How to Pair Food & Spices


While you can use general guidelines, the best way to learn how to pair spices with main dishes or different types of cuisine is through hands-on experimentation and experience. Family recipes typically evolve from generation to generation as family members try a new spice to put a spin on a favorite dish. When pairing food with spices, use the spice sparingly. Look to enhance the flavor of the food, not overwhelm it. Unless it is ethnic cuisine that purposefully blends many spices, avoid using more than three spices for any single dish.

Things You'll Need

  • Sea salt
  • Coarse black pepper
  • Allspice
  • Oregano
  • Rosemary
  • Thyme
  • Onion (spice)
  • Garlic powder
  • Chili powder
  • Cumin
  • Turmeric
  • Cinnamon
  • Parsley
  • Nutmeg
  • Cilantro
  • Cloves
  • Learn about spices that are frequently used in most kitchens, These include oregano, parsley, cinnamon, garlic and cumin. Visit a website with a spice dictionary or purchase a spice dictionary that describes a wide selection of spices in detail. Grow familiar with the spice's origin and properties, such as flavor and texture.

  • Find charts that list the spices that are commonly used to complement various food categories. Learn what spices are used for seafood, such as allspice, cayenne, thyme, oregano and turmeric. Note the spices that complement pork, such as cinnamon, marjoram, sage, rosemary and thyme. Study these charts to become knowledgeable on possible pairings of food and spices.

  • Purchase a starter rack of spices that would be considered a staple in most kitchens. The collection should include course black pepper, sea salt, garlic powder, onion powder, oregano, cinnamon and parsley. For unfamiliar spices, start with the smallest quantity available. This way you'll have just enough to determine if you find the spice appealing. Add only a few new spices when you shop.

  • Remove the lid from the spice bottles and smell each one individually. The aroma will give you a sense of the flavor and how it will taste in meals that use that spice. Be cautious with oily spices, such as hot peppers, whose potent fumes can singe your nasal passages.

  • Experiment with blends of spices to pair with foods that might appeal to you. Buy spice packets, such as Italian seasoning, and study the ingredients. Add your own twist and determine your own proportions to use in a recipe. Record new recipes and the spices used in a notebook.

  • Compile a list of ethnic cuisines that you enjoy. Research the types of spices that are used for those types of meals. For example, Indian food frequently uses cardamom. Thai curries will require Thai chili powder. Try preparing an ethnic dish with new exotic spices.

Tips & Warnings

  • Measure spices with a dry spoon.
  • When trying new recipes, add 1/4 teaspoon of spice to accommodate four servings. Use only 1/8 of a teaspoon for strong spices, such as red pepper and cayenne.

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  • Photo Credit rice, shrimps and spices image by NiDerLander from
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