Spices 101: Common Myths Debunked (recipe: Chai-Spiced Granola)

An ‘Introduction to Spices’ would be an entire module in cooking school if I were the instructor. I think spices are that important to cooking.

Proper selection and addition of good quality spices to a dish can elevate the flavor of a dish with little effort and minimal cost; that alone is reason to learn how to use spices and incorporate them into daily cooking.

What is a spice? Any plant material that modifies the flavor of foods. A spice can be a root, bark, various seeds, dried fruits and plenty of fresh and dried herbs. All of these ingredients appeal to individuals in different ways and that is why the best spice is the one that makes your senses dance.

Common Spice Myths

But I don’t like hot food.” Neither do I! Chilies and peppers aside, most spices are not hot, but aromatic. Spicy food is always pungent, but not necessarily hot.

Spices are exotic, not for my everyday home cooking.” Tut, tut. There are few mistakes when it comes to spicing food, the greatest being under-seasoning. Often too much salt and sugar is added, and flavors are not enhanced with spices. Adding spices is one of the simplest way you can transform a forgettable dish into something memorable.

Won’t spicy food give me indigestion?” On the contrary, spices are beneficial to your health! Many spices and herbs (rosemary, bay leaf, oregano, cloves, thyme and more) are extremely high in antioxidants which hinder bacterial activity.

Spices 101 Series

Coming up on Simple Bites, we’re going to take some time to learn all about spices including:

  • Buying and Storing Spices
  • Toasting and Grinding Spices
  • Cooking with Spices

Feel free to put up your hand and send questions my way! Please leave them as a comment because others may have the same question as you–or the answer! I’m discovering how very savvy Simple Bites readers are and am enjoying the discussions we have after every post.

Recipe: Chai Spice Granola with Dried Apple and Almonds

Here’s a recipe that demonstrates how a few simple spices can be incorporated into a dish and transform it from ordinary to extraordinary. Let’s talk about this granola for a minute, shall we?

  • It’s sugar-free!
  • It is dead simple to make, despite the significantly lengthy list of ingredients.
  • It is extremely well suited to inviting a child or three to pull up stools and participate in the process.
  • It will perfume your house; oh are you in for a treat.
  • The original recipe was created by Simple Bites contributor Cheryl Arkison of Backseat Gourmet and published in the Blog Aid: Recipes for Haiti cookbook.

Chai Spice Granola with Dried Apple and Almonds

Adapted from Blog Aid: Recipes for Haiti

Wet Ingredients:

  • 1/2 cup honey
  • 1/2 cup agave syrup (or skip the agave and use 1 cup honey total, OR use 1/2 c.brown sugar)
  • 1/2 cup water
  • 1/2 cup canola oil
  • 1 tsp cinnamon
  • 1/2 tsp salt
  • 1/2 tsp cardamom
  • 1/2 tsp ground cloves
  • 1/2 tsp ground ginger
  • 1/4 tsp freshly grated nutmeg
  • 1/4 tsp fresh ground pepper

Dry Ingredients:

  • 5 cups rolled oat flakes (what are rolled oats?)
  • 1 cup slivered almonds
  • 1 cup pumpkin seeds (or sunflower)
  • 1/2 cup wheat germ
  • 1/2 cup unsweetened, shredded coconut
  • 1/2 cup or sesame seeds
  • 1 cup diced dried apples
  • 1 cup golden raisins
  1. Preheat oven to 300°F.  Prepare two large cookie sheets with a sheet of parchment or non-stick spray.
  2. Mix together the honey, agave, water, oil, and spices in a small saucepan.
  3. Heat until sugar is dissolved, stirring occasionally.  It’s okay if it comes to a boil, but don’t keep it at a boil.
  4. Stir together dry ingredients, except for the coconut, raisins and apples, which will be added later.  Add wet mixture to dry ingredients and stir to combine.  Split between the two sheets.
  5. Bake at 300°F for 15 minutes. Reduce heat to 275°F and rotate pans. Use a spatula to turn the granola and scrape any darkening bits off the bottom of the pan. Bake for another 15 minutes.
  6. Add dried fruit and coconut, turn off oven and leave granola in oven until completely cool.
  7. Store in an airtight container. Makes 2 quarts.

Cheryl’s Recipe Notes:

“The spices can be varied according to taste, as can the nut/seed combo. If you want to substitute different nuts and seeds, make sure you still use the 5 cups of oats and 4 cups of nuts & seeds.”


Have you got a question about spices? What would you like to see covered here?

About Aimee

Cooking has always been Aimée's preferred recreational activity, creative outlet, and source of relaxation. After nearly ten years in the professional cooking industry, she went from restaurant to RSS by trading her tongs and clogs for cookie cutters and a laptop, serving as editor here at Simple Bites. Her first book, Brown Eggs and Jam Jars - Family Recipes from the Kitchen of Simple Bites, was published in February 2015.

