The world’s 30 best spice mixes
Spices are part of the culinary traditions of many countries around the world, and it is rare to find dishes where only a spice is used. In fact, spices play more like an orchestra, creating a balance of flavors and aromas. Each country has developed its own combinations of favorite spices and aromatic ingredients, and these mixes have become important ingredients in everyday cooking.
Some have remained confined to the countries of origin, but others, like the Indian garam masala, ras el hanout, gomasio, are now well known around the world.
We will discover 30 of the most important spice mixes, traveling around the 5 continents!
Indian and Indian Subcontinent spice mixes
Indian cuisine is the one that makes the greatest use of spices in the world, and the different spice mixes are used daily in a large number of dishes.
Garam masala is the Indian spice blend par excellence, but there is no standardized recipe and you can find a multitude of garam masala (which means "hot spices") depending on the region, and even between a family and the other. The base is composed of cumin, coriander and black pepper, and the aromatic spices: nutmeg, cloves, green and black cardamom, cinnamon, mace and tej patta (Indian bay leaves), are added to give the mixture its characteristic fragrance. Each spice is grilled individually to release all the aromas, and then ground. Garam masala is a finishing mix, which is often added at the end of cooking to lift the dish.
The chaat (or chat) masala is a spice mixture with an acid note, which comes from a slightly unknown spice, amchoor, obtained from green mango slices that are dried and reduced to powder. Chaat in Hindi means "to lick your fingers" and indicates several types of salty (often fried) street-food from Uttar Pradesh (samosa are one of the best known) and chaat masala is its ideal complement thanks to its pleasant acidity. The other ingredients typical of the chaat masala are anardana (dried pomegranate powder), kala namak (or black salt, a salt that contains traces of sulfur that give it a special taste), cumin, ginger, black pepper and asafoetida. It is also very good on salads, fruits, or added to curries.
"Curry", in India, is a generic name for a huge variety of simmered dishes with a rich sauce, cooked with many different spices, and the curry powder as we are used to it in Europe and America is actually an invention of the English. During their colonial period in India the British tried to reproduce the complexity of Indian preparations with a powder, certainly easier to use than the many spices that Indians handle daily! The story is unclear, but from the 19th century the Indians started producing curry powder for export to the UK, and thanks to advertising the curry got a prominent place in English kitchens. Today the curry mixes found commercially often have a simple base of turmeric and coriander, with other spices to give perfume (cumin, fenugreek, mustard, cardamom, cinnamon, clove cloud, nutmeg, ginger) and black pepper and chilli to give a spicy kick.
The Chai (tea) is a true Indian tradition, drunk every day by millions of people, in the thousands of kiosks (chaiwalla) that prepare it. Very different from tea as it is in Europe and America, but also very different from Chinese tea, the chai is a decoction of tea (often a strong black tea of the assam variety) and spices, in a mixture of water and milk. The mixture of spices used to prepare chai is called chai masala and between the ingredients there are: cardamom, cinnamon, ginger (fresh or dried), black pepper, cloves and sometimes nutmeg.
The panch phoron is the "five-spice" (panch means five) of Bengal (Eastern India and Bangladesh). It contains radhuni (a sare spice only common in this region, cousin of ajowan, and that can be replaced by the latter), fenugreek, fennel, nigella, and black mustard seeds. The seeds are roughly crushed and used in vegetable dishes (never with meat).
It is a blend typical of southern India that is used for Sambar, a dish made from lentils cooked in a tamarind broth. Its particularity is the use of split lentils (yellow and black) that give it a nutty taste and also serve to thicken sauces where sambar is used. Among the ingredients we find coriander, cumin, pepper, fenugreek, turmeric, mustard, asafoetida and hot chili pepper.
Massalé is a mixture of spices used in the Indian Ocean islands of La Reunion and Mauritius. The Indian influences on these islands cuisine are importants, and this blend is very close to the Indian garam masala. As for the latter each family and each cook has his own recipe and prepares his mixture, but between the common ingredients we have: coriander seeds, cumin, black pepper, cardamom, nutmeg, clove, cinnamon, chilli, fenugreek and caloupilé (as curry leaves are called by locals - also very important in the cuisine of southern India and Sri Lanka).
