8 Underrated Spices That Can Turn Any Dish From “Meh” to “Wow”

If there’s one ingredient that can make any meal taste better without compromising its flavor, that’s spices. From adding a pungent touch to the mix to mellowing a dish’s aftertaste, these fragrant add-ins can take your cooking skills to a whole new level with half the effort. Not to mention that they are often packed with nutrients, helping you ace your nutrition game.

Unfortunately, most of us stick to just a handful of options with pre-ground black pepper and garlic powder being the most popular choices. But, the sky is the limit when it comes to your spice rack, and the following often-neglected spices prove just that. From cardamom to nigella seeds, these 8 underrated spices can help you make your favorite meals not just tastier but also a tad healthier.

 

 

  • Peppercorn (of All Colors)

 

PeppercornEven though ground pepper is the most widely used spice in the world, peppercorns are not treated with the same respect. For many years now, the bead-like seasoning has been sidetracked by the pre-ground variety which may be more convenient to use but lacks the actual flavor.

So, if you are going for that WOW factor, put down the stale, mass-produced version, stuff your grinder with these aromatic beads and grind yourself the most aromatic blend you’ve ever sniffed. PS: Peppercorns come in various colors (black, white, green and red/pink) which means you also get to “decorate” your dishes with each pinch.  

 

 

  • Fenugreek

 

FenugreekA staple in Indian, North African and Mediterranean cuisines, fenugreek is one of those spices which you’ve probably heard of but never bothered to look into. Well, too bad because according to experts, the exotic spice comes with an array of medicinal properties, from preventing diabetes(1) to reducing inflammation(2).

Usually found in ground form, fenugreek sports a bittersweet flavor which many confuse with maple syrup. That said, the spice is perfect for chutneys, sauces, curries and stir-fried meals. You can also sprinkle it on top of yogurt, and roasted veggies for a tart-sweet aftertaste.

 

 

  • Sumac

 

SumacA key ingredient in za’atar, sumac is a dark red spice with a distinct (almost lemony) flavor. The bright-colored spice is native to the Middle East and the Mediterranean which is why it’s not popular in the Western cuisine. However, thanks to its bold taste, sumac can zest up any dish, including salads, spreads, and dips. In some cases, fans of the spice add it to their rice for an exotic touch.

 

 

  • Cardamom

 

CardamomA proud member of the ginger family, cardamom can’t help but sport a distinct sweet/spicy taste. That’s why it’s a natural fit to desserts, sweets, and brews such as chai tea. The Asian spice is also blessed with a nose-tingling floral aroma which works its magic every time you roast the seeds before adding them to your meals. But, flavor and aroma aside, the underrated spice boasts a variety of health benefits including low blood pressure(3), low cholesterol levels(4), and cancer prevention(5). And for those of you who worry about cardamom’s high price, remember that a little goes a long way with this spice. So, your weekly budget is as safe as it gets.  

 

 

  • Saffron

 

SaffronSure, saffron is not one of those spices you’ve never heard before but is definitely one of the most neglected. In fact, despite its rich flavor and unique aroma, many people think it’s far too intimidating to cook with, passing up on its many health and culinary benefits. But, we beg of you, don’t be one of those people who turn their back on it or you’ll miss an awful lot of exciting and flavorful experiences.

Saffron pairs excellent with rice, infusing it with its tantalizing aroma and distinct yellow hue. No wonder paella tastes so awesome! Thanks to its subtle taste, the spice is also an excellent fit for desserts such as brittle, pudding and cakes.

 

 

  • Nigella Seeds

 

Nigella SeedsAlso known as kalonji, nigella seeds are one of the most misunderstood spices. Many think that’s because of the black color and subtle aroma, but the truth is that what this Mediterranean seasoning lacks in looks and fragrance (it has a mild savory scent to it), it makes up for in taste. In fact, nigella seeds have an oregano-like flavor with bitter notes and a slight onion aftertaste to them which makes them perfect for stir-fry dishes, homemade bread, vegetable curries, savory cookies and crackers and legume soups.

 

 

  • Caraway Seeds

 

Caraway SeedsRelated to coriander and cumin, caraway seeds hold a special place in various cuisines, with the Middle Eastern and the Mediterranean being the most prominent. The pale brown spice packs a serious flavor punch, so you can’t use more than a teaspoon in one recipe. Given that, they are used to spice various otherwise bland foods such as bread, salads, sauces, soups (especially tomato soup), fish and meat.

 

 

  • Fennel Seeds

 

Fennel SeedsIf you have a thing for licorice, then this spice is a must-try for you. Used whole or ground, the greenish spice has a mild honey-like flavor which pairs great with both sweet and savory dishes. That’s why you can add it to pretty much anything, from homemade sausages to sauces to cookies. Pro tip: If you decide to use them in their whole form, grab a sharp chef’s knife and using the heel, crack it slightly to release its aromatic oils.

 

Final Thoughts

There’s no doubt that a well-stocked spice rack can go a long way, from adding color to your dishes to making your meal (a lot) tastier. But, reaching for the same old culprits can get too old too fast. That’s where these 8 underrated spices come in. They are colorful, easy to find, and -most importantly- super tasty and healthy. So, if you want to make the most out of your everyday meals, make sure you stock your pantry ASAP.

 

References:

  1. https://www.ncbi.nlm.nih.gov/pmc/articles/PMC4591578/
  2. https://www.ncbi.nlm.nih.gov/pmc/articles/PMC4980935/
  3. https://www.ncbi.nlm.nih.gov/pubmed/20361714
  4. https://www.ncbi.nlm.nih.gov/pubmed/27888503
  5. https://www.ncbi.nlm.nih.gov/pubmed/22182368

 

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