While some chefs turn up their noses at spice blends ― such as everything bagel seasoning or Old Bay, for example ― these flavorful seasonings can be a real asset in the kitchen.
“Spice blends come in handy when you’re looking to enhance the flavor profile of a dish and you don’t want to buy numerous containers of multiple herbs and spices for a single recipe,” cookbook author Brian Theis told HuffPost.
He noted that spice blends can also be a great option when you’re trying your hand at new dishes and types of cuisines from different cultures around the world.
“Also, many popular spice blends have a signature flavor profile that you just can’t quite create on your own, at least with the same trademark results,” Theis added. “Certain blends might contain dried lemon or orange peel, for example, which are not common ingredients to come by on their own.”
To inspire future gastronomic adventures, HuffPost asked Theis and other culinary experts to share their favorite spice blends and advice for cooking with them.
“My absolute favorite spice blend has to be garam masala,” said Zakiya Master, a recipe developer and owner of Blend of Spice. “It has warm notes and just brings a sense of home and nostalgia. It’s a South Asian staple spice in all our curries or rice and just brings the most aromatic fragrances to a dish.”
The composition of garam masala can vary, but it often contains aromatic flavors like peppercorns, cumin, cardamom pods, mace, cinnamon and more.
Master said she likes to make long-grain basmati rice with homemade bone broth and a pinch of garam masala “for that comfort, hug in a bowl, aromatic rice pilaf.”
Herbes De Provence
As the name suggests, herbes de Provence (sometimes called Provençal herbs) is a blend of dried herbs associated with the Provence region of southeastern France.
“With Provençal, that little bit of lavender that makes the blend regionally accurate isn’t something you might keep around in any large amount like you would oregano or thyme,” said Celine Beitchman, director of nutrition at the Institute of Culinary Education. “So getting a blend of that mix makes it easy to add the flavor profile to your dish without having to purchase (and perhaps waste) an ingredient.”
Chef Marshall O’Brien also endorsed this French-inspired blend.
“Herbes de Provence not only make a variety of vegetables, fish, chicken and pork taste wonderful, the herbs in this blend are anti-inflammatory, relax muscles, and support digestion,” he said.
Beyond the classic “Tony’s” (as many locals call it) Creole seasoning, there are other ways to give your food a Louisiana kick, like Ms. Mickey’s Creole Seasonings or a dehydrated Creole or Cajun trinity seasoning mix.
“It’s made up of the ‘trinity’ of onion, celery and bell pepper, usually with garlic thrown in,” Theis said. “I add it to all kinds of dishes (in which it then re-hydrates) ― from dips, sauces, dressings and spreads to pasta sauce, vegetables and gravies. It really wakes up your taste buds. I love the stuff.”
Ras El Hanout
“Ras el hanout literally translates into ‘head of the shop’ and it is my go-to spice blend at the restaurant and at home,” said James Friedberg, chef de cuisine at L’Atelier de Joël Robuchon in Miami.
Popular in parts of North Africa, ras el hanout comes in different variations but typically includes spices like nutmeg, paprika, clove, cumin, cardamom, turmeric and more.
“It adds great flavor and doesn’t require grinding or mixing individual spices,” Friedberg said. “It can be used for seasoning lamb, beef, fish or added to rice, stews or lentils.”
Old Bay Seasoning
“I could not function without a stash of Old Bay seasoning in my pantry,” said food blogger Dana Renée. “I use Old Bay seasoning in just about every seafood dish even if the recipe doesn’t call for it. It’s delicious in chowders, bisques, and seafood pastas.”
While we associate this Maryland blend with crab and other seafood, Old Bay seasoning is also an easy way to spice up other foods like roasted vegetables or French fries.
“I use Old Bay on any combination of chopped vegetables on a baking sheet with olive oil,” said cookbook author and “The Forest Feast” founder Erin Gleeson. “Lately I’m doing a lot of root vegetables like a mix of onion, carrots, parsnips and sweet potatoes. I have a recipe in my upcoming book called Old Bay Brussels which is just halved Brussels sprouts on a baking sheet drizzled with olive oil and sprinkled with Old Bay, roasted at 425 degrees for about 20 minutes.”
Smoky Honey Habanero Sweet & Spicy Rub
“I’m a big fan of Spiceology brand blends. They have many great blends, but the one I really love is the Smoky Honey Habanero Sweet & Spicy Rub,” said Diana Manalang, chef and owner of Little Chef Little Café in New York City.
She uses the blend on vegetables like corn, protein, chips, popcorn and with sour cream or Greek yogurt to make a quick dip.
“It has everything to elevate flavors ― it’s sweet and spicy, and has umami, too,” Manalang said. “The savory, sweet flavor profile with heat makes this blend very versatile — I even sprinkle it on donuts! I also add it to mashed potatoes and hummus for extra flavor.”
“I swear by Home Beís, which is a small, Latina-owned spice blend company that is salt-free,” said Alex Hill, a home cook and creator of Just Add Hot Sauce. “She started it because her Dominican-born family had health issues …. so she started making spice blends that are salt-free but full of flavor!”
“I love using the Tradicional Blend for my arroz con pollo since it is salt-free and has no preservatives, so I can control the amount of salt that goes in the dish,” she said. “It’s so good!”