5 spices (China)
This Chinese blend includes star anise, Sichuan pepper, fennel seeds, cinnamon cassia and cloves. The spices are toasted and once cooled finely ground. It is a powerful but balanced blend (inspired by the balance of 5 flavors: salty, sour, bitter, pungent and sweet), for use in marinades, stws and to season meat or poultry for roasting or grilling.
Shichimi Togarashi (Japan)
Togarashi means chilli in Japanese, and shichimi togarashi is a "chili with seven tastes". The main ingredient is obviously chili pepper (coarsely grinded) to which are added sansho (the Japanese cousin of sichuan pepper), citrus peel (yuzu or mandarin), sesame seeds (white and black) , poppy seeds, hemp seeds and nori. Created in the 17th century, this mixture is used in soups, in noodle dishes is also on rice-based dishes.
Gomasio, or gomashio, is a mixture of sesame and salt (goma means sesame in Japanese, and shio means salt) in varying proportions between 15: 1 and 5: 1. The sesame seeds are toasted lightly and ground with the coarse salt. It is a very useful seasoning also for those who try to reduce the use of salt. Traditionally in Japan Gomasio is hand-milled with a special mortar called Suribachi.
Krung Kaeng - curry paste (Thailand)
In Thailand and throughout south-east Asia pastes of spices and other fresh ingredients are used more often than dry spice mixtures; among the best known are the red curry (kaeng phed), yellow curry (kaeng kari), green curry (kaeng khieu wan) and massaman curry (muslim) pastes. The ingredients include fresh products (lemongrass, galangal, peppers, shallots, onion, peppers, garlic, coriander) and spices (cumin, coriander seeds, turmeric, black pepper), which are crushed to form a paste that is then used fresh. Among the ingredients that are often used in krung kaeng there is shrimp paste, a typical condiment of all Southeast Asia, and the leaves and zest of combava (kaffir lime)
Similar pastes are also found in Cambodia (called kroeung, they also include peanuts and fish sauce) and Indonesia (bumbu).
American Spice mixes
Adobo (Latin America)
The adobo (from the Spanish adobar - marinating) was more a way to preserve food (especially the meat when there was no fridge) than a spice mixture, but it remains a seasoning that, coming from the Iberian Peninsula, has become typical of all Latin American cultures. At the base is a marinade with vinegar, garlic and spices, but it is also found in the form of dry mix. The main ingredients are: paprika (sometimes mixed with hot pepper), oregano and cumin, and garlic, fresh peppers, oil and vinegar are added to make a paste or a marinade. You can use this mixture (powder) to season guacamole, or baked potatoes, or mixed with coarse salt, as a rub for chicken or pork before roasting.
There is also a "adobo" in the Philippines (Spanish colony for more than four centuries), but here it is a dish (with its many variations) with meat simmered in a broth of vinegar and soy sauce
Mix Cajun (Louisiana)
Cajun cuisine is the typical cuisine of the Acadians - a population descendant of the first French settlers in Canada, deported in the 18th century to the south of the United States - and incorporates French, Spanish and Native American culinary traditions that give a rustic and spicy cuisine. The Cajun mix is pungent, thanks to chili (paprika, cayenne) and pepper, and contains salt, garlic and onion powder, dried herbs like oregano and thyme, and sometimes cumin. A pinch of Cajun spices will benefit nearly any dish.
Chili Powder (Cuisine Tex-Mex)
Unlike what you could think, it's not just chili powder, but it is instead a mix that includes other spices and herbs that give it a more complex aroma. Born to season chili con carne, a typical dish of Tex-Mex cuisine, it includes several varieties of chili peppers, paprika, cumin, oregano and garlic powder.
Its use is not limited to chili con carne, but it is also very good sprinkled on a avocado toast, scrambled eggs, or mixed with breading for fried chicken.
"Jerk" spices (Jamaica)
It's a seasoning rather than a spice mix, and it's used to rub chickens or pork that will then be roasted on the barbecue. It includes fresh ingredients like chilli pepper, chives, garlic, and thyme and spices, of which the most important is allspice. Other spices used are black pepper, cinnamon, cloves and nutmeg.
