Spice up your life. ✨

Vidya Rao
July 23, 2020
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Take inspiration from cultures around the world that have perfected the use of fragrant spices to make dishes with serious soul. It's now easier than ever to get access to any spice you want, and really, you're only limited by your own creativity in how you use them. Experimenting with spices is the easiest way to elevate any food that you're cooking—it takes very little effort on your part to give your food an incredible makeover. The next time you're craving something new, try out these seven spices and spice blends.

Smoked Paprika

Deep red smoked paprika adds an unmistakable smoky flavor and aroma to your dishes. Pimento peppers are dried, smoked and ground to create this spice, which is often used in Spanish cuisine for dishes like paella, pulpo (octopus) and patatas bravas. It's mild, slightly sweet and very smoky.

Add smoked paprika to slow-cooker or Instant Pot meat dishes, mix it in with mayonnaise to add to burgers or dip fries in, sprinkle it on quiche and use it to season roasted nuts for a savory snack. The only way you go wrong is by adding too much, so start with ¼ to ½ teaspoon and add more as needed.

Garam Masala

Garam masala is like a hug for your insides. This Indian spice blend is used to add fragrant complexity to dishes from across South Asia. Garam masala is sort of a general term that indicates a mix of warm spices. In South Asia, cooks make their own blends, so it varies based on the region and cuisine. Typically in U.S. supermarkets, you'll find aromatic spices like coriander, cumin, cardamom, black pepper and cinnamon in the mix, but the blend can also contain fennel, star anise, mace or chile pepper.

Store-bought garam masala isn't usually spicy, and it's great for when you want loads of flavor with just one seasoning. Use it toward the end of cooking when making soups, stews, curries, lentils and, of course, when you're making Quick Chicken Tikka Masala. It's also a great addition to rubs and marinades, particularly on lamb, or sprinkled on roasted vegetables.

Berbere

Recipe pictured above: Ethiopian-Spiced Chicken Stew

Berbere is a spice blend that serves as the backbone of Ethiopian cuisine's incredible flavor complexity. It's got hot, sweet and citrusy elements and is used in doro wat, the delicious Ethiopian chicken stew. Similar to garam masala, there isn't a singular recipe for berbere, but mixes can contain paprika, onion, fenugreek seed, fenugreek leaf, salt, chiles, shallots, garlic, cinnamon, pepper, ginger, cardamom, nutmeg, cumin, allspice, cloves and ajwain.

In other words: pure magic. Berbere is often mixed with oil to make a paste that's used as a condiment. Use it in soups and stews by cooking it down in fat with other aromatics like onion and garlic, season lentils with it, sprinkle it on pineapple rings before throwing them on the grill and use it to liven up homemade jams. Berbere is usually spicy, so keep that in mind if you're sensitive to heat.

Urfa Biber

A little sour, a little spicy, a little smoky, a little salty—Urfa biber is a powerhouse spice that can elevate any dish. Originating in Turkey's Urfa region near the Syrian border, Urfa biber is a sun-dried flaked chile pepper that is traditionally used in various Middle Eastern cuisines to flavor kebabs, meat stews and eggplant. But its nuanced flavor can be added to anything, from topping off eggs or hummus toast, to barbecue rubs and salad dressing.

Use it anywhere that you might normally use crushed red pepper, and your taste buds will thank you. Just remember that the spice is salty, so adjust your salt proportions accordingly. Pro tip: Swap the crushed red pepper for Urfa biber in the corn on the cob recipe pictured above.

Shichimi Togarashi

Shichimi togarashi, also known as Japanese seven spice, is a Japanese spice mix composed of red chili peppers, sanshō or Sichuan peppercorns, dried orange peel, black sesame seeds, white sesame seeds, ground ginger, poppy seeds and seaweed (nori). It's typically used as a finishing spice for noodles and meats, and it adds heat, brininess, earthiness and citrus to instantly take any savory dish to the next level. Use it at home to give noodles, pizza, avocado toast, popcorn or rice bowls a flavorful pop. You could also top this vegetarian udon soup with shichimi togarashi.

Sumac

Sumac is a reddish-brown Middle Eastern spice that tastes tart and lemony. It will perk up any dish. It's one of ingredients in the spice blend za'atar, which you can easily make at home with the additions of thyme, toasted sesame seeds and salt. Sprinkle sumac on hummus, mix it with salt and use it on roasted or grilled vegetables, chicken or salmon. It's also great to season homemade fries or to brighten up vinaigrettes and marinades. It's becoming more common at grocery stores, but if it's not available there, you can find it at specialty spice shops or online.

Allspice

With a flavor profile reminiscent of ginger, cinnamon, cloves and nutmeg all in one, allspice can transport you to the holidays. While it is often used in pies and mulled wines during the holiday season, it's time to dust off that bottle of allspice and bring it to the front of the cabinet for year-round use.

Allspice, which looks similar to black peppercorns, has so many savory applications. It's used liberally in many Middle Eastern, Central Mexican and Caribbean dishes, notably in Jamaican jerk sauce and seasoning. Make your own allspice-infused marinade or rub, add a pinch to chili (it is, after all, the key to Cincinnati chili), sprinkle a bit in your seasoning mixture for meatballs, and steep whole allspice in milk with spices like cardamom and add it to coffee or tea. Just buy whole allspice and grind it yourself, since pre-ground spices lose their aroma and flavor quickly.