“Curry is a great example of a mixture that reflects the dish it’s used for, and its profile can be widely different depending on the blend you buy,” Beitchman said. “I keep curry and chili powder around and also the individual spices that I can use to level it up to my taste.”
Seth Blumenthal, chef de cuisine at Le Jardinier in Miami, said he particularly enjoys cooking with Vadouvan curry.
“Vadouvan curry is a unique French curry with gentle sweet and savory notes,” he explained. “This curry is savory from ingredients such as cumin, bay leaf and turmeric and sweet from cinnamon and clove. Vadouvan curry is one of my favorite spice blends and it pairs so well with roasted vegetables, fish and white meats.”
Lake Shore Drive Seasoning
“I love any of the spice blends from The Spice House, especially Lake Shore Drive ― which is a blend of chives, scallions, shallots,” said Dzung Lewis, a YouTuber and author of “The Honeysuckle Cookbook.”
“It … goes with everything and reminds me of Ranch dressing. I put it on everything from chicken, to fish, and even popcorn,” she added.
“I love using spice blends and trying new ones in dishes,” said Carla Bushey of the food blog Adventures of a Nurse.
She said her go-to spice blend is from a local Greek restaurant called Symeon’s in Yorkville, New York.
“This delicious Greek blend of spices is perfect for making Greek salads, marinating chicken and just adding spice to any dish. This Greek blend takes an ordinary dish and makes it have the authentic Greek flavor.”
Garlic Pepper And Lemon Pepper
“I love having a good spice blend on hand for grilling meat or seasoning steamed veggies,” said recipe developer Marci Buttars of the food blog Tidbits. “My favorite spice blends are Redmond real salt organic garlic pepper and lemon pepper. Each jar contains dehydrated ingredients and their ancient sea salt and is packaged in a grinder bottle so I can crack it fresh over my food.”
Buttars said she typically uses the garlic pepper flavor on steaks and the lemon pepper on vegetables and chicken. Lewis also praised lemon pepper seasoning.
“Sprinkle some on your next bagel with cream cheese, then top it with red onions, avocado, and a tomato and it’s the best breakfast sandwich ever,” she said. “The zesty kick really takes it to the next level.”
“Spice blends are great when I want to spruce up an ordinary protein or veggie or when I’m cooking dishes from various regions,” Hill said. “My favorite Persian braised lamb stew uses a spice mix called advieh that consists of cinnamon, cardamom, cumin, nutmeg, coriander and rose petals. Spice blends are 100% main character energy!”
Chinese Five-Spice Blend
“Chinese five-spice blend is a very versatile ingredient for many more dishes than Chinese cuisine,” Theis said. “Use it in unexpected ways ― in your fried chicken coating, pie recipes, cookies. It adds an exciting twist.”
This blend typically combines cinnamon, fennel seed, star anise, cloves and peppercorns (though there are variations).
Everything Bagel Seasoning
One blend with a rather cult-like following is everything bagel seasoning, particularly the Trader Joe’s Brand. However, Meggan Hill, executive chef for the recipe site Culinary Hill, said she likes to make her own version.
“It’s great on bagels, or other homemade breads like challah or dinner rolls,” Hill said. “I also love it on avocado toast, hard boiled eggs and roasted pumpkin seeds. Or, fill mini bell peppers with cream cheese and sprinkle with everything bagel seasoning. They are so delicious!”
Santa Maria Seasoning
“Another favorite is the Santa Maria seasoning by Scott’s,” Lewis noted. “It’s gives a nice smoky flavor to your meats and reminds me of the best tri-tip I had on the Central Coast of California. You’ll always find that in my cabinet.”
This blend contains ingredients like garlic, onion, salt and hickory smoke.
“Because basic condiments we use in Japan for seasoning are already packed with umami, we don’t use too many spices in Japanese cuisine,” said Chef Tsuyoshi Hori of Sarashina Horii in New York City. “That said, togarashi (aka shichimi togarashi) is a very popular blend of red chilies, nori seaweed, sesame seeds and orange peel.
Hori noted that togarashi is versatile but it’s especially great to add to soy sauce for a fiery kick. Chef Oliver Lange of Zuma Miami said he likes to use this seven-ingredient blend as a finishing spice to sprinkle over dishes rather than cooking with it.
“It gives an extra little spicy note and umami from the seaweed and yuzu peel,” he said. “I enjoy it the most in homemade rice dishes.”
“This powerhouse of dried herbs ― basil, oregano, thyme, and rosemary ― is delicious in meatballs,” said cookbook author Julia Nordgren. “I use this with olive oil and red wine vinegar to make a great Italian salad dressing that my teenage boys love.”
She also recommended using Italian seasoning to make flavorful pita chips. It’s as simple as slicing open whole wheat pita bread, brushing liberally with olive oil, topping with Italian seasoning and then baking in the oven at 325 degrees for about 10 minutes.
“My favorite spice blend includes a combination of rosemary, sage, and basil,” added Andrea Mathis, the registered dietitian behind the blog Beautiful Eats and Things. “It adds so much flavor to my dishes and it has several anti-inflammatory properties. You can also turn this spice blend into an infused oil by adding olive oil and allowing the mixture to sit for a few hours until the oil becomes completely infused with flavor.”