Is your spice drawer feeling a little stale? It probably is. Spices and ground herbs only keep for a year or so, and that’s if they’re kept out of direct sunlight and in airtight containers. (Give them a sniff — if they don’t tickle your nose with scents and flavors, they’re probably old hat.)
Good news! It’s a great time of year to toss those old powders and stock up on new, exciting herbs that will easily amp up the flavors in your meals. When’s the last time you sprinkled oregano on your salad, just for flavor? (That’s what we thought.)
Below you’ll find 10 of our favorite herbs and spices from all over the globe that can be used to amplify flavors in your foods. Most of them don’t require a how-to-manual — just sprinkle and enjoy!
Chopping mint and tossing it into salads, sprinkling over grain bowls and stirring into salad dressings is a smart way to brighten any meal in any season. Mint is most prevalent in the spring but can be found at grocery stores year round. It’s also easily grown indoors at home. Just chop and sprinkle at will — and don’t forget, a little mint goes a long way.
Sure, you use cilantro for guacamole and on taco night, but what about sprinkling it over savory grain bowls at breakfast or over eggs and toast for a bright little burst of flavor? Cilantro is a fresh friend on salads, over stews and even in avocado smoothies. For best results, chop the herbs and use them to finish dishes rather than tossing the delicate greens in early in the cooking process.
This North African spice mix is often found in a paste form made with chili peppers, garlic and spices, but is also available in a ground spice form, which is easier to use for most purposes. The dried version is made with several types of dried chili peppers, caraway, coriander, garlic powder and salt and has an earthy, spicy flavor profile. Harissa is an excellent rub for meats, fish, tofu and even used atop roast vegetables or chickpeas or stirred into dressings for a complex kick.
Tangy sumac is made from the ground red berries of the sumac bush and sprinkled on yogurt, salad, grain and other dishes — wherever a bright burst of flavor is required — in Middle Eastern and Mediterranean cuisines. You can use the purpleish, ground version at home anywhere you’d squeeze fresh lemon to amp up the flavors and open your palate on all of your dishes with just a pinch.
Turmeric has been used for centuries in ayurvedic medicine and Indian cuisine as an anti-inflammatory and a culinary spice; imagine, a food that has healing and flavor properties. Vibrant yellow turmeric is made of the tiny orangish root grown most often in South and Central Asia, but is widely available in North America as well. The root itself is very potent and can be used fresh to steep in milk, blend into juices and smoothies or simmer into soups. The ground and powdered version is a bit easier to use to weave earthy, grounded and almost grassy/tart flavors into whatever you may be cooking or eating. Sprinkle over soups, salads, into lattes, on desserts …
Vadouvan is a “French-ified curry powder,” found in Indian and French cuisines; most basically it contains the cumin, turmeric, pepper and chilis of a curry powder mixed with aromatics such as garlic, shallots and fenugreek, which make for a complex, not overpowering flavor profile. Vadouvan is sweet and almost smoky and is an exotic addition to salad dressings, roasted vegetables and meats where you want a little mystery. The more vadouvan roasts in fat, such as cooking oil or in meats, the more complex and sweet the flavor, so it’s best for dishes that require a process more than a pinch of flavor.
This harder-to-find spice is exactly what it sounds like: pollen harvested from fennel blooms. Available at culinary and specialty stores, this delicate herb is worth the hunt. Sweet, intense, clean and tangy, fennel pollen is best sprinkled on chicken, fish and over salads for a beautiful finish. A little bit goes a long way so start with just a pinch.
Move over pumpkin pie spice! Chinese five-spice is just what it sounds like: five Chinese spices blended to make a flavorful concert that’s both savory and sweet. It brings together all of the five flavors — sweet, sour, bitter, pungent and salty. All Chinese five-spice blends are different and can include spices such as star anise, cloves, cinnamon, Sichuan pepper, fennel, turmeric, nutmeg, cardamom, orange peel or galangal. Your nose will know which spice mix it likes best so get to a spice store and sniff a few out. Then, mix into sweet and savory dishes anywhere you would use all-spice or pumpkin pie spice.
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This Japanese spice blend may sound exotic, but chances are it’s closer than you think. Most Asian grocery stores and well-stocked natural foods stores carry togarashi; a blend of chili peppers, herbs, orange peels, seaweed and sesame seeds known for sprinkling on soups, noodles, salads … pretty much anywhere in Japanese cuisine. A pinch of togarashi perks up eggs and makes for a lovely rub for meats and vegetables whether you’re roasting or grilling. It’s also a nice way to spice up salads, grain bowls and avocado toasts with color and flavor.
You probably already have dried chili pepper in your pantry. Give it a sniff — does it still lightly sting the nostrils? Or is it a little stale? If it’s the latter, you’re in luck — there are literally thousands of chili peppers out there, all available in dried form and all with different flavors to infuse your food. Floral, bright, earthy; barely steamy to hellfire hot; you can find chili peppers from all regions of the world, each with their own personality. Toss out those stale chilis, turn up the heat and look for exciting new varieties from Asia, the Middle East, South America and Australia.