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  1. Joe @ Eden Kitchen says

    Chai Spiced Granola sounds amazing! I love chai lattes and granola so the idea of putting them together sounds super nice. Thanks!

  2. I’ve been wanting to try a new granola recipe—not because I’m sick of our two staple kinds—but because there are so many good ones out there and I LOVE to try new things.

    Speaking of chai, have you tried chai-spiced hot chocolate? It’s wicked good.
    .-= Jennifer Jo’s last blog: I’m counting on you =-.

  3. This looks amazing! I love chai flavors and granola is a staple around here. How long does granola generally stay fresh? This recipe would make FAR too much for me as a single mom with a picky eater four year old! I made my first batch of homemade granola 6 weeks ago and STILL have some in the pantry!

  4. Thanks for sharing the recipe Aimee! It reminds me that I’m out and need to make another batch.

    Spice question for you. I’ve been seeing a lot being said lately about the difference between “real” cinnamon and what we see in the stores. Care to explain for us?
    .-= Cheryl Arkison’s last blog: Things That Make Me Tired and Happy =-.

    • Types of Cinnamon
      There are two main types of cinnamon: Cassia cinnamon is native to Southeast Asia, especially Southern China and Northern Vietnam, and has the strong, spicy-sweet flavour most Americans are familiar with. Vietnamese and Chinese cassia are the sweetest and strongest varieties, with Korintje cassia having a smooth flavour with less bite. Cassia Buds, which are rarely available, are the unripened flower buds of the same tree that gives us our China Cassia Cinnamon. The flavour is similar to cassia cinnamon, but both sharper and more flowery. The second type of cinnamon, Ceylon, or “true” cinnamon, has a much different flavour. It is less sweet, with a more complex, citrus flavour. Ceylon Cinnamon is also known as old-fashioned cinnamon and is prized in many other areas of the world. The special flavour of English and Mexican sweets comes from Ceylon cinnamon.

      courtesy of: http://www.indiancinnamon.com/types.htm

      • MLindley summed it up pretty well.
        Most cinnamon sold in stores isn’t actually true cinnamon, it’s ‘Cassia’, which the FDA allows to be labeled as cinnamon.
        Look for the words “Ceylon” or “true” on the label and try to buy directly from a reputable spice merchant. Once you get your hands on the real stuff, it’s impossible to go back!
        I’ll be covering where to order spices, etc in up coming posts.

  5. YAY! Thanks for posting. This sounds incredible.
    .-= [email protected]’s last blog: How DO you eat an elephant? =-.

  6. Oooh, looks so good! I think I’ll have to try it! 🙂
    .-= Katie ~ Simple Organic’s last blog: Choosing Safer Interior Paints for a Healthier Home =-.

  7. wesleyjeanne says

    Can’t wait to see the rest of the series. I love using spices and especially fresh herbs when my garden comes in. But my spices largely come from the grocery store. I would love to hear more about buying and storing spices so that I can maybe get some better than the older stuff I’m probably getting.

    One stupid question on the recipe: do you cook the quinoa ahead of time?
    I can’t wait to try this!

  8. Very excited to see the rest of this series. I am a pretty good cook, but “fake my way through” with spicing my food. Can’t wait to learn!!

  9. The recipe looks yummy, but…. Question about the apples: can you buy dried apples, or do you have to use them? I’ve always stayed away from recipes that required anything dried other than raisins and cranberries because I don’t have a dehydrator/food dryer. I don’t like buying other dried fruits because they usually have added sugar. Can we substitute dried cranberries or raisins for the dried apples, and if so, what quantity?

    • Valerie, I buy sugar-free, diced, dried organic apples from my local health food store. They are very hand for adding to foods like my daily bowl of oatmeal or this granola.

      I remember making our own dried apples as a kid. Hm, perhaps this is a good topic for a future post?!

      Yes, you can substitute any dried fruit you like for the apples.Just use equal portions.

  10. Still me, but separate comment: I look forward to the “cooking with spices” post. I’m an OK cook who used to be terrible (as in, didn’t know HOW!), and I’ve come a long way, but I don’t have a cooking imagination and spices are my stumbling block. I can throw things together from my pantry and fridge to use things up, but when it comes to spices and herbs, I’m at a loss for how to make something taste good. I’d be interested in seeing a suggestion chart – but one that’s more detailed than what you usually see for spices (that X is good for fish dishes, and Z is good for poultry, etc. – something more specific than that, if it can be managed). Thanks!

    • I can totally relate to Valerie. I have come a looonnng way, but considering I couldn’t cook more than pasta (with sauce out of the jar), that’s not really saying much. I do use fresh veggies daily, and don’t really make processed meals, but I could definitely use some help in the spice department. Any chart, or handy tips would be appreciated! I really look forward to the rest of the series! Thanks!