Poudre Colombo (Antilles)
The Poudre Colombo is a mixture that comes from Sri Lankan workers (Colombo is the capital of Sri Lanka) immigrants to the Caribbean (especially to be employed in sugar cane plantations). The most specific ingredient of this mixture, which resembles Sri Lankan curry, is rice, which is toasted and ground with other spices (cumin, coriander, pepper, fenugreek, mustard, turmeric, clove) and gives a good aroma of hazelnut.
The berbere is a powerful blend of spices typical of Ethiopia prepared with a base of chilli and kororima seeds (African wild cardamom, cousin of the maniguette, which has a strong taste, fresh and slightly smoked). The other spices that make up the mixture are: nigella, ajowan, cloves, black pepper (or long pepper), cinnamon, fenugreek, cumin, coriander. You can also find ginger, nutmeg, allspice, turmeric and rue.
Like all traditional spice blends, each family has its version of Berbere, which is used in a variety of stews (called wats in Ethiopia) made from meat and/or vegetables.
The dukkah is a mixture of spices (cumin, pepper and coriander), seeds (sesame), nuts (hazelnut) and herbs (thyme), typical of Egypt. It is often eaten only with bread dipped in olive oil but it is a very versatile condiment and it can be sprinkled on salads or grilled vegetables or used for breading chicken or a fish fillet.
Harissa Spices (Tunisia)
Harissa is a typical Tunisian condiment: a paste made from fresh peppers and garlic flavored with caraway, cumin and coriander (and eventually dried and ground chilli to give harissa more hotness). The classic proportion of spices is 2 parts caraway, 2 parts coriander, and 1 part caraway.
Ras el Hanout (Morocco)
Ras el hanout, literally the "top of the grocery store" is a Moroccan spice blend that can have as many as 50 different ingredients! There is no single recipe but each attar (the grocer) keeps his mix secret. Among the ingredients that are (almost) always part of ras-el-hanout we find: coriander, caraway, turmeric, black pepper, long pepper, ginger, cardamom, mace, cloves, fennel, maniguette, cinnamon, caraway, pepper of Jamaica, nutmeg, orange peel, rosebuds, mustard seeds and star anise.
In a good ras el hanout there is no spice that is preponderant, but a myriad of aromas in perfect balance emerge in several layers of fragrance and taste. Try this mixture in mrouzia, a delicious tagine of lamb with honey and saffron, typical dish of the Moroccan tradition.
Middle-Eastern Spice Mixes
Advieh, or adwiya, is a spice blend of Persian (Iranian) cuisine. The main ingredients are: cardamom, cinnamon, cloves, cumin, ginger, turmeric and rose petals (the famous Isfahan roses, a variety of rosa damascena). Some regional variations may include more spices such as black pepper, coriander, mace, nutmeg, sesame, saffron and lime powder. There are several versions of this mixture, according to its uses: the advieh polo (or berenj) is very fragrant (it contains mostly rose petals) and sprinkled on rice dishes just before serving: the advieh koresh is used in simmered dishes and often includes lime powder
Baharat (which means spices in Arabic) is a very common mixture in the Middle East, with regional variations. The spices that form this blend are often toasted to amplify the aromas before being ground. Among the basic ingredients are chili peppers or paprika, black pepper, cumin, coriander, cassia (or cinnamon), cloves, nutmeg, cardamom and allspice. In Turkey dried mint is added, in Iran dried lime powder and turmeric, in Saudi Arabia fennel seed and saffron, in Syria the proportion of allspice is higher. Baharat is used to flavor meat (especially kebabs and meatballs), tomato sauces, soups and marinades.
Zaatar is either a variety of oregano (oregano syriacum) that grows in the Middle East, or a blend that includes this herb, sumac, and ground sesame. The term zaatar has also become a generic name for several varieties of herbs that grow wild in the region, such as thyme, savory, oregano, marjoram and calamintha, that share similar aromas. . Currently many zaatar blends that are commercially available do not contain Syrian oregano, but rather a mixture of thyme, savory, and common oregano with sesame (ground more or less roughly) and sumac.
Zaatar is the typical ingredient of zaatar manoush, a pita seasoned with olive oil and zaatar, but is also great on fried eggs, vegetables and salads.
