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Homemade Spice Blends

Aromatic, colorful, and rich with melded flavors, spice blends have an air of mystery about them. Despite the intrigue, though, making your own spice blends is pretty straightforward and an easy way to indulge your creativity in the kitchen. The possibilities are endless, of course. You can make specific blends for ethnic dishes, like curries and jambalaya. Or you can concoct your own blends for enlivening everyday fare like mac and cheese or that side veggie. Consider developing your own blends for grilled foods, beverages, pizzas, stuffings, soups and stews, pies, cookies, popcorn, even toast.

The ability to personalize each dish is a big plus. Do you find most pre-made chili powders too tame? Or do you avoid garam masala altogether because it's always just too fiery? By blending your own spices, you can adjust each dish to suit your preferences for heat, smokiness, and sweetness. You can create blends that are light on salt (or salt-free) and blends that include a spice you're interested in adding to your diet. You might even include one favorite spice in most every blend, as your signature.

Building spice blends is very easy to do. In fact, you don't even have to measure ingredients (unless you want to keep track of things so you can exactly replicate your blends later). Simply mix -- and in many cases crush -- an array of spices and you're good to go.

Few spices are solo performers. Oh, some are strong enough to warrant a namesake -- like gingerbread or cinnamon rolls -- but even these often appear in combination with other spices, in this case other warm spices like allspice, nutmeg, and cardamom. In fact, it’s often the blending of spices that makes cooking such a fun and creative endeavor -- and dishes so delectable and redolent.

Spice blends, which combine various complimentary spices for specific effect, can be a timesaver in the kitchen. Rather than assemble and measure from separate jars of oregano, basil, garlic, and onion powder, for example, you can just shake some Pizza Seasoning Blend on your pizza or Spaghetti Sauce Blend in your pasta sauce. If you enjoy a particular ethnic cuisine, picking up the appropriate spice blend (such as a Thai or Cajun blend) can help you instantly flavor many of your dishes with your preferred spices. Blends also offer an opportunity to experience a wide array of spices while insuring that you've got just the right combo for your dish. Don't be limited by a blend's name, either. Apple Pie Spice is blended to spice the perfect apple pie, for example, but it'll also work wonders in a fruit crisp, donuts, muffins, custards, cookies, ice cream, yogurt, and fruit smoothies.

There is no shortage of pre-made spice blends from which to choose; Frontier offers over 80 spice blends, from Adobo Seasoning to Veggie Pepper.

Make Your Own Spice Blend

The creative possibilities -- and control over your dishes -- are endless when you develop your own spice blends. By combining your own spices you can personalize each dish, adjusting to suit your preferences for heat, smokiness, and sweetness. You might create blends that are light on salt (or salt-free) and blends that include a spice you're interested in adding to your diet. You may create a Mexican blend that's milder (or more potent!) than any you can buy. You might even include one favorite spice in most every blend, as your signature.

Consider making your own spice blends for ethnic dishes as well as every day fare. (Enliven that mac and cheese!) You can mix your spices ahead of time; just be sure to store them in airtight glass jars away from direct sunlight. And don't make the batches too large; over time they'll lose potency. (One time you might want to make a large batch would be for gifting. Your signature blend will make a perfect hostess gift!)

Supplies you might want to have on hand include a mortar and pestle or electric spice grinder, a small cast iron pan for roasting spices, glass jars for storage, a set of measuring utensils (note your measurements so you can duplicate or adjust results), and an assortment of basic spices. To save money and reduce waste, buy spices in bulk, where you can purchase a pinch of this and a pound of that as needed for your blends.

Here's one specific recipe for an all-purpose spice blend for adding at the stove or on the table.

