At the heart of every holiday dish is a spice—nutmeg, ginger, maybe a combination thereof. From these humble beginnings, our favorite dishes come to life. Where would we be without those fundamental flavors?
We don’t want to find out! Read on to explore the role of five popular holiday spices—and get ideas on how to enjoy them, at home or dining out!
Of all the holiday spices, nutmeg is certainly among the most versatile. There’s a good reason why you’ll find nutmeg in many seasonal “pumpkin spice” blends, as well as more savory dishes like mac and cheese. This spice is sweet but not too sweet, so its use in more traditional lunch and dinner fare does not feel out of place—in fact, nutmeg can add a sort of richness, a “kick” to otherwise mild recipes. At this time of year, you’re most likely to find it in pumpkin or apple pie, or everyone’s favorite holiday drink: eggnog!
A native of Southeast Asia, ginger’s “pure” form is that of a beige, sometimes peculiar-looking root from the plant Zingiber officinale. From early history, it has been used to treat a variety of maladies, especially sea and motion sickness. But you might be more familiar with its taste, and the way it’s used in your favorite holiday recipes!
Ginger is certainly spicy, but that’s what makes it so memorable in sweets like ginger snaps or, for the holiday season, gingerbread men! As a ground spice, ginger can definitely hold its own—but it can play well with others, too, and is frequently featured in a variety of sweet and savory dishes. Its bold flavor pairs well with many ingredients, and is especially emblematic of Asian cuisine. At Peach Valley, for example, we use peach and ginger dressing and glazes to add a flavorful boost to dishes like our Teriyaki Chicken Wrap or Salad. This just proves—even though ginger is a beloved holiday spice, it’s got more than one job in the kitchen!
We can’t imagine our favorite savory dishes, like a beautiful holiday lamb or chicken, without the classic addition of rosemary. It’s a kitchen staple for a reason!
Rosemary comes from the plant Rosmarinus officinalis. Its look might remind you of Christmas pine trees—and so might the taste, which many describe as fresh and “piney,” a natural flavor for the holiday season. A native of the Mediterranean, it’s no surprise why we see rosemary in so many of our favorite Greek and Spanish recipes.
Similar to mint, with an aromatic nature that will remind you of your favorite tea, rosemary adds a welcome, flavorful touch to your holiday dinner basics: bread, garlic dips… and the main course, of course.
Sweet, spicy, and very warm with a bit of a kick, cinnamon is an essential for the holidays and all year-round. The culinary world wasn’t the first to take note of cinnamon’s pleasant aroma, of course—even as far back as Biblical times, oil from the tree’s inner bark (from which cinnamon is harvested) was used as a fragrance for clothes and bedding.
In the kitchen, cinnamon can be used in a variety of ways—but it seems to be most favored in sweet breakfast items (like our classic French Toast), holiday snickerdoodles, and apple desserts. Can you imagine a holiday dinner without a warm, flaky apple pie as dessert? You can enjoy the same sweet medley of flavors with our Fresh Apple Fritters!
Of course, we can’t forget about the star of the show—when it comes to the holidays, no flavor says “Christmas” quite like peppermint. This iconic mint is actually a cross between spearmint and watermint, and has long been noted for its soothing qualities.
Culinarily, we can’t get enough of peppermint in holiday treats. The candy cane is perhaps the most obvious use of peppermint, but it doesn’t stop there. Peppermint hot cocoa is a fusion of flavors, simultaneously delivering warmth and that fresh, cooling kick. You can even add peppermint extract to red and white dough, then weave the two together to create minty candy cane cookies. Peppermint bark is another great, sweet option for the family—and if you’re hosting a dinner party, peppermint-infused cocktails are sure to please.
What holiday spice is your number one go-to? Whether you’re a peppermint fanatic or champion of the warm and cozy cinnamon, we hope you’ll find your favorite flavors (and discover new ones) this holiday season.