The Nine Best Spice Blends from around the World
The Nine Best Spice Blends from around the World
Pretty much everyone has a jar of blended spice in their kitchen cupboard – perhaps it is a curry powder or baking spice – but the options go well beyond the obvious. The culinary world is replete with bona fide blends that will elevate your meals to delicious – and totally authentic – new heights, although the precise composition of each blend varies from household to household.
- Mixed Spice
- Garam Masala
- Jamaican Jerk
- Panch Phoran
- Shichimi Togarashi
Baharat is a Middle Eastern seasoning that combines the gentle warmth of pepper and paprika with earthy undertones of cumin and coriander, enlivened by a sweet note of cinnamon and cloves. Use it to season slow-cooked meat or vegetable stews or to lend extra flavour to lamb koftas.
Baking spice, also known as mixed spice, is traditionally used in baking in both the UK and the US. The blend varies but key elements include cinnamon, allspice, nutmeg and anise, while optional elements include dried orange peel, ginger and cardamom. Baking spice comes into its own during the cold winter months, when it’s used to flavour steamed puddings and Christmas cookies.
African flavours are rarely explored in the West, but Ethiopia’s fiery Berbere spice mix has become ultra-fashionable in recent years. It’s a complex blend of chillies, fenugreek, cloves, cumin, coriander, cardamom, ginger, allspice and ajowan (a seed whose flavours are reminiscent of caraway). You can find recipes for authentic Ethiopian ‘wats’ (stews) online, but you can also sprinkle it on pumpkin soup or add it to slow-cooked lamb stews to great effect.
The Caribbean has its own suite of spices, of which Jamaican jerk spice is probably the most widely known. As it happens, jerk spice is not made exclusively from spices — the recipe usually includes onion and garlic powder, brown sugar and dried thyme and parsley, as well as cayenne pepper, paprika, cinnamon, allspice, nutmeg and clove. Rubbing it into meat, chicken and goat is the most traditional method, and then allow everything to marinate for a couple of hours before lighting your barbecue.
Panch phoran (also spelled panch poran or puran) is, as its name suggests, a mix of five spices (panch is derived from panj, Hindi for five). This aromatic mix is composed of whole fennel, mustard, cumin, fenugreek and nigella seeds, tempered in hot oil. Panch phoran is often used at the start of cooking, as the flavouring base for vegetable- or fish-based dishes.
Ras-el-hanout is a Moroccan blend whose name means ‘top of the shop’ — quite literally, a blend of the best spices available to a trader. The precise mix of spices varies from one merchant to another, but the warm, deep flavours of cinnamon, mace, chilli, nutmeg, cardamom, cumin, ginger, pepper and cloves are always given a floral edge by the addition of a judicious sprinkling of rose petals and lavender. Typically used in tagines and couscous, ras-el-hanout also works well as a dry rub for barbecued meats.
Every Indian household has its own recipe for Garam Masala, a fragrant mix of spices that are toasted in a pan, then ground. In northern India the blend tends to be milder than it is in the south, where chillies are usually added to the mix. Garam masala is seldom used as a cooking spice but is either sprinkled over a finished dish (in the north) or mixed with yoghurt to make a refreshing raita (in the south). Spices like cumin, clove, cardamom, cinnamon and black pepper lie at the heart of most garam masala blends.
There’s a growing interest in the exotic flavours of Georgian food. If you decide to explore the Caucasus in your kitchen, you’re going to need to get hold of some khmeli-suneli, a herbal blend that lies at the heart of some of the region’s most typical dishes. This warmly aromatic flavouring is laced with bitter blue fenugreek, coriander, cloves, dill and ground marigold petals. It works well in meaty casseroles but can also be used to season bean stews and roasted vegetables.
Shichimi Togarashi is a vibrant, spicy blend that is commonly used in Japan to pep up a wide range of noodle-based dishes, grilled yakitori skewers, salads and tempuras. Although the name refers to seven flavours (shichimi togarashi means seven-flavour pepper), the actual number of spices used can vary, but the typical elements include chilli, flakes of nori (seaweed), sansho (an indigenous Japanese pepper) white and black sesame seeds and dried orange peel.
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