Sans-Salt Spice Blend

Don't be daunted by the list of ingredients. Use just a few of your favorite spices and substitute freely to create this all-purpose blend. Simply mix spices together:

2 tablespoons dried parsley
3 teaspoons ground, toasted sesame seeds
1 teaspoon dried basil
1 teaspoon celery seed
1 teaspoon onion powder
1 teaspoon dried thyme
1 teaspoon dried marjoram
1 teaspoon paprika
1 teaspoon dried chervil
1 teaspoon dried savory
1/2 teaspoon black pepper, coarse grind
1/2 teaspoon garlic powder
1/8 teaspoon cayenne pepper

Other good possibilities for an all-purpose seasoning include: bay leaf, chili peppers, chives, cloves, coriander, cumin, lemon peel, mustard powder, oregano, rosemary, sage, and tarragon. If you're open to salt, add the appropriate amount of sea salt, too.

Homemade Taco Seasoning

If you'd like to learn to make your own spice blends, taco seasoning is a great blend to start with because it features a few standard spices that seem to compliment one another flawlessly no matter what proportions they are blended in. With homemade taco seasoning, you can blend spices according to your own culinary proclivities. Learn how to build your own taco seasoning in three steps.

Step 1: Select your chili powder

Chili powder is the foundation of any taco seasoning recipe, and is in itself a blend of dried New Mexico chilies, cumin, oregano, coriander, allspice and cloves.

Convenient premixed versions abound, use your favorite to jump start your taco seasoning blend or invest in the individual spices and create your own.

Basic Chili Powder

3 tablespoons ground dried New Mexico chili pepper
1/2 teaspoon ground cumin
1/4 teaspoon ground coriander
1/4 teaspoon allspice
1/4 teaspoon clove
1/4 teaspoon oregano

Directions: Mix spices and use immediately, or store in an airtight container away from light and heat.

Tip: Add extra amounts of cumin to create an earthier blend, extra coriander for aromatic sweetness, extra oregano for savory herbaceous flavor, or more allspice and clove to create a spicy richness.

Step 2: Master basic homemade taco seasoning

A basic taco seasoning is built on chili powder, salt, paprika, garlic powder, onion powder and cayenne. All of these spices work well together because they combine familiar tastes that complement one another without overpowering the main taco ingredient.

Regular Taco Seasoning

3 tablespoons chili powder
1 tablespoon salt
1 teaspoon paprika
3/4 teaspoon garlic powder
1/4 teaspoon onion powder
1/4 teaspoon cayenne pepper

Directions: Mix spices and use immediately, or store in an airtight container away from light and heat.

Tip: Reduce or omit the salt for a lower-sodium seasoning. Although nothing substitutes the savor of salt, keep in mind that other taco ingredients like cheese, lettuce and fresh veggies will help make the finished dish more interesting.

Step 3: Customize your own blend

Blending your own taco seasoning is edifying because it helps you to understand how the individual spices contribute to the whole flavor. Experimenting with the levels of the various spices in basic recipe, adding more of this/less of that, allows you to put your own creative flavor twist on plain old tacos. Here's one suggestion:

Smoky Chipotle Taco Seasoning

3 tablespoons chili powder
1 tablespoon salt
1 teaspoon ground chipotle pepper
3/4 teaspoon garlic powder
1/4 teaspoon onion powder
1/4 teaspoon paprika

Directions: Mix spices and use immediately, or store in an airtight container away from light and heat.

Tip: For a toasted, rich nuance, lightly roast the blend in a dry, heavy skillet over medium heat just until fragrant, being careful not to scorch the blend. Also, try using whole spices and grinding them fresh.

Popular Spice Blends

Here are just some of the hundreds of blends available, some of the spices you might include in your blend (just suggestions!) and some tips for using them:

Barbecue Seasoning—Rub onto meats, fish, or poultry, or use to make a marinade for grilling. Shake on tofu. Ingredients: black pepper, cayenne, chili peppers, cumin, garlic, nutmeg, onion, paprika.

Berbere—A spicy hot Ethiopian sauce, Berbere is delicious on grilled meats and poultry and in stews and with lentils. Ingredients: black pepper, cayenne, cinnamon, cloves, coriander, cumin, fenugreek, ginger, green cardamom seeds, paprika, sea salt, turmeric.

