5 Underrated Spices You Should Be Cooking With—and How to Use Them

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Anyone who cooks on the regular knows how easy it is to fall into a rut, relying on the same fail-safe recipes time and again. Translation: Things can get boring in the kitchen fast.

That’s where spices come in: Not only do they dramatically impact any dish with minimal effort, but they also bring out the best flavor in the hearty, warm dishes you crave as the days turn cooler. We picked out five underrated ingredients that you likely don’t have in your pantry—but should.

Sweet Potato Hash

Photo: Courtesy of Amateur Gourmet

Aleppo Pepper
It’s high time you graduated from packets of crushed red pepper from the pizzeria. Aleppo pepper will make you wonder why you relied on just one kind of chili pepper before. The bright red spice hails from its namesake city in Syria and the Mediterranean region. Celebrated for its medium heat and earthy, fruity taste, it’s perfect in both meat and vegetable dishes—enhancing everything from shrimp and ribs to parsnips and potatoes.

How to use it: For a spicier kick, substitute it anywhere there’s paprika in your recipe. Or, try it in the Amateur Gourmet‘s Sweet Potato Hash for brunch this weekend.

Mushroom Masala and Fenugreek

Photo: Courtesy of Cook Republic

Fenugreek
Ever tried imitation maple syrup? Then you’ve probably tasted fenugreek, which is the name of both the plant’s mustard-colored seeds and its light-green leaves that, when roasted, impart a bitter and sweet taste. Fenugreek is prevalent in Indian, North African, and Mediterranean cuisine, and it’s a staple in chutneys and curries.

How to use it: Sample this spice in vegetarian mains like roasted eggplant, stir-fried okra, or this Mushroom Masala and Fenugreek recipe from Cook Republic.

chocolate chip cookies with brown butter and himalayan pink salt

Photo: Courtesy of Notes of Bacon

Himalayan Pink Salt
If you’re feeling fancy, elevate your dishes with a finishing salt like Himalayan pink salt, which gets its gorgeous hue during processing when it mixes with other minerals and red clay. Because this salt has a larger crystal size than table salt, you’ll need a mortar and pestle to grind it down—or look for the kind that’s packaged in a grinder.

How to use it: Because of its mild, even slightly floral taste, Himalayan salt is best sprinkled on top of baked salmon, grilled chicken, or even homemade chocolate truffles. Whip up these Chocolate Chip Cookies with Brown Butter and Himalayan Salt from Notes of Bacon the next time you’re craving something sweet.

Shichimi Togarashi Sweet Potato Fries with Miso Ketchup

Photo: Courtesy of Golden

Shichimi Togarashi
Need a new go-to seasoning for any dish? The incredibly versatile shichimi togarashi might be what you’re looking for. This Japanese blend is a mixture of seven spices, including sesame seed, seaweed, ginger, and sansho or Sichuan pepper.

How to use it: Sprinkle it on everything from macarons and doughnuts to kale chips and pork tenderloin. For a savory snack, bake up a batch of Golden‘s addictive Shichimi Togarashi Sweet Potato Fries with Miso Ketchup. Good luck trying not to finish the whole plate.

Creamy Tahini Brussels Slaw with Dried Cherries Toasted Pine Nuts and Zaatar Croutons

Photo: Courtesy of The Lemon Bowl

Sumac
Nope, it’s not the poisonous leaves you have to avoid when you go hiking—this purplish spice is made from the sumac bush that’s native to the Mediterranean and Middle East. A star in North African, Mediterranean, and Middle Eastern cuisine, sumac has a tangy taste and is the key ingredient in za’atar, a spice mixture that also includes thyme, oregano, marjoram, and sesame seeds.

How to use it: You can add it to a variety of dishes from grilled chicken to chickpea salad. Try it as a spread as in The Lemon Bowl‘s Brussels Slaw with Tahini Dressing and Za’atar Crostini.

MORE: An A to Z Guide to Insanely Easy Recipes 

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