13 Next-Level Spices and Seasonings Your Kitchen Needs
It’s so simple it’s ridiculous, but adding a little spice or seasoning is the easiest way to transform a dish or expand your palate. Try these spices and seasonings in conjunction with one another or these pantry essentials to give your dishes a serious upgrade.
Anise is known for its sweet flavor, which borders on fennel- or licorice-like. Its seeds are sold whole or ground, and used to add complexity to desserts, teas, and more. Anise is also used in a variety of liquors, such as sambuca and ouzo, and is renowned for its medicinal properties.
Bay leaves are common in a vast number of cuisines, and they’re often used in dishes that simmer for an extended length of time, like soups and braises. They possess a special transformative power, and sticking just one in your pot will gently upgrade the flavor of whatever you’re cooking. For a more intense impact, use crushed or ground bay leaves.
Watch: How to Make Chinese 5 Spice Powder
Not to be confused with Berberis, or the barberry bush, berbere is a crimson spice mix that’s typically comprised of garlic, coriander, cardamom, red pepper, and fenugreek. It’s primarily associated with Ethiopian and Eritrean cuisine, and it’s versatile enough to add a tasty heat to just about anything that could use a kick of warm personality.
Get the recipe: Berbere Spice Blend
Cardamom is a staple in Indian, Middle Eastern, and South Asian cuisine and used to intensify dishes ranging from from masalas to sweet buns. Cardamom’s aromatic taste is almost flowery, and it’ll do well in any dessert. However, cardamom meshes with savory dishes too, so don’t be afraid to branch out beyond pastries and the like. It’s also extremely pleasant to drink, especially in situations like this rose tea or our Soothing Cardamom Sipper.
Coriander seeds originate from the same plant as cilantro but have a completely different flavor profile. Whereas cilantro is citrusy and bright, coriander is sweet, toasty, and almost nutty. You’ll likely see it paired with cumin or cinnamon, given their complementary flavors.
Also known as mustard powder, ground mustard, and mustard flour, dry mustard is exactly what it sounds like—ground, dry seeds from the mustard plant, hence the sanguine hue. Dry mustard is typically used in soups, sauces, and vinaigrettes, and can work wonders when used as a dry rub. It also adds a bit of complexity to carb-laden dishes like mashed potatoes or macaroni and cheese.
“Fennel seed” is actually a misnomer for the fennel plant’s small fruit, which are sold dried. Fennel seeds are primarily used in Indian, Mediterannean, and North African cuisines and will add an anise-like flavor, minus the sweetness, to dishes like pasta. Additionally, tea made from ground fennel seeds can help alleviate symptoms associated with a number of ailments including food poisoning, sore throat, and snake bites.
Five-spice powder is a blend of fennel seed, star anise (which is similar, but not identical to anise), Chinese cinnamon, Sichuan pepper, and cloves that’s widely used in Chinese and Taiwanese cuisine. The powder is often applied to meat, either as a spice rub or marinade, and added to stews. It’s also commonly placed on tables to use as dry seasoning.
Garam masala, a staple in Indian cuisine, is a toasted spice blend that typically consists of mace, black peppercorns, cumin, coriander, cardamom, cloves, and cinnamon. As a blend, its applications are similar to those of five-spice powder, and will add a much-needed boost to any number of dishes lacking in flavor.
Think of marjoram as oregano’s milder cousin—the two herbs are closely related, as marjoram is a subspecies of oregano. Marjoram delivers a flavor that’s more floral than robust. Marjoram is commonly used in Mediterranean and Middle Eastern cooking, and it appears in European sauces and meat dishes. You may know it better as a component of herbs de Provence.
You know how everything bagel seasoning is so irresistibly good? It’s the toasted sesame seeds. Plain sesame seeds are mild in flavor, but put them over a little heat and they’ll reward you with an unrivaled flavor that’s both nutty and comforting. Shake toasted sesame seeds over all the things and use toasted sesame oil as a flavorful finish for savory dishes.
Despite their name, sichuan peppercorns don't pack a ton of heat. Rather, they contain a molecule called hydroxy-alpha-sanshool that triggers receptors in your tongue and mouth, creating a numbing sensation that pairs well with spicy foods and makes them more palatable. Sichuan pepper comes in three varieties, red, green, and black, which consecutively possess a rising degree of numbing capabilities.
This wine-red powder gets its hue (and its tartness) from crushed fruit of the same name. Sumac is a quintessential Middle Eastern condiment and used to add zest to meat, salads, meze dishes, and rice. Use it anywhere you want to add just a bit of acidity, as sumac is milder than a squeeze of fresh lemon.