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10 Rare Spices That Will Change The Way You Cook

Spices in bowls

There are your mainstay spices—and then there are the ones you’d probably have to Google if you saw them on a menu: Blade mace, charnushka, urfa biber. But behind each unfamiliar name is an adventure into new cultures and complex flavors. (And with our new, always-free-shipping Flatpacks, you can order something completely out of the box whenever the mood strikes.) So, go ahead. Start exploring.

Amchoor Powder—Citrus in a Bottle

Amchoor powder in a ceramic dish.This tangy powder is a popular anchor in North Indian cuisine—think samosas, chutneys and pickles. The citrus flavor comes from dried, unripe mangoes that are pulverized into a fine powder. It pairs beautifully with meat and vegetables—try it in a stir fry.


Black Cardamom—Green Cardamom's Smokier Cousin

Black cardamom spice in a small bowl.Black cardamom is from the same family and genus as the more well-known green variant, but it brings along a robust flavor reminiscent of bacon since the pods are smoked rather than kiln- or sun-dried. It’s popular in Indian recipes, but also translates well to other cuisines (consider dropping a crushed pod into Vietnamese pho stock or Chinese braised beef recipes). Lightly toast the pod in a dry pan before using to amplify the flavor.


Black Garlic—A Shortcut to Umami

Black garlic puree with crackers, cheese, and nuts.Made by aging raw bulbs in hot and humid conditions, black garlic delivers subtle sweetness alongside savory richness that has made it a popular addition to the American culinary scene with chefs and home cooks alike. It adds earthiness to risottos, tapenades, salad dressings, mashed potatoes, dips, tomato sauce...really anything. Our puree is also vegan, kosher and preservative-free.


Blade Mace—Nutmeg's Sister Spice

Blade mace spice in a small dish.The nutmeg tree is the only plant that produces two separate spices—the seed, which is nutmeg, and the seed covering, which is blade mace. The flavors are similar, but blade mace is subtler, so it’s a nice substitute in delicate pastries or fruit-forward pies. It’s also a popular ingredient in savory northern European cooking, like Swedish meatballs and potted shrimp. We’ve even used it in a Hot Toddy.


Charnushka—A Flavorful Seed with Many Names

Charnuska seeds in a bowl on a plate with a wooden spoon.Also known as nigella, black caraway, black onion seed and kalonji, charnushka seeds have a subtle flavor that falls somewhere between cumin and thyme. The seeds feature prominently in Middle Eastern breads and crackers, like rye and flatbreads. It’s also often paired with other seeds to form flavorful blends—we use it in our garam masala blend instead of standard cumin. It’s a natural fit for Indian and south Asian cuisine.


Fennel Pollen—The Finishing Touch

Fennel pollen spice in a bowl on a plate with a wooden spoon.Perfect for any dish where you might be using fennel seed or anise, fennel pollen—which is hand collected from wild fennel in Italy and California—has a sweet, citrus-forward and anise flavor profile. Naturally, it is popular in Sicilian cuisine. It packs a serious punch, so it is best used sparingly and as the finishing touch to a dish (similar to a sprinkle of fleur de sel). Try it on pasta, seafood, or pork chops.


Hibiscus Blossoms—A Cocktail Hour Secret Weapon

Hibiscus blossoms in a dish on a plate.When soaked or steeped, hibiscus blossoms release a tart juice that is the perfect base to a beverage, whether it is refreshing agua de jamaica or a vodka cocktail infused with hibiscus simple syrup. And its uses aren’t limited to behind the bar—it adds punch to marinades (it pairs well with lamb) or salsas. The bloom is native to West Africa but also popular in Mexican, Latin American and Asian cuisines.


Porcini Mushroom Powder—Another Umami Bomb

Porcini mushroom powder in a bowl.A favorite of European chefs, porcini mushrooms are a familiar ingredient to some, though you may not have seen it in this format. Our dried porcini powder makes it simple to add the mushroom’s rich, nutty flavor to any dish. Stir into broths, soups, beef gravies or risottos for instant umami.


Sansho Peppercorn—A Pleasant Shock to the Palate

Sansho peppercorns in a small bowl.A relative of the Sichuan peppercorn, sansho gives a similar tingle on the tongue that wakes up your mouth, except this Japanese variety is much stronger. Thanks to its strong citrus flavor, sansho cuts through fatty flavors of ingredients like pork and complements complex seafood dishes. It is the traditional spice for authentic Japanese grilled eel.


Urfa Biber—Turkey’s Chocolatey Chile Pepper

Urfa Biber chile pepper flakes in a bowl on a plate with a wooden spoon.A cousin to the Aleppo pepper, urfa biber has a mild heat and sultry flavor that’s incredibly versatile. Flavor notes of raisin, chocolate and smoke, it’s as delicious on kebabs as it is in a brownie. You can take a more traditional route with the pepper, pairing with vegetables like eggplant that are popular in Turkish cuisine, or do a culinary mash-up, using it as a twist in a traditional Mexican mole sauce.





Mary C Welz on January 25th, 2021

Thank You – This was very interesting and helpful!

LUCIANO GARCIA on January 4th, 2021

We are thankful for your list and recipes of many other spices and their applications. They are well received. It is very helpful when looking for alternatives to salt. Don’t get us wrong, salt has its place but other spices can enhance the taste of foods where excessive salt may not be good.

cp fullington on March 9th, 2020

Next, ten more even more ‘rare’ spices, please? I grew up next door to Seattle, so 4 of these have been ‘usual’ spices in my kitchen for 50 years, along with loathing anything fennel. But ancho & pasilla chiles ( which together are very similar to Turkey’s mild Aleppo) only go back about 40 years. My newcomers? Amchoor, nigella and black cardamom … 20 years.
Please go to Istanbul and sample everything at the largest spice shop you can find, and tell us about it. All of it.


Bill D on March 9th, 2020

Urfa Bieber peppers make a great sub for your standard crushed red pepper on pizza.

Spice House on February 3th, 2020

Hi Sherry,

Here are a few of our most popular spice blends for making jerky:

-Central Street Old World Seasoning
-Maple Mesquite Blend
-Old Virginia Smokehouse Barbecue Blend
-Pilsen Spicy Adobo Seasoning
-Steakhouse Smoke Seasoning
-Back of the Yards Garlic Pepper Butcher’s Rub
-Bloody Mary Mate


Sherry on February 3th, 2020

Seasonings for making beef jerky?

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