Spanish food is known for being simple but flavorful. Even though it is not particularly spicy, it does emphasize a few pungent seasonings. Here is a look at some of the most important spices used in Spanish cuisine.
Garlic is the backbone of most savory Spanish dishes, at least when it comes to flavor. It works as a foundation for a wide range of other seasonings. Its intense earthy, umami flavor is used in all of Spain’s regional cuisines. You will see it used to flavor meat, soups, and seafood, among many other foods. There are regional garlic varieties, such as the purple garlic from Cuenca.
Spaniards love saffron, which is one of the most expensive spices in the world. The spice consists of the stigmas from the crocus blossom, which must be removed by hand. Manually removing these bright red stigmas requires a great deal of precision and many man-hours, hence the high price. Spanish saffron is grown in the La Mancha region. Saffron is responsible for the bright yellow-orange color and floral, nutty flavor of paella and other classic Spanish dishes.
The paprika variety known as pimenton de la vera is intensely smoky with a silky texture and bright red color. You will see this flavorful and colorful spice used in chorizo sausages and to season soups and stews in all regions of Spain, even though the spice is only made one tiny part of Extremadura. The peppers used to make smoked paprika are dried and smoked over oak wood for two weeks before being ground.
Despite its unexceptional appearance, the bay leaf is essential in many Spanish dishes. It is responsible for the deep camphoraceous flavor and aroma in many Spanish stews and soups. Bay leaves work well in slow-cooking dishes but is also known to flavor seafood. It helps to deepen umami flavors and works well with garlic and other Spanish spices.
While olive oil is neither a herb nor a spice, it does serve the same purpose since its flavor is one of the essential elements in Spanish cuisine. Spain produces more olive oil than any other country, and it is used in almost every cooked dish. It is usually the first ingredient in the pan for breakfast, lunch, and dinner. The main varieties used are extra virgin and virgin olive oil.
Produced in the town of Jerez de la Frontera, Spanish sherry is made from sherry wine. Sherry vinegar is a key ingredient both in cooked dishes and uncooked preparations like salad dressing. Spanish sherry vinegars are classified according to how long they have aged, which can range from six months to over ten years. Sherry vinegar is aged in wooden barrels, which gives it the flavor of the wood along with its sharp tartness.
As one of the most popular Mediterranean herbs, rosemary is a crucial ingredient in Spanish cooking. It is right up there with oregano when it comes to its popularity in Spain. It provides one of the primary flavors in paella and is used to season rabbit, goat, and lamb dishes. You will also see rosemary used as a tea herb and in cheeses. Rosemary’s flavor can be described as having resinous pine notes with a hint of sweet citrus.
Oregano is a Mediterranean herb that is related to both marjoram and thyme. Spanish cooks use it in marinades for meat and fish. Oil that has been flavored with oregano is an important ingredient in sausages and other preserved meats. Oregano’s flavor is pungently herbaceous with notes of camphor and lemon.