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Exotic Spice Blends

As global dishes continue to dominate restaurant food trends and you explore new international recipes for your menu, you may run across some rare spices and spice blends you’ve never heard of before. These spices are the key to achieving the signature flavors in popular types of global cuisine. We’ll take you on a tour of unique spices from around the world, describe their flavors, and explain how they are used.

Types of Indian Spices

You probably know that Indian cooking relies on spices like cumin, turmeric, and curry powder, but what about the spices you don’t recognize? This list of spices includes the secret ingredients you need to create authentic Indian dishes.

 Chaat Masala

Chaat masala is an Indian spice blend made from amchoor, cumin, coriander, ginger, black salt, asafoetida, and chili powder. In India, the word chaat refers to a savory, crunchy snack seasoned with chaat masala. This popular blend tastes best when made with freshly ground spices, and the ingredients can vary slightly between blends. The key components that give chaat masala its signature eggy, zingy flavor are black salt, asafoetida, and amchoor.

  • Chaat Masala Form: Spice blend

  • Chaat Masala Flavor: Sulphuric, sour, spicy, zingy

  • Chaat Masala Uses: Sprinkled on street snacks, sandwiches, and fruit to add umami flavor

  • Chaat Masala Cuisine: Indian, Bangladeshi, Pakistani

  • Chaat Masala Pronunciation: Chot mah-sahl-uh

  • Other Names for Chaat Masala: Chat masala

Garam Masala

Garam masala translates to “warm spice blend” and usually consists of coriander, cumin, cardamom, cloves, black pepper, cinnamon, and nutmeg. In India, the recipe for garam masala varies by region and by chef. Families are known to create their own garam masala blends with up to 30 different spices and pass the recipe down through the generations. To make this popular spice blend, the whole spices are toasted to bring out their flavors, then ground into a powder form.

  • Garam Masala Form: Spice blend, paste

  • Garam Masala Flavor: Sweet, warming, fragrant

  • Garam Masala Uses: A finishing spice that adds deep warmth to a variety of dishes

  • Garam Masala Pronunciation: Guh-rahm mah-sahl-uh

  • Garam Masala Cuisine: Indian, Pakistani

Kala Namak

Kala namak is a type of salt with a sulphuric taste and aroma. It’s used in the Indian spice mixture chaat masala to give the blend its distinctive savory flavor. Also called black salt, kala namak starts out as Himlayan pink salt and goes through a process in which the salt crystals are fired in a kiln with charcoal and herbs. A chemical change occurs that enhances the natural sulfites in the salt, resulting in a flavor similar to cooked eggs.

  • Kala Namak Form: Salt crystals

  • Kala Namak Flavor: Salty, sulfuric, egg-like

  • Kala Namak Uses: Spice blends, chutneys, raitas, table salt, tofu scrambles

  • Kala Namak Cuisine: Indian

  • Kala Namak Pronunciation: Ka-luh Nuh-muhk

  • Other Names for Kala Namak: Himalayan black salt, kala loon

Types of African and Middle Eastern Spices

The bold flavors found in Ethiopian, Moroccan, and Turkish cuisine can be replicated with this group of palatable spices, blends, and condiments. Try adding these seasonings to couscous, lamb tagine, and stews for the most authentic global dishes.


Baharat is a spice blend common to Middle Eastern cooking. The types of spices included can vary from region to region, but baharat usually contains a mixture of black pepper, cardamom, cumin, coriander, paprika, nutmeg, cinnamon, and cloves. In Turkish cuisine, baharat will also contain mint. Just like garam masala in India, baharat is considered a staple seasoning of Middle Eastern cuisine.

  • Baharat Form: Spice blend

  • Baharat Flavor: Sweet, smoky, aromatic

  • Baharat Use: Seasoning for meats, seafood, dry rub, marinades, soups

  • Baharat Cuisine: Middle Eastern, Turkish, Greek

  • Baharat Pronunciation: Bah-huh-raht

  • Other Names for Baharat: Lebanese 7-spice


Berbere is the key to recreating authentic Ethiopian flavors in your dishes. This sweet, smoky spice blend can contain over a dozen different spices that vary depending on the region. The most common spices included are red chili peppers, fenugreek, garlic, coriander, ginger, cinnamon, nutmeg, and clove. Berbere is used in the dish, doro wat, a chicken stew and the national dish of Ethiopia.