  11. I would love to know where you can buy small spice containers at a good price. My spice rack is rather messy looking, and I’d love some little jars to put them in!

  12. Oh that recipe looks so good. Looking forward to learning about spices and better use/storage.
    .-= [email protected]’s last blog: Some Big Pictures =-.

  13. I made this yesterday and it’s fantastic. My boys and I are having BIG bowls for breakfast today. Thanks, Aimee (and Cheryl).
    .-= Jan (Family Bites)’s last blog: Lemon and Lavender Mini-Cakes =-.

  14. I have A LOT of spices. I have to shuffle through them and pull several out of the cupboard before I find the one I want, so I am interested in a good way to STORE spices! The granola looks delicous. I am excited to try a new recipe. Thanks!

  15. I made this yesterday, and it is great! I didn’t have all the ingredients, so I used all honey, pecans and apricots. I think this is my new “base” granola recipe. Thanks!

  16. this looks great! I love good granola>>> would it work with no honey and all agave or brown sugar?


  17. will do…. I also thought apple juice or apple juice concentrate would work well with the chai spice

  18. Enjoying this granola right now with some lowfat vanilla yogurt…YUM!

  19. I’m looking forward to these series!!! This blog rocks 🙂
    .-= Joke’s last blog: Here I am! =-.

  20. The recipe print function doesn’t seem to be working; it pulls up the entire post.

  21. So you don’t need to soak that bitter coating off the quinoa? I’d love to try this out! Incidentally, I used to buy four different cinnamons from Penzeys and mix them depending on what I was making, but I absolutely LOVE their new blend that does it for you. It has such richness and depth of flavor. (Plus I don’t have four jars taking up space.) Penzeys has switched to all glass jars now too, even for the little ¼ cup jars.

    • We love Penzey’s spices. We used to have to go all the way to Milwaukee (or a suburb of Milwaukee) to buy their spices, but a year or two ago, they built one about 35 miles away. We find a reason to go there every few months or so. One will be coming up soon, since they have gift boxes for cheap, for Christmas!

  22. Oh I am super excited about this one, quinoa is one of my new crushes! Will let you know how it goes!
    .-= Destri’s last blog: Re-purposed Cargo Pant= Cargo-licious =-.

  23. I was so excited to make this, and loved the flavor raw, but I guess I overcooked because the raisins were fat and brown and tasted burned. Such a disappointment. I will have to try again.

  24. Hi. I’m confused. I see a couple of comments about quinoa, but I don’t see it listed in the recipe. Thanks in advance for clearing this up for me, as I’d like to add the quinoa if it is called for since it is so healthy.

  25. I, too, was confused by the quinoa comments. Nonetheless, I used the spice combo my granola this time, and it’s my absolute fave! I did make some modifications to the nuts and oil… but the spices is really what makes this recipe stand out.


  26. Just came across this from Pinterest…so excited to read the rest of your spice articles. Will definitely post them on Pinterest too, to bring more people to your wonderful blog. Thank you!

  27. That recipe is not sugar-free. All that honey and agave will have any child running around like crazy. Better to write: without granulated sugar because agave and honey are 100% carb sugar.

    • Yes, thank you for saying this, Elizabeth. My father-in-law is diabetic, so it’s really important to note the difference in case someone doesn’t know any better. This could be really dangerous!

  28. I always cook with a wide variety of herbs and spices. It drives me nuts to cook at someone else’s house and discover they have none!!

  29. I can’t wait to try this combination of two of my favorite – chai and homemade granola! Thanks for the fantastic idea!

  30. A could comments mention quinoa, I would love to add it, but don’t see in recipe. Thanks for your guidance!

  31. Wow. I’m a huge spice aficionado but I never thought about making Masala Chai Granola. This looks so good!!!

  32. We love spices at our house and keeping making trips 35 miles away to a specialty spice store to get stuff we can’t find in Sheboygan, WI.

    Chai-spiced granola is cooling in my oven right now. When I licked the pan (from the syrup) after it was in the oven, I agree that really tasted like chai! Yum! I can’t wait to try it in the morning!

    We only made half a recipe, since it’s just my daughter and I who will be eating it. One cookie sheet’s worth will be enough for us, for a few days.

  33. this looks like the perfect perfect Thanksgiving dessert! Delicious and full of those fall flavors!

  34. This is my all-time favorite granola – I double the spices and add diced candied ginger with the fruits at the end. I have given it as a gift for several Christmases. Thank you Aimee!

  35. Well I think adding spices are a great way to have fun while eating and challenging also I think if you eat spices it will prevent you from eating too much sugar which is good if you have problems

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