European Spice Mixes
Epices Rabelais (France)
The first French brand of spices, born in Marseille in 1880, and its eponymous blend of oriental spices and herbes de provence. The real recipe is secret but amongst the ingredients are indicated: 68% aromatics (rosemary, laurel, coriander) and 32% spices (cloves, cinnamon, nutmeg).
Herbes de Provence (France)
Herbes de Provence are a blend of herbs typical of Provencal garrigue (shrubland), used to flavor grilled meats, sauces, stews, ratatouille, etc. The composition varies, and may include many different herbs (thyme, savory, rosemary, oregano , sage, lavender, marjoram, wild thyme, wild fennel) but the recipe of the production label rouge (which also guarantees that the productions of the herbs is actually frome Provence) is composed of 27% oregano, 27% rosemary, 27% savory and 19% thyme.
4 spices (France)
The four spices are a mixture of pepper, nutmeg, clove, cinnamon and ginger, used in France to season terrines, my charcuterie and in general dishes stewed with meat. Indeed, it is basically a unique spice: the allspice, which when crushed has aromas reminiscent of 4 (or 5) spices that make up the mix.
To further explore the subject read this article on 4 spices, and learn how to make your homemade blend
Drug "La Saporita" (Italy)
The preferred "drug" of all italian grandmothers, the "saporita" (means "tasty" in italian) is a mixture of spices born in 1924 (invented by the historic Bertolini brand) and become famous as a multipurpose flavor for meat (homemade sausages, but also ragù and stews), stuffing for ravioli and tortellini, omelettes and also for desserts. In a time when spices were a niche product, the "saporita" enhances the taste of food giving an exotic touch while still remaining in the tradition. The ingredients (in order of importance): coriander, ceylon cinnamon, nutmeg, caraway, cloves, star anise. (The sachet with palm trees and the camel caravan is also unforgettable in Italy- see opposite).
In all the cold regions of Europe we find wine recipes (or sometimes cider or beer) flavored with spices and served hot. There would be no Christmas market without a stand that serves mulled wine, in England as well as in Germany and France, but there are variants in Italy, Scandinavian countries, and Eastern Europe. Almost all recipes include cinnamon, star anise, cloves and nutmeg, and you can also find ginger, bay leaf, cardamom and vanilla. Orange peel or other citrus fruit is also very often used.
Sharena Sol (Bulgaria)
Sharena soil is a "colored salt" widely used a Bulgaria. In this country, where the seasonings in each table are salt, paprika, and savory, sharena sol is a mixture of three sprinkled on cheeses, breads, vegetables, potatoes, and in general on a large number of dishes. As with most blends, sharena sol has so many variations for each region and even family, but between the ingredients that add to the base trio there may be fenugreek leaves, thyme, caraway and toasted and ground corn.
Speculoos Spice Mix (Belgium and Netherlands)
According to the tradition speculoos cookies were the reward for the wise children on December 6, day of the Saint Nicholas (saint protector of children). According to the traditional recipe of the house Dandoy (that makes biscuits in Brussels since 1826) speculoos are made with flour, butter, brown sugar, salt, baking soda, cinnamon and a pinch of cloves. Other recipes include in the spice mixture also nutmeg, ginger, anise and pepper, but whatever the recipe it is cinnamon (or cassia) that plays the biggest role. A similar mixture is the one used for gingerbread (in which star anise and cardamom are often included)
Khmeli suneli (Georgia)
Khmeli suneli is a Georgian seasoning made from herbs and spices that is used to flavor kharcho, (a beef stew with dried fruits like prunes or apricots, rice, and nuts) but also soups, roasted vegetables, chicken etc. The ingredients of khmeli suneli are dried herbs (savory, marjoram dill, mint, parsley, fenugreek leaves, bay leaf), and spices (coriander seeds, black pepper, blue fenugreek, celery seeds, and marigold petals - called imeruli shaphrani in Georgian [saffron of Imeretia]. The specificity of this mixture is due to ingredients such as marigold petals (dried and pulverized) that have a decidedly unique lemony and earthy taste.
This post was updated on August 31st, 2019