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11 Unusual Herbs and Spices You Need to Start Using

I know that branching out when cooking can be very nerve-racking, especially if you can’t even pronounce a spice you are cooking with, or if you are just starting to get comfortable in the kitchen.

The only way for you to grow, develop, and learn as a cook though is to try new things!

To make this big leap a little easier, consult this list of delicious, easy to work with spices and herbs that will add flavor to a variety of dishes.

Don’t be mistaken though, these are not your same boring old spices. Instead, this list of 11 herbs and spices are (hopefully) ones you have never heard of before and will push you to try something new and delicious.
These spices will turn even the most novice cook into an adventurous and beloved chef.
Now remember: spices in general are not cheap, especially some of these spices. I will put estimated prices below each product, including some stores where you can purchase them, so you can see what the price range is. The best way to be able to afford this unique flavor is to reduce your food waste and save money on things like the bulk aisle or farmers markets. If you read this or this for some money-saving inspiration, you should be able to afford these spices for some extra flavorful meals!

1. Advieh (ad-vee)

This is a Persian spice blend, known to be warm and nicely aromatic. It’s name comes the Farsi word for “spice mixture.” It often includes spices like cinnamon, nutmeg, or cardamom (which you actually may have heard of). The real unique “unicorn quality” of this spice is that it includes flakes of pink rose petals. That is practically the most aesthetic thing I have ever heard.

This is not usually found at your local grocery store, but I was surprised to find that Walmart actually carries it! If you would prefer not to leave your house you can also order it here.

 

2. Ground Ajowan Seeds (ah-jow-on)

This is a spice very reminiscent of thyme (another herb you may have actually heard of), and has a wonderfully peppery, herbaceous flavor. It is commonly used in Indian food, particularly their vegetarian dishes. I personally love sprinkling this on any roasted vegetables or fried potatoes to add some extra addicting flavor. You can also add it to any of your favorite Indian dishes, from curries to fried pakoras. This spice actually contains the essential oil thymol, often used in medicines that soothe throat irritations or reduce cough.

This is one of the rarer spices on this list, at least in American grocery stores, so, to save you a trip to India, you can just order the spice online here. I know ordering online isn’t always appealing, but I promise this flavor will reward you.

 

3. Garlic, Onion, or Ginger Powder

Now these are all different, but essential these are powdered, pulverized versions of commonly large, solid vegetables used for flavoring. These are absolutely pantry staples, because who really wants to cut up an onion or mince some garlic on a busy weeknight? The answer is nobody, nobody wants to. Keep these dried powders on hand to add the same garlic-y, onion-y, or ginger-y flavors that we all love, with only a quarter of the effort. Some people may scoff at and ignore these wonderful spices, but they can be critical for the flavor of absolutely any dish.

All three of these powders can be found at practically any grocery store; from Mariano’s to Target.

 

4. Turmeric (ter-mer-ic)

 

This one you may have heard of. From turmeric lattes to turmeric face masks, this root has become very trendy, very quickly. Many people don’t understand though that this can act chiefly as seasoning for your food! Dried, ground turmeric is common in Indian cuisine and is fantastic when stirred into a curry or soup. My favorite way to use it is when roasting chickpeas or vegetables, like this cauliflower. If you want to take it an extra step, you can purchase fresh turmeric root and just throw chunks of it into hot water or milk for some quick turmeric tea.

Thankfully, because of its recent popularity you can find ground turmeric at practically any grocery store, and grocery stores like Whole Foods now sell fresh turmeric root as well.

 

5. Amchur (ahm-chur)

So you may have heard of turmeric, but I am pretty positive this one is new to you. Amchur is a spice powder made from dried, unripe green mangoes, and is common in north Indian cuisine. This powder also has many of the health benefits you would get from a mango, without any of the out-of-season mango mushiness. Amchur powder has such a complex flavor, with its fruity notes, honey-like scent, and underlying tartness. My favorite use for it is to mix it with coconut milk and ginger to marinate chicken, but it truly will add nuance to any dish, from chutneys and pickles to pastries and fruit salads.

This is again one of the less common ones on this list, and the downside to its unusual qualities is that you can’t find it in most regular grocery stores. Either check out your local Indian grocery store or just order it online here and here.

 

6. Paprika (pap-ree-ka)

You may have heard of this one, or possibly even seen it before without knowing what it was. Think of the little red spice often seen on top of deviled eggs, or sprinkled on top of hummus. That is the always glorious paprika! While paprika is originally from central Mexico, it is commonly associated with Hungarian cuisine. You can see this in the common Hungarian dish, chicken paprikash, which, hence its name, includes a lot of paprika. Now all this talk of paprika is making me Hungary. This spice can range from mild to hot, yet the most common variety is on the sweeter, smokier side. On the hotter side of the paprika spectrum you would find cayenne pepper, a spice you may have heard of, commonly known for its kick. Paprika can be used in a variety of cuisines, and is both great for adding a beautiful pop of color and for adding extra savory flavor to rice, stews, or meats.

