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Holiday Season Baking Spice Guide: Nutmeg, Vanilla and Cinnamon

Slofoodgroup Team November 22, 2021

How to Use Whole Nutmeg, Vanilla, Cardamom, and Cinnamon this Holiday Season

Few things smell as lovely as whole spices, especially the first time you get a package of them in the mail. Opening the container for the first time, you might find yourself giddy at the thought of using them in your upcoming holiday menu—though at first glance, you might be at a loss as to how to use whole spices in your culinary exploits!

Spices like whole nutmeg, vanilla beans, green cardamom pods, and cinnamon sticks might seem intimidating to use in your home kitchen at first, but rest assured, it's absolutely worth it, as the final result will be brimming with extra flavor. We have a few tips to help you add the perfect flavors to your seasonal fare. If you’re ready to make sure your dishes pack a flavorful punch, check out this guide on whole spices, which includes best practices for using festive whole spices and our favorite holiday foods to incorporate them into.

How to Use Whole Nutmeg

As the name suggests, fresh nutmeg has a nutty and slightly sweet flavor that makes it a quintessential part of any seasonal spice mix. This fragrant spice is perfect in everything from sugary holiday baking to savory soups, and it also pairs well with creamy and cheesy dishes.

Whole nutmeg is easy to grind: simply crack the shell, peel it away, and use a microplane grater to grate as much of the spice as your recipe calls for. You can also grate more than you need and store it in an airtight glass bottle, though pre-ground nutmeg will have a shorter shelf life than whole nutmeg. 

Note that you’ll want to follow the instructions in your recipe with care: in very large quantities, this spice can be bitter and even toxic!

How to Use Whole Vanilla Beans

Whole vanilla beans add a sweet, rich vanilla flavor to any dish. In addition, they let any home chef make everything from DIY vanilla paste to traditional eggnog recipes. They may look intimidating to use, but working with them isn’t as difficult as you might think!

All you’ll need to do is lay them flat on your cutting board. Using a sharp knife, slice the beans down the middle without cutting through to the bottom.

You’ll then pull either side of this opening apart, scraping out the delicious vanilla seeds inside. This is what you’ll add to your desserts, though you might find it easier to take some of the sugar from your chosen recipe and mix the vanilla into it: this can make it easier to incorporate throughout.

Once you’ve gotten the inner vanilla bean seeds out, don’t toss the bean pod! You can use them in tons of delicious recipes, including many that will go well with your holiday food. 

Check out some great ideas for using spent vanilla bean pods and other answers to commonly asked vanilla bean questions. 

How to Use Whole Cinnamon Sticks

Ground cinnamon is a staple in both sweet and savory recipes around the world, and for good reason. Its mild, spicy flavor is the perfect addition to any spice mix, and it’s not uncommon to pair cinnamon with other seasonal spice favorites like clove, star anise, mace, and cardamom. But, before it is ground and packaged, it comes in its fresher form—whole cinnamon sticks, or quills. 

If you get your hands on fresh cinnamon sticks, you’ll be pleasantly surprised by how easy they are to use. Add whole sticks to hot liquids like tea, broth, gravy, and sauces. You can also infuse them in honey, maple syrup, and liquors. If you prefer to grind your own fresh powder, all you’ll need is a spice or coffee grinder or a mortar and pestle to obtain the most flavorful ground cinnamon you will have ever tasted. 

How to Use Green Cardamom Pods

Cardamom has such a complex, yet utterly dainty flavor. It simultaneously adds elements of pizazz and comfort to any beverage or dish. We especially recommend including it in your holiday spiced beverages this year; mulled wine wouldn't be the same without a healthy dose of this incredible little spice. It's also a phenomenal addition to braised meats or flavoring agent in rice dishes!

Whole dried green cardamom pods are far superior in fragrance and flavor than the pre-ground version, but if you aren't sure how to utilize it in its whole form, don't be intimidated—this versatile spice is so easy-to-use! Probably the simplest way is to toss it whole, directly into your pot during the cooking process. If you don't want to chomp into it as you enjoy your creation, just place a few pods into a spice sachet to ensure it is easier to fish out. Another way to incorporate this flavor into your food or libations is by grinding it yourself. Simply crack the pods to release the seeds and grind them using a mortar and pestle or a spice grinder. You really can't go wrong when using whole green cardamom pods!

Holiday Recipe Ideas Using Whole Spices

Want to get more fresh spices into your holiday fare? Like other seasonal favorites like clove and cardamom, the whole spices above are easy to incorporate into most autumn and winter dishes. Here are a few easy ways to do it.

Make Your Own Spice Blend

When it comes to fall and winter, there are a few traditional spice blends that get us through the cold months. You probably know about popular favorites like pumpkin pie spice, which takes a hearty amount of cinnamon and nutmeg. However, don’t forget other delicious blends like chai spice, speculaas spice, and gingerbread spice!

Incorporate Whole Spices Into Holiday Baking

When it comes to holiday baking, most home chefs find it easy to sprinkle in their favorite fresh-ground or scraped spices obtained from their whole counterparts. Simply add fresh versions of your whole cinnamon, nutmeg, or vanilla to your traditional family recipes, like topping your cinnamon-and-nutmeg-flavored pumpkin pie with vanilla bean whipped cream!

Try These Flavorful Spices in Savory Holiday Food

Don’t stop with sugary sweets: it’s easy to add whole spices into your savory holiday food menu too. Fresh cinnamon pairs well with a huge range of savory dishes, for example, cinnamon-apple roasted beef, lamb, or pork are popular options this time of year. A hint of nutmeg can add pleasant, nutty notes to most of these dishes as well.

Add Them to Seasonal Drinks

Eggnog recipes would be nothing without the vanilla, cinnamon, and nutmeg—but they’re not the only drinks you can use these spices in! Whether you add a few cinnamon sticks to your autumn teas or try some spiced cocktails, try venturing outside your comfort zone to create some mouthwatering beverages.

Check out this amazing recipe for mulled wine!

Spice Up Your Holiday Fare with Whole Spices

There’s no better way to celebrate the season in your kitchen than dishes with whole nutmeg, vanilla, and cinnamon. A sprinkle of these aromatic spices can add warmth, flavor, and sweetness to any food or drink—as long as you know how to use them! The tips above are a great way to get you started, whether you’re looking for long-lasting spices for your favorite baked goods or some extra flavor in your seasonal drinks.

As you work to create your perfect fall menu, don’t forget to ensure you have ethically sourced products for your gourmet spices and flavors! From whole spices and beans to the right tools, our spice shop has all you need to bring your favorite recipes to life.