Must-Have Flavors for Hispanic Cooking

One of the easiest ways to learn about a culture is to immerse oneself in that culture's cuisine. Fortunately for North Americans, Latin cuisine is very accessible and just about anyone in any area can enjoy authentic Latin foods.

For the at-home chef who is looking to recreate many of the flavors Hispanics enjoy in their foods, the key is to have the right spices on hand to accentuate the fresh foods. Here are some ingredients that should be stocked in the pantry.

Cilantro: This is a staple flavor of Latin cooking. This herb can usually be found next to parsley in the grocery store or farmer's market. In fact, many people mistake the two, but their flavors are quite different. Cilantro is also known as coriander or Chinese parsley. Dried cilantro is sold as coriander in the spice rack. One can find cilantro in marinades and in fresh salsas.

Chipotle: Many people assume that chipotle is a different type of pepper. It's actually a jalapeno pepper that has been smoked and dried to give it a different flavor. It can be found in rubs and sauces, and imparts a smoky heat.

Jalapeno: These peppers are moderately hot and are used in many different recipes and sauces. What's important to know about chili peppers is that the smaller the pepper, the hotter it is.

Cumin: This spice is used heavily in cooking and can often be found in stews and chilis. It can add potent flavor and more heat when used in conjunction with cayenne pepper.

Saffron: Spanish cooking wouldn't be the same without saffron. However, this herb is difficult to come by. It requires 150 flowers to produce one gram of saffron.

Cinnamon and cloves: These are other aromatic spices often found in Latin cooking. They can be added to meats to make the flavor more warm and inviting.

Paprika: The sweet or hot varieties are also enjoyed in the Spanish kitchen. The beautiful red color and bold flavor can make any dish stand out.