I also find it very funny that if you google paprika, it will be described as a “cultivated edible plant.” Like wow, what a way to take all the fun out of that.

You should easily be able to find this spice (both the more common, smoky version and the spicier versions) at any chain grocery store, including Jewel Osco, Mariano’s, or Whole Foods.

 

7. Chakalaka spice (chawk-uh-law-kuh)

So this one is just fun to say. Besides that though, this spice blend offers a beautifully rustic flavor to any dish. It is common in South Africa, and is essentially treated as a condiment there, and commonly used as the seasoning for a tomato bean relish. Don’t worry, you don’t have to only use it to make a tomato bean relish! It adds a spicy depth to stews, meats, cabbage, beans, and squash as well.

Because this spice blend has not as recently migrated over to American grocery stores, it may be harder for you to find it in person. I highly recommend just ordering it from here.

 

8. White pepper (OR pink pepper!)

We all have heard of sea salt and black pepper; a classic pairing that pretty much goes on anything. If you are looking to spice up (pun intended) this traditional seasoning, use white pepper instead! White pepper is traditional in East Asian and Jewish cooking, so, if you couldn’t tell, it is very versatile. Use it to season your favorite fried chicken wings like they do in Thailand, or sprinkle it into your matzo ball soup like my Jewish mother does. Whatever the dish, this pepper adds a little bit more spice than black pepper, and a slightly smokier flavor.

If you don’t want to try white or black pepper, and really want to maintain your Tumblr aesthetic, then use pink pepper! It has a similarly peppery bite to white pepper, but also has a tinge of sweetness, in comparison to most other peppercorns.

All of these pepper variations can be found at practically any grocery store, so these are a fantastic, accessible, and easy first step on your cooking spice adventure!

WARNING: Pink peppercorns are a member of the cashew family, so if you have a nut allergy I would be wary.

 

9. Za’atar (za-tar)

This spice blend really sounds like it is the name of somebody from another planet, and, yes, the flavor is completely out of this world! It is actually from the Middle East, common in cuisines of many countries including Israel, Iraq, and even some North African countries like Morocco (who have their own variations). Traditionally, this spice blend consists of a myriad of herbs, some roasted sesame seeds, and salt. The exact types of herbs can change from blend to blend, but they usually consist of herbs like oregano, thyme, sumac, or marjoram. This absolutely wonderful combination feels like you took oregano and turning it into a superhero version of itself. Za’atar (or Zahtar) can be sprinkled on hummus, toasted pita breads, tabbouleh salad, or any other Middle Eastern dishes. If you want to experiment further you can even add it to other things, like avocado toast or a fried egg. Branch out with this herbaceous, addictive blend of spices!

This one is not super common, but you should be able to find it at some grocery stores, including Walmart and Whole Foods, or any local Middle Eastern grocery store. If you enjoy the ease and simplicity of Amazon (who I’m pretty sure has taken over everything), you can just order some delicious Za’atar here.

 

10. Garam Masala (gare-um ma-saw-luh)

This is another luscious spice blend that originated in India, and is commonly used in cuisine from Southeastern Asia. There is never an exact recipe for this spice blend, as it can even change from family to family. A family’s recipe for their own blend of garam masala can be a deeply held secret only passed from parents to children once they can be trusted with it. Garam Masala typically includes spices like cumin, pepper, coriander, and cinnamon, yet the exact blend of them can change simply on which grocery store you purchase it from. No matter which variation you use, this spice will reward you with a depth of flavor not present in many other spices.

I personally purchase Garam Masala from Jewel or Whole Foods, but again this is fairly common and should be easy to find, especially if you live near an Indian grocery store.

 

11. Berbere Spice Blend (brr-brr-ay)

This spice blend is quintessential to Ethiopian cuisine, and is known for its bold flavor. It is even placed on the table during meals in Ethiopia, just like salt and pepper shakers are in the United States. The blend can differ depending on where you purchase it, but it consists of garlic, ginger, cardamom, fenugreek, chili peppers, adjowan (wait that is #2 on this list!), and many more spices. If you are attempting to cook any Ethiopian food, or just want to add one powerful spice to your lentils and meat, this is an absolute must!

This spice blend, while very common to find at absolutely any Ethiopian restaurant or grocery store, is not as common in grocery store chains. You may be able to find it at spice stores, like this one, near your house, but your best bet is probably to order it online here or here.


It is true that, unlike Colonel Sanders fried chicken, these 11 herbs and spices will not mix so well together.

It is also true that individually, each and every one of these herbs, spices, and spice blends is an absolute flavor powerhouse when added to any dish or cooking experiment of yours. Some of these are better for beginners and more easily accessible, while others take it to the next level, and even though they may be more difficult to locate, the work pays off in their wonderful and irreplaceable flavor.

Use this list as your guide on your new journey into the world of spice experimentation and unbridled flavor!

Feel free to share any recipes you create with these spices or any other interesting spice blends with us @teeninsidermag.

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