The culinary expertise of the French is undisputed. French chefs have introduced the world to such delicacies as escargot, chateaubriand and mousse. Contemporary French cuisine began its evolution in the 1600s under the reign of Louis XIV; whereas medieval French food was heavily seasoned, the preferred style in the 21st century is to emphasize the natural flavor of meats, fruits, vegetables and sweets by using spices and herbs very sparingly.
Salt and pepper are the primary spices in the vast majority of French cooking. Chicken dishes are prepared most often with mustard, paprika, garlic, ginger, thyme, basil, bay leaf, and cayenne pepper. Mustard also rates high in turkey dishes, along with garlic and parsley. Cumin is an important seasoning for orange duck.
Beef French-style invariably is seasoned with bouquet garni, which is a bundle of herbs including bay leaf, parsley and thyme; other popular spices are garlic, rosemary, ginger, saffron and mustard. Lamb is often prepared with cumin, cayenne, tarragon, mint, thyme, bay leaf, basil, tarragon, parsley, ginger, coriander and cloves. Roast pork recipes include laurel and nutmeg.
Fish dishes are typically prepared with paprika, saffron and ginger. Scallops, a favorite seafood, are cooked with basil, thyme, white pepper and garlic. Herbs de provence are spice mixtures in two varieties often used in cooking seafood: either thyme, marjoram, rosemary and savory, or tarragon, chervil, fennel and lavender.
Zucchinis and other squash in French cooking are often seasoned with combinations of clove, thyme, basil, garlic, nutmeg, parsley and chives. Thyme and bay leaf are favored for potatoes, and many tomato-based dishes rely on garlic, parsley, brewer's yeast, oregano, thyme and basil.
Spices for Fruit
Various fruits are used for sauces and deserts. Favored spices include mint and vanilla. Apples are often flavored with cinnamon, and bananas are cooked with ginger and rum extract.
From chocolate cakes to fruit crumbles, French desserts are flavored with many spices. These include: vanilla, almond extract, lemon and orange zest, nutmeg, cardamom, salt--and, surprisingly, pepper.
French Canadian Spices
French Canadian cooking is rooted in French cuisine, but French Canadian cooks have included some additional spices to round out their recipes. Allspice has been added, as well as onion powder and sage.
French Colonial Spices
France's two periods of colonization infused many places with French culture. It is fair to say that the cuisine of France and its colonies blended to a certain degree, and the spices of these countries have also influenced contemporary French cuisine. These areas include the Caribbean, parts of India, many areas of Africa, the Louisiana Territory in America, Indochina and island nations worldwide.