Cajun Seasoning—Use for blackened fish or steaks, grilled chicken or ribs, soups or stews, sauces, and pastas. Ingredients: basil, bay leaf, black pepper, cayenne, chili powder, cumin, fennel, garlic, marjoram, nutmeg, onion, oregano, paprika, parsley, sea salt, thyme.

Chili Powder—Not just ground chili peppers, this is a blend containing other lively spices. Use it to season your chili as well as any other Mexican or Tex-Mex dish. Make as potent or tame as you like by varying the amount and heat of the chilies you use. Ingredients: allspice, cloves, coriander, cumin, garlic, oregano, sea salt.

Curry Powder—This blend may contain dozens of spices or just a few Indian favorites. Use it for all manner of curried dishes. Ingredients: bay leaf, black pepper, cayenne, cardamom, chili peppers, cinnamon, cloves, coriander, cumin, fenugreek, mace, mustard, nutmeg, paprika, sea salt, turmeric.

Fines Herbes—Here's a classic French mix that's delicious on pasta and in dressings. Ingredients: basil, chervil, chives, marjoram, tarragon.

Chinese Five Spice Powder—Used in Chinese cuisine, this blend is delicious on meats and poultry. Ingredients: black or white pepper, cinnamon, cloves, fennel, star anise.

Garam Masala—Try this aromatic Indian spice blend with poultry and meats as well as in soups and with vegetables like squash and sweet potatoes. Ingredients: bay leaf, black pepper, cardamom, cinnamon, cloves, coriander seeds, cumin, mace.

Herbs de Provence—This French blend is often used for seasoning meat, poultry, and vegetables. Use it for pasta, sauces, and dressings, too. Ingredients: basil, lavender flowers, marjoram, rosemary, savory, tarragon, thyme.

Mexican Seasoning—Tacos, fajitas, quesadillas -- any Mexican fare -- will be quickly and successfully seasoned with this blend. Ingredients: bay leaf, black pepper, celery seed, chili peppers, cumin, garlic, oregano, onion, paprika sea salt.

Pickling Spice—This blend is essential during home canning season. Ingredients: allspice, bay leaf, caraway, celery seed, chili peppers, cinnamon sticks, cloves, dill, ginger, mace mustard seeds.

Pizza Seasoning—Mediterranean seasonings are perfect for pizza as well as pasta and breads (such as focaccia). Ingredients: basil, fennel, garlic, onion, oregano, thyme.

Pumpkin Pie Spice—Developed for pies, this blend also imparts a warm, full flavor to cookies, custards, cheesecake, and muffins. Ingredients: allspice, cinnamon, cloves, ginger, nutmeg.

Thai Seasoning—Here's a wakeup blend for pasta, grains, meat, seafood, and veggies. Ingredients: basil, black or white pepper, cayenne, cilantro, coriander, cumin, garlic, lemongrass or lemon peel, onions, paprika, sea salt.

Q&A

Q: Can I use my coffee grinder for spices?

A: You can grind spices in a coffee grinder, but make it a designated grinder. If you use the same one for coffee, expect it to be a highly seasoned beverage! Spice grinders are also available, and an old-fashioned mortar and pestle will also work nicely. By the way, roasting your whole spices enhances the flavor and makes them a bit easier to grind.

Q: Is Bouquet Garni a spice blend?

A: Bouquet Garni is actually a bundle of herbs and spices. It can be made with any seasonings at all, although some are traditional. Just tie the herbs and spices in cheesecloth or place them in a large tea ball for easy removal from your soup or stock. The spices often used in a Bouquet Garni include basil, bay leaf, black peppercorns, chervil, oregano, rosemary, savory, tarragon, and thyme.

Q: How can I use a spice blend to make a marinade?

A: Combine any spice blend with a liquid such as olive oil and lemon juice, and you have an instant marinade or dipping sauce. Add Thai Spice to coconut milk for an easy fish marinade, for example, and Garam Masala to tomato sauce for dipping shrimp. You can also combine any spice blend with flour or breadcrumbs for breading.

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