Guide to Spice Mixtures

Just a pinch of one of these aromatic spice mixtures will add depth and complexity to your next meal.

Chili Powder

This mixture is often behind the smoky, spicy flavor in Mexican and Southwestern cuisine. With a list of ingredients that includes oregano, cumin, garlic, salt and, of course, red chiles, chili powder should not be confused with powdered red chile peppers (usually called chile powder). You can also make your own and try a blend of red peppers and additions like coriander, paprika or cloves.

Chinese Five Spice

The perfect balance of the five major flavors in Chinese cooking – sweet, sour, bitter, piquant and salty — Chinese Five-Spice Powder is traditionally made of ground cloves, fennel seeds, Szechuan peppercorns, and star anise. Black peppercorns can be substituted if Szcechuan are unavailable and you'll often see additions such as ginger, orange peel or cinnamon in the blend.

Curry Powder

Real curry powder is fresh, vibrant and complex, but the long list of spices which can be used in this mixture lose their potency quickly. It's best to either grind whole spices before using or keep the mixture in an air-tight container for no more than a couple months. The spices that you almost always find in this Indian mixture include cumin, coriander, turmeric, pepper and chiles, but the list can go on to include 20 or more ingredients. Mix your own or make sure to taste your curry powder to see what the exact flavor profile is and just how hot it might be before adding.

Garam Masala

Slightly sweet and mild, garam masala adds warm flavors to more delicate Indian dishes. The literal translation for garam masala is "warm spice mixture" and although the recipe varies between the different regions of India, the most common form includes cinnamon, cloves, black pepper, cardamom, nutmeg, coriander, cumin and fennel. In Indian cooking, garam masala can be added at the end of cooking, or it can be added to a hot pan at the beginning to add subtle flavors to a dish.

Italian Seasoning

Italian seasoning is perfect for making your 15-minute tomato sauce taste like you've been working on it all day. A pre-made blend of all the herbs and spices you need for quick Italian cooking, this herb mix contains oregano, basil, thyme, marjoram, sage, savory and rosemary. Rub a couple of tablespoons on a roast chicken before putting it in the oven, or sprinkle some into your pizza sauce at the beginning of cooking.

Jerk Seasoning

Jamaica's famous for its "jerk" meats — spicy, grilled pork or chicken that have been rubbed or marinated in this unique blend of seasonings including dried onion, thyme, hot chili peppers and allspice. Other warm spices such as black pepper, nutmeg, cloves, cinnamon and ginger are often added to jerk seasoning, which can be made into a paste or a dried blend. Either way, this mixture gives an instant Caribbean flavor to meats, fish, veggies, soups and more.

Seafood Seasoning

Seafood seasoning is made up of celery salt and a mixture of mustard, red pepper, black pepper, bay, cloves, allspice, ginger, mace, cardamom, cinnamon and paprika. It's got some heat, but the mixture won't overwhelm tender crabmeat or seafood dishes. Keep a container on hand for your next shrimp boil, try a shake in cole slaw, or give your meat, poultry, or fish a good rub before grilling.