16 Rare Spices Every Home Cook Should Know

We all have a constant set of spices and then there are the ones that we simply aren’t familiar with and probably have to Google first. Once we learn about them, they are actually a surprisingly good addition to our kitchens!

So we decided to share this information about these ‘not so common’ spices just for you.

1. Saffron

Saffron is known for its reputation as one of the most expensive and most precious spices in the world. It is so notoriously expensive because it is a labor-intensive crop. This spice comes from the saffron crocus flower, and it can take up to 75,000 blossoms to make one pound of this spice.

It has a subtle earthy and grassy aroma, but sweet, and quite similar to honey. No spice can ever compare to Saffron as it effortlessly gives sweet and savory flavor, also bestows golden hue on every dish it enhances.


2. Garam Masala

Garam Masala is actually a hot spice blend. Usually of ground coriander, cumin, cinnamon, cloves, cardamom, and pepper, commonly used in Indian cuisine. They are toasted in a pan to let out their aromatic flavors and then pulverized.

Garam Masala recipes may vary a bit, but a ton of recipes include cinnamon, nutmeg, allspice, cardamom, mace, coriander, and peppercorns. This is the blend that makes curry so tasty!


3. Achiote (Annatto)

Achiote or Annatto is derived from the seeds of Achiote tree, native to tropical countries.

It does not have a strong flavor instead, it is primarily used as natural food color. It is mostly used to provide yellow or orange color, and is sometimes used for its flavor and aroma. It has slight peppery scent and a slight sweet, peppery, and earthy flavor.


4. Caraway Seeds

Caraway is a flowering plant that only flowers every other year. It is native to Europe, North Africa, and Western Asia.

They taste a little bit like dill. They have an earthy, nutty, and bittersweet flavor with a hint of citrus and pepper. They’re easily paired with many kinds of meaty and cheesy dishes! Having intense flavor, a little bit of these seeds will already go a long way.


5. Borage (Starflower)

Borage, also known as Starflower, is one of the most well-known edible flowers. It is native to the Mediterranean region and has naturalized in many other places.

They can add herbal and floral taste to almost anything you cook with it. It is popularly used as a gin and tonic, and is sometimes called Borage cocktail. The flavor that this spice adds is very subtle, but it’s also a great idea to add it as an elegant touch to a cocktail drink.


6. Anardana

Anardana is made of dried pomegranate seeds. Not a well-known spice, but instantly familiar to some. It still retains the fruity qualities, sweet and sour flavor of pomegranate.

The seeds are sticky and chewy, but can still be saturated into liquids or blended with other spices and grounds to provide intense flavor. It gives a sour flavor to dishes which helps make it rich and flavorful.


7. Galangal

Fresh galangal asian cooking ingredient

Closely related to ginger, Galangal is also a rhizome, and also exhibits some similarity to the hot flavor of ginger. Distinguishing the two is fairly easy as galangal has whiter and shinier skin, and is much harder than ginger.

It is a popular ingredient in Indonesian and Malaysian recipes and can occasionally be found in Asian food stores.

There is a ground galangal, but it only has proportion of the actual flavor. The best idea is to use the root and grind it up.


8. Ceylon Cinnamon

Ceylon and Cassia are the two most common in the varieties of cinnamon. Cassia is more common. Ceylon is distinct from other varieties having a different shape, lighter color, and mild taste. It is also more expensive than Cassia.

Moreover, Ceylon is frequently called the ‘true cinnamon’. Cassia contains coumarin which is not good for the health. Therefore, if you use cinnamon regularly, Ceylon is a healthier choice.


9. Black Truffle Salt

Black Truffle Salt is a compound spice that blends sea salt with dried truffles, and some also adds truffle flavoring. It is an especially practical option for someone who fancy truffles, since truffles are very expensive.

The blend of salt and truffles brings out the flavorful taste of black truffles. The spice can be used in the very same way as a normal salt, therefore it can be used with almost anything or any dish, plus it gives more richness of flavor than salt alone does.


