I find that if I've only tasted a spice once or twice, it's not easy to remember, so I need to have a few repeat encounters with it in a few-week span before I feel familiar with a it.

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