  • Berbere Form: Spice blend or paste

  • Berbere Flavor: Sweet, spicy, smoky, fragrant

  • Berbere Uses: Added to dry rubs, marinades, stews, also used as a condiment in paste form

  • Berbere Cuisine: Ethiopian

  • Berbere Pronunciation: Bair-bair-ay

  • Other Names for Berbere: Ethiopian spice blend


Harissa is a North African chili paste made from roasted peppers, olive oil, and spices. It’s a staple condiment in Tunisia, Algeria, and Morocco and has become more prevalent in the US as global dishes have grown in popularity. The level of heat in harissa varies depending on the recipe. Some variations of the chili paste contain rose petals or rosewater to balance out the spiciness.

  • Harissa Form: Spice blend or paste

  • Harissa Flavor: Spicy, aromatic

  • Harissa Uses: Added to couscous, soups, stews, meats

  • Harissa Pronunciation: Her-ee-suh

  • Harissa Cuisine: Tunisian, Moroccan

A great way to experience and learn more about some of these spices is to book one of our Private Chef Cooking Classes!

Types of Asian Spices

Many dishes from the Asian continent are full of intense flavors that are hard to reproduce without using native spices. Authentic Vietnamese pho, Thai coconut-based soups, and Chinese stir-fries rely on the spices below to create an appetizing balance of taste and aroma.

Chinese 5 Spice

Chinese 5 spice powder is a blend of spices intended to incorporate the five tastes of sweet, sour, bitter, salty, and savory. Used as a staple ingredient in Chinese and Taiwanese dishes, most versions of 5-spice will contain cloves, fennel, star anise, cinnamon, and Sichuan peppercorns. There are many variations on the blend that may include more than or less than five ingredients.

  • Chinese 5 Spice Form: Spice blend

  • Chinese 5 Spice Flavor: Sweet, peppery, pungent

  • Chinese 5 Spice Uses: Added to dry rubs, roasted meats, marinades, soups

  • Chinese 5 Spice Cuisine: Chinese, Taiwanese, Vietnamese

  • Other Names for Chinese 5 Spice: 5-spice powder

Makrut Lime Powder

The makrut lime is a small, wrinkled lime with bumpy skin that grows in Southeast Asia. Much more potent and bitter than a regular lime, makrut limes are prized for their leaves and rind rather than their juice. The glossy, dark green leaves are responsible for the bright, citrus flavor in many Thai dishes. Best used fresh, makrut lime leaves can also be dried and ground.

  • Makrut Lime Powder Form: Fresh or dried leaves, powder

  • Makrut Lime Powder Flavor: Strongly aromatic, fresh, citrusy

  • Makrut Lime Powder Uses: Added to soups, curries, coconut dishes, salads

  • Makrut Lime Powder Cuisine: Thai, Lao, Cambodian, Vietnamese, Indonesian

  • Makrut Lime Powder Pronunciation: Mah-gruut

  • Other Names for Makrut Lime Powder: Thai lime, k-lime


Togarashi is a flavorful spice mixture that contains red chili pepper, orange peel, sesame seeds, poppy seeds, seaweed flakes, sichuan peppercorns, and ginger. Popular in Japan, togarashi is used as a table seasoning and sprinkled on ramen, udon noodles, steamed rice, and grilled meats.

  • Togarashi Form: Spice blend

  • Togarashi Flavor: Sweet, mildly spicy, zesty, savory

  • Togarashi Uses: Added to soups, noodle dishes, rice crackers, snacks

  • Togarashi Cuisine: Japanese

  • Togarashi Pronunciation: Toh-gah-rah-shee

  • Other Names for Togarashi: Japanese 7-spice, shichimi

That's all for today folks, join us later this week for a look at exotic herbs and there culinary uses.

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