Worldwide, hundreds of spices are in routine use, from the widely familiar black pepper to the somewhat obscure ajowan seed. They can be broken down into a number of different categories, such as the way they behave in cooking, or the region they come from. Keeping a broad cross-section of seasonings handy can be useful for people who like to explore different methods of preparing and seasoning foods.
Spices are made from the bark, seeds, roots, resins, and buds of plants. They may be used fresh or dried for storage, and they can run the gamut from fiery paprika to pungent fenugreek. Many people also include herbs, made from the leaves of plants, with this group of seasonings, although technically, they should be viewed in a separate category. Vegetables used in seasoning such as onions, garlic, and celery may also be included in this category in some circumstances.
Some people break types of spices up by what one does when it is added to food. Sweet, hot, pungent, and tangy are the four primary categories. Fennel seeds are an example of a sweet spice, while black pepper is a classic hot one. Asafoetida is an infamously pungent seasonin, and ground ginger is a familiar tangy rhizome. Often, a balance of three or four of these notes is required to make a dish taste right, which is why tangy seasonings end up in sweet dishes like apple pie.
Other people categorize types of spices by their nations of origin, or the cuisines in which they are commonly used. Some examples of types divided this way include Indian, French, Italian, and Moroccan seasonings. These cuisines have a few spices which routinely appear, such as turmeric in India, and the flavors they provide are often associated with these regions of the world. Moroccan food, for example, doesn't taste quite right without cumin seeds in many cases.
Blends like berbere, curry powder, Chinese five spice, Italian spice mix, herbes de Provence, and masala are also available. They integrate familiar flavor combinations from notable cuisines, and they can be used to prepare a wide variety of foods, from French-style roast chicken to an Indian curry. Such blends can be supplemented with less common ingredients, for people who like to play with flavors.
Some common seasonings that are usually easy to find include salt, pepper-based flavors like paprika and black pepper, cumin, coriander, mace, nutmeg, ginger, saffron, turmeric, allspice, cloves, cinnamon, anise, caraway, annatto seeds, mustard, cardamom, lemongrass, and juniper berries. More unusual members of the spice rack include sumac, amchur, grains of paradise, aji, galangal, mahlab, kala jeera, charnushka, fenugreek, gumbo file, and zatar.