Italian cuisine is one of the most popular among Americans.
Beyond the hearty ingredients, the divine mixing of flavors, and the comfort-food portion sizes we often associate with most Italian dishes, just what is it that makes this food taste so good?
Spices! As with any cuisine, the seasonings added to Italian recipes are what gives the food its flavor.
We’ve outlined the basics about the top 10 typical seasonings used to make pasta, pizza, and seafood Italian.
1. Basil (Basilico)
The most common varieties of basil used in Italian cuisine are sweet basil and bush basil. Basil is generally used in tomato-based dishes, but it also appears in salads, soups, and pizzas.
2. Borage (Borragine)
A flowering herb that has edible leaves, borage has a flavor that is similar to cucumber. It is most often used in pasta dishes, salads, or fritters.
3. Fennel (Finocchio)
Italians use the entire fennel plant (bulb, stems, leaves, and seeds) for gratins, sauces, sausages, and in fish and pork dishes. The seeds and stems taste similar to anis, whereas the bulb has a mellow flavor that is distinctly its own.
4. Oregano (Origano)
Oregano is among the most commonly used spices in Italy. Also known as wild marjoram, it is added to pizzas, sauces, and casseroles.
5. Coriander (Coriandolo)
Better known as cilantro, coriander is actually the seed of the cilantro plant. It is usually crushed or ground and used in meat dishes.
6. Nutmeg (Noce Moscata)
Not just for pumpkin pie, nutmeg is used in both sweet and savory Italian foods. It is used freshly grated as an ingredient in dishes that are heavy on spinach or cheese.
7. Black Pepper (Pepe)
Freshly ground black peppercorns are used amply in most Italian dishes.
8. Sea Salt (Sale)
Italians use coarse sea salt as a basic ingredient alongside the black pepper and other spices described here. Fine table salt like we use in the U.S. is almost unheard of in Italian cuisine.
9. Flatleaf Parsley (Prezzemolo)
Flatleaf parsley packs a punch of flavor, which is why Italians prefer it in their cooking over the curly parsley we Americans are used to seeing as a plating garnish. Like salt, black pepper, and oregano, parsley is widely used to season a variety of savory dishes.
10. Rosemary (Rosemarino)
This flavorful herb is used in many different concoctions, but in smaller quantities so as not to overpower the flavors of other herbs and the food itself. Rosemary is added to lamb and pork dishes, as well as in soups and stews.
Certainly, there other spices that are used in Italian cuisine. From saffron and bay leaf to vanilla and ginger, the Italian seasoning palate is rich with possibilities.
Whether you want to stock your pantry with Italian seasonings, plant a flavorful herb garden, or impress your fellow diners by being able to pick out the herbs in your next restaurant dish, you now have an arsenal of knowledge about spices to draw from—wherever your taste buds take you.