Guide To Herbs and Spices: Spice Blends

In Part One of our series, we learned about herbs. In Part Two, we explored the world of spices. Now it is time to bring all that knowledge, and flavor, together to create spice blends. Adding one spice is nice but just as spices compliment food, spices also enhance each other. So join us on a worldwide adventure as we explore how spices come together.

Note that not all blends contain salt and pepper. Be sure to welcome this classic couple to nearly everything you make. Also, while there is nothing wrong with buying premade spice blends, always read the ingredients to know what you are seasoning your food with. They often have vague names, like “poultry seasoning,” and you never want to fly blind. Remember, making your own blends saves money and pantry space as most mixes consist of what you already have.

Common Spice Blends

Italian Seasoning – This herb mixture is a staple in most pantries. But what is it made of? Usually, Italian seasoning is made up of dried basil, oregano, rosemary, and thyme. Sometimes dried parsley or marjoram join the party. While there is nothing wrong with the premix, I find that there can be a little too much going on. I prefer to focus on two or three of these depending on the flavors I want to feature. Making your own mix also allows you to combine fresh and dry herbs. For example, when cooking Italian food, I often use dried oregano but fresh basil.

Poultry Seasoning – Another pantry staple, poultry seasoning most often consists of dried sage and thyme with anything else from rosemary to nutmeg. While I do like the flavor of sage, it can be strong and does not play well in all dishes. I also find that sage is an herb whose fresh version is so much better than its dried. Like Italian seasoning, pick two or three flavors that are relevant to the cultural origin of your dish and stick to those.

Herbs de Provence – Herbs de Provence are a personal favorite with seafood and pare great with any dish that includes white wine. While you can make your own, this blend of mainly dried thyme, rosemary, and bay leaf, is perfectly fine pre-made as it tends to have the same flavor across brands. It is the perfect addition to our Shrimp Scampi.

Old Bay Seasoning – A favorite in Maryland, one name dominates the world of seafood boils: Old Bay. The secret is celery salt and paprika. While you could make your own, I think the folks at Old Bay got this one right.

Cajun Seasoning – Paprika and cayenne give this southern blend its kick. Garlic powder, onion powder, and black pepper round out the flavor. While premade blends can be good, I like to make my own so that I can control the spice level. Mix some into our shrimp and grits.

Seasoned Salt – Obviously salt is the base. The rest is “seasoning.” Therefore, seasoned salts vary wildly from brand to brand. You can always make your own based on the flavors you need but my go to seasoned salt is the industry leader, Lawry’s. I sprinkle some on burgers before they hit the grill or rub it on to any slow cooked piece of meat.

Adobo – Garlic powder is the primary pow in Adobo. Paprika and other spices play a smaller role. Goya is the leading brand and is my top choice. Remember that it is a very salty spice blend so use additional salt sparingly. I find that Adobo is perfect for chicken or pork and pares well with several heavy grinds of black pepper. Sprinkle Adobo on our Peruvian Chicken.

BBQ Dry Rub – Another vague term, dry rub means different things to different people in different regions. A good BBQ rub is a balance between sweet and spicy. The sweet comes from brown sugar. The spicy comes from paprika and cayenne. Garlic powder, onion powder, black pepper, cumin, mustard powder, and dried herbs are common savory additions. I always make my own and recommend you do the same. Play around with it until you find something you like. And always couple it with a heavy dose of salt.

Curry Powder – Curry powder is a western invention, as is curry. Indian spice blends can contain tens of spices and vary not just region to region, but family to family. Spice blends are called masalas. In the supermarket, you may see garam masala, which is a typical spice blend slightly different from what is labeled “curry powder.” I prefer to make my own Indian spice blends so that I can vary the proportions and spice depending on the dish. Ground coriander, cinnamon, cumin, cardamom, nutmeg, mustard seeds, fenugreek, turmeric, and dried peppers are staples. Remember that it is best to grind your own whole spices and always toast them before use.

Pumpkin Pie Spice – Ending on a sweet note, pumpkin pie spice is predominantly cinnamon, nutmeg, and cloves, sometimes with a hint of allspice or mace. Again, I always mix my own so that I can feature more of the flavors I like. Try it on top of our Pumpkin Pie Oatmeal.

Photo credit: Photo 85059727 © Michelle Arnold | Dreamstime.com