8 Less Common Spices You Should Get to Know


Spices have been around for centuries, and while we prize them today as secret ingredients in our chili, rubs, and sauces, they were once used as valuable commodities in trade. Exotic spices were hard to come by, and cost a pretty penny.  Today, you can find those exotic spices in nearly any supermarket, at niche shops downtown, or, if it is a harder to find spice, online.

Most spices are ones we have all heard of, but some are truly exotic and much rarer. If you are trying to spice up your cooking this weekend, you might want to add one of these oft overlooked spices:

1- Sumac:

While you may have heard of poison sumac, the spice sumac is something completely different (and should not be confused!).  This particular spice is from the berries of the sumac bush. They are then dried and ground. The spice is typically used in rubs or added to tabbouleh.  It has a tangy flavor and is often used in place of lemon (as long as you do not need the acidic flavor of lemon, as sumac lacks the acidity).  It also has a great red color that brightens up any dish!

2- Asafoetida:

Asafoetida powder is typically used in Indian cooking.  Asafoetida comes from the roots of giant fennel, and it has a strong, fetid smell.  However, once it is cooked, the smell goes away and it has a very nice flavor (reminiscent of garlic and leeks).  Delicious in soups, too.

3- Nigella Seeds:

Nigella seeds are small jet black seeds that are typically used in Indian and the Middle Eastern dishes.  They are often used in naan (an Indian bread).  These seeds can be used whole or ground and they are usually roasted before they are added to foods.  They have a mild, nutty, oniony flavor that are actually great on baked potatoes, too.  Making homemade bagels?  Sprinkle on top in place of poppy seeds!

4- Cassia Buds:

Cassia buds look a lot like cloves, but they are actually the unopened flowers of the cassia tree. Their flavor is similar cinnamon, but with more distinguishing notes. Typically, cassia buds are used in pickles, chutneys, curries, and ketchups as well as spice blends.

5- Ghost Chili Powder:

One very impressive spice is ghost chili powder. In fact, in 2007, ghost pepper took home the Guinness World Record for the world’s hottest chili pepper. It no longer holds that title, but it is still pretty hot! If you are looking to spice up your chili, this is the unknown spice to look for.

6- Grains of Paradise:

Grains of paradise look like pepper, but they offer so much more in terms of taste.  These peppers are spicy like pepper, but they are also fruity and floral with hints of coriander and cardamom.  These are actually dried seeds from West Africa.  They are very rare, and typically very expensive and can be used anywhere that you would typically pepper.

7- Mahlab:

Mahlab is a spice that comes from the pit of the sour cherry. It has been around and in use for centuries in the Middle East.  There it is used in breads, cakes, and cookies. Mahlab has a deep, unique, like cherries, but it also redolent of vanilla and almonds.  It is generally sold in powdered form.

8- Wattleseed:

Wattleseed is from Australia. This is from the acacia tree and is a very versatile spice.  The acacia seeds are roasted and then ground, giving off notes of coffee, hazelnut and chocolate. This spice is used in ice cream, whipped cream and a number of other desserts.

More Recommended Reading:

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Liu Jiao
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