24 Spices to Jazz Up Dinner

Nik Sharma, author of Season, gives us the low-down on his favorite spices to boost flavors in his cooking.

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Season By Nik Sharma

October 9, 2018 -- The easiest way to transform a meal with minimal effort, is to apply a spice or a mixture of spices or ingredients that can boldly shape something familiar into something unexpected yet exciting. Start simple and then build on flavor as you get comfortable and introduce new flavors as you move along.

Spice it up

Start by trying a new kind of smoked pepper for heat in your soups. Maybe add some ground coriander or cumin to your roasts. Start seasoning the oil with a few fresh curry leaves before you make your stew, try a new kind of salt — like kala namak — or fry an egg in a bit of ghee to see how it can alter your perception of taste and aroma. Spices and ingredients are some of the most powerful tools in your kitchen to break away from the norm and a fun way to experiment in the kitchen.

Aleppo Pepper

Usually sold as ground large flakes, this pepper adds heat and brightness to food.

Sambal Olek

A hot and spicy chile paste used in Indonesian cooking.


A fine powder with a fruity and acidic flavor, made by grinding sun-dried mangoes. It works well in barbecue sauces as well as stews and soups.


Sold as whole seeds or ground, anardana is made from sun-dried pomegranate arils (seedpods). It has a sweet-and-sour and slightly nutty flavor.

Pomegranate molasses

A sweet and tart dark liquid obtained by slowly evaporating fresh pomegranate juice.

Himalayan Pink Salt

A type of rock salt. It is much more flavorful than table salt, because it is rich in minerals.

Black Salt

Although it’s referred to as black salt, it’s actually a dark pinkish red because it’s so rich in minerals. It releases a mild sulfurous smell (which dissipates quickly) when it comes in contact with a liquid. I usually use it in hot and sweet preparations.

Black Cardamom

Although related to green cardamom, black cardamom has a bigger pod, which is dried over open flames, a process that gives it a woody, resinous aroma. I usually use it in savory dishes or add it to hot oil when seasoning stews and pilafs.

Carom Seed

It looks like a small cumin seed but carries a thyme-like perfume.

Star Anise

It has a licorice-like taste that’s sweeter than fennel and anise, so use it sparingly when cooking. The seeds are hidden inside the rays of the star.


A spice with a funky smell, which, when heated in hot oil, acquires a much more pleasant scent and a pleasing flavor. It is sometimes used in Indian cooking to mimic the flavor of onions and garlic.

Rose Water

Obtained by distilling the essential oils from fresh roses. It is used in many sweet and savory preparations in Middle Eastern and Indian cooking.


An edible seaweed that is dried and sold as sheets and used in Japanese cooking for its rich savory/umami taste. Nori is available in various kinds and colors; Yaki-nori is the most popular.

Curry Leaf

You can find curry leaf both fresh and dried, both work wonders when added to sauces and marinades. Try adding to, ground or whole, to hot oils for an extra toasty flavor.


These highly fragrant flowers of the Sambucus genus are available in fresh and dried form for flavoring and medicinal purposes. They add a sweet, floral flavor to cordials, liquors, and desserts.


Renowned for the gorgeous orange-yellow color it imparts to food. Fortunately, a pinch of saffron strands goes a very long way, because it is one of the most expensive spices in the world.

Coconut Vinegar

A key ingredient in Goan cuisine, coconut vinegar is obtained through the natural fermentation of the plant’s sap.


A fruit that is sold in Asian and Mexican markets in a number of forms, including dried with the shell on (pictured second row, third from left), in blocks of pulp (pictured second row, fourth from left), or as a concentrate. I prefer the sour tamarind sold in Asian and Indian stores to the sweeter Mexican variety because it can be used in both savory and sweet preparations.

Guajillo Chiles

A milder, smokier, and slightly hotter dried chile than a chipotle.

Urfa Biber Chile

The dried flakes of a bright red chile with a smoky, chocolaty flavor used in Turkish cooking.

Cumin Seeds

An aromatic spice with a warm and earthy taste. It is often used in Indian cooking.

Coriander Seeds

The seed of the cilantro plant. It has a smoky flavor with a hint of sweetness. Toasting enhances the earthy and woody notes of this spice.


An unrefined sugar, made by heating sugarcane or palm sugar juice. The result is sweetener with a pleasant mineral aftertaste with a hint of molasses. Jaggery is sold in blocks as well as ground and comes in varying shades of golden brown.

Thai Chile

Much smaller than serrano chiles, but much hotter. They come in green and red varieties.

Spice up your routine & get cooking

Get the recipe for Nik's Curry Leaf Popcorn Chicken.