The Spice Blends You Should Know
Spices—the seeds, bark, roots, fruit, or flowers of plants—add flavor (and often color) to any dish. Spice blends are exactly what they sound like: a combination of multiple spices. Spice blends add more-complex flavors and are especially important in cooking authentic global cuisine recipes.
Blends of herbs and spices let you add an intriguing combination of flavors with one measure and give new life to humdrum dishes. Many of these seemingly exotic blends are now available in the spice aisle. And if you can't find them there or at a specialty spice store, the Internet has your back. We even have homemade versions of some of the spice blends below.
Barbecue seasoning: This zesty combination blends spices that bring a smoky heat to foods. These spices may include salt, sugar, garlic, hot red pepper, hickory smoke flavor, onion, and others. Sprinkle it onto meats before grilling, roasting, or broiling.
Berbere: Ethopia's hot-sweet blend of cinnamon, cayenne pepper, cardamom, ginger, and paprika brings warm citrus notes to beef stews, lentils, and roasted vegetables. Try our Berbere Spice Blend for a homemade version.
Bouquet garni (boo-KAY gar-NEE): This is a French term for a bundle of herbs tied together or placed in a piece of cheesecloth, allowing you to remove it easily from a cooked dish. A bouquet garni is especially handy for blends including bay leaves, which should always be removed before serving a dish. A traditional French bouquet garni includes thyme, parsley, and bay leaf, but you can create one from just about any herbs you like. Bundle the herbs together, then tie with kitchen string or fold up into several thicknesses of 100-percent-cotton cheesecloth, then tie the cheesecloth closed with kitchen string to form a bag.
Cajun seasoning: Although the blends available may differ, most Cajun spice blends are peppery hot. They can include onion, garlic, chiles, and salt with the classic Cajun trio of white, black, and red peppers. Sprinkle it into crumb coatings or directly onto fish, poultry, or meat before cooking.
Dry rub: A dry rub is a blend of several different herbs and spices that is rubbed over or patted onto the surface of meat before it's cooked. Purchase dry rubs in a variety of flavor combinations from the supermarket. You can also experiment making your own dry rubs with complementary flavorings from your spice rack.
Related: Turkey with Fresh-Herb Rubs
Dukkah: This spice blend includes anise, coriander, and sesame seeds, plus hazelnuts or almonds for some crunch. Try the savory Egyptian nut-and-spice blend as a crust for meat or a crunchy addition to grains or pasta dishes. Make your own with our Dukkah Spice Blend recipe.
Fines herbes (feenz ERB): This French phrase describes a mix usually containing chervil, parsley, chives, and tarragon. Use it in place of individual herbs in gravies, sauces, creamy soups, and poultry stuffings.
Five-spice powder: Combinations may vary, but this fragrant blend usually includes cinnamon, anise seeds or star anise, fennel, black or Szechwan pepper, and cloves. To make your own five-spice powder, in a blender container combine 3 tablespoons ground cinnamon, 6 star anise or 2 teaspoons anise seeds, 1 1/2 teaspoons fennel seeds, 1 1/2 teaspoons whole Szechwan peppers or whole black peppercorns, and 3/4 teaspoon ground cloves. Cover and blend until powdery. Store up to a year in a covered container. Makes about 1/3 cup.
Herbes de Provence: This melange of herbs common in the south of France usually includes basil, fennel, lavender, marjoram, rosemary, sage, savory, and thyme. Add to poultry stuffings, creamy pasta dishes, soups, and salad dressings.
Italian seasoning: Common herbs in this mix include basil, oregano, thyme, and rosemary; sometimes garlic and red pepper are included. Put the Italian spice blend to work in this recipe for Hot Italian Beef Melts for a Crowd.
Jamaican jerk seasoning: This lively mixture can include salt, sugar, allspice, thyme, cloves, ginger, cinnamon, onion, and chile pepper. It spices up fish, meat marinades, and salad dressings.
Lemon-pepper seasoning: This mixture, primarily salt with black pepper and lemon zest, adds a delicate lemon flavor to poultry and vegetables. Try it on our Lemon Butter Chicken Breasts recipe.
Mexican seasoning: This spicy blend often includes cumin, chile peppers, salt, onion, sweet peppers, garlic, oregano, and red pepper.
Related: Try our best Mexican dishes.
Ras el Hanout: The name of this North African blend means top shelf, reflecting spice sellers' practice of creating it using their best spices. The blend varies but often contains cinnamon, cumin, black and red peppers, and turmeric. Make a homemade version with our Ras el Hanout recipe. Rub it on chicken, mix it into lamb or beef meatballs, or stir it into couscous.
Za'atar: Sprinkle this traditional Middle Eastern blend on grilled vegetables or whirl into yogurt dip and hummus. If you can't find it in stores make our Za'atar Spice Blend from your own thyme, toasted sesame seeds, oregano, and sumac.