10. Szechuan Peppercorns

Szechuan pepper is a spice from the Sichuan cuisine in the Sichuan Province of southwestern China. That is why it is a common spice in different types of cooking in China and also in Indian and Tibetan cuisines.

It has a peculiar aroma and flavor that is neither spicy like chili nor strong like black pepper. Rather, it has a mild lemony taste and it generates a tingly sensation in the mouth.

These peppercorns was banned and was not allowed to be imported in the United States from 1968 to 2005 because of the possibility that it could transmit a bacterial disease  that can affect foliage and citrus crops. In 2005, the ban was lifted, but any imported Szechuan peppercorns have to be heated to kill any bacteria it could be carrying.

11. Sumac

Sumac, also spelled as sumach or sumak, is one of about 35 species of flowering plants. It grows in subtropical and temperate regions in the whole world, particularly in Africa, East Asia, and North America. It is also native in the Middle East.

The sumac bush has dark red berries which are used to make this spice. It has a sour taste with a lot of likeness to a lemon, although it is not a tart, which makes it a more flexible choice for plenty of dishes, and because of its flavor, Sumac can also be used in dishes that call for a lemon. The color of this spice is very appealing, making it a great way to make a dish exceptional.

Although it is rare, it can still be found in international sections of supermarkets, online stores, and Middle Eastern products stores. This spice is becoming more and more popular nowadays.


12. Ajwain

Ajwain, also known as Ajowan Caraway, Bishop’s Weed, or Carom, is an herb. Both leaves and seed-like fruit of the plant are used or eaten by humans.

Ajwain seeds originate from the same family as cumin and dill, and its seeds are used as a spice. Generally, the seeds are sold whole, although most people go for grinding or crushing them prior to their use.

The flavor of Ajwain is related to thyme and cumin, although Ajwain has a more pleasant and delicate aftertaste.


13. Long Pepper

Long Pepper, also called Indian Long Pepper or Pipli, is a floweing vine. Cultured for its fruit, which is commonly dried and used as a spice and seasoning.

It has many similar characteristics as black pepper, although long pepper is less strong and has more twist, having sweet notes of cinnamon and nutmeg.

Nowadays, long pepper is almost forgotten. Which is kind of sad since long pepper’s sweet heat can enhance many dishes in a way black pepper just cannot.


14. Juniper Berry

Juniper Berry is the female seed cone produced by the many different species of junipers. Not a real berry but a cone with rare fleshy and merged scales, which makes it look like a berry.

Unlike many other spices, this one originated in Europe. They are usually used to flavor gin and tonic. Some of its other used include seasoning pork, beef, stews, and some vegetable dishes.

You might actually have tasted it if you like gin and tonic because Juniper is the main ingredient in gin, giving it its distinctive tanginess. Its primary flavors are a unique blend of citrus and rosemary.


15. Serrano Chili

The Serrano Chili is a type of chili pepper that originates in the mountain regions of the Puebla and Hidalgo states in Mexico. The name Serrano is a reference to the mountains of these regions.

The dried and ground chili is usually used as a spice, particularly as an ingredient in sauces. It is relatively hot, its heat level is frequently put at a 6 or 7 so it can definitely elevate the game of a dish. It is commonly sold in a smoked appearance, which gives both spiciness and smokiness to a dish.


16. Mace

Mace is an aromatic golden brown spice acquired from the dried aril of the Nutmeg seed. It causes fragrant, nutmeg-like aroma and warm taste to any dish. Can also be used as a substitute to nutmeg, or an addition to desserts and others.

It comes from the waxy red covers of nutmeg seeds. That is why it has relative taste to nutmeg, whilst it tends to be more peppery. Tasting similarly like nutmeg makes it a complement in both savory and sweet dishes.

Usually, ground mace is much less difficult to find, but getting it in the blade form (like in the picture) is advisable, since it helps keep the flavor. And it can always be ground when it’s time to use it as a spice.

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