What Spices & Herbs Are Common in Irish Cooking?

Irish cooking has evolved from traditional potatoes and beef to a fusion of international cuisine and ingredients flavored with common Irish herbs and spices. In addition to pantry staples such as salt and pepper, Irish cooks favor pungent spices and dried herbs that give their foods a strong and distinct flavor. Draw on Old World recipes and use those ingredients to inspire modern favorites with an Irish flair.

Bowl of traditional Irish stew.
Bowl of traditional Irish stew. (Image: robynmac/iStock/Getty Images)

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Irish cooks love garlic. Although typically associated with mediterranean cooking, the bulb originated in Ireland and the world owes Irish monks of the seventh century for its spread throughout Europe. A classic ingredient in pickled vegetables as well as corned beef and other preserved meats, garlic also adds flavor to batter for fish, roasted chicken and creamed potatoes.

Garlic bulb and cloves.
Garlic bulb and cloves. (Image: Amarita/iStock/Getty Images)

Fresh Thyme

Fresh thyme leaves garnish and flavor both meat and vegetables in Irish cooking. When pulled off the sprig, fresh thyme brings an earthy spring flavor that blends well with creamed peas and fresh roasted lamb. Mix fresh thyme leaves into chicken salad or potato salad just before serving and add a bright green color as well as an Irish flavor. Pull whole sprigs of fresh thyme for bundling with other herbs and garnishing fresh poached fish or chicken. Fresh thyme mixes with other herbs such as rosemary and basil in Irish cooking.

A bunch of fresh thyme.
A bunch of fresh thyme. (Image: Lukawo/iStock/Getty Images)

Caraway Seeds

Caraway seeds, with their fennel- or anise-like flavor and crunchy texture add Irish flavor to diverse dishes from soda bread to corned beef. Sprinkle them into mashed potatoes or add them to a brining solution for roast chicken. Irish sausages traditionally contain caraway seeds instead of fennel. Add them to ground beef for shepherd's pie or mix them into supermarket ground sausage, form into patties and serve with soda bread and eggs for an Irish breakfast.

Caraway seeds.
Caraway seeds. (Image: hsagencia/iStock/Getty Images)


Also typically found in corned beef brine, cloves add spicy sweetness to Irish main dishes, where they're found in more than just desserts. Cloves come from the flower bud of a tree native to Indonesia, but came to Ireland in the colonial era. Ground dried cloves mix into meat dishes and add a warm spiciness to root vegetables such as turnips and carrots. In Irish cooking, cloves blend well with cinnamon, nutmeg and peppercorns.

A scooper filled with cloves.
A scooper filled with cloves. (Image: tycoon751/iStock/Getty Images)


  • Elegant Irish Cooking; Noel Cullen
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