12 Rare Spices and How to Cook with Them

12 Rare Spices and How to Cook with Them

Updated 3/31/23

12 Rare Spices and How to Cook with Them

Everyone wants to be a master chef, making creative and flavorful dishes on the fly. But sometimes recipes can be intimidating with strange and unusual ingredients that are hard to find.

Lucky for you, we've put together this handy guide to these rare and unusual spices that sometimes appear in recipes. The next time you're trying something new for dinner, don't give up on the recipe just because of an ingredient that you aren't familiar with! Give them a try, and you just might find a new favorite spice that you can include in your other favorite dishes.

1. Saffron

You might have heard of saffron because of its reputation as the most expensive spice in the world. This spice comes from the saffron crocus flower, and according to The Epicentre, it can take up to 75,000 blossoms to produce one mere pound of this spice. That means saffron comes with a hefty price tag. Between $5 and $10 per ounce, saffron is literally worth more than its weight in gold. If you can't find saffron near you, some people like to use turmeric instead. This is an okay substitute when it comes to color, but it's not exact. For the most authentic flavor, we highly recommend using real saffron.

What Does Saffron Taste Like?
Saffron tastes floral and somewhat sweet, but it also has a slight bitterness to it, which makes it particularly unique. The overall flavor of saffron is hard to put your finger on, but you probably have tasted it in paella, bouillabaisse, or saffron rice.

How to Cook with Saffron
A little bit of saffron goes a long way. A few threads will add tons of bright color to your dishes and will bring them alive with flavor. Depending on what you are making, it might be worth your time to soak your saffron threads in hot water for a few minutes before cooking with. This will bring out even more flavor!

This recipe pictured below for Mussel Soup with Saffron is a great way to familiarize yourself with the unique flavors of saffron.

Mussel Soup with Saffron

2. Sumac

This spice, common in Middle Eastern cuisine, comes from the berries of sumac bushes. Keep your eye on this spice; it's becoming more and more trendy.

What Does Sumac Taste Like?
Sumac has a mostly sour taste, but not in a bad way. The primary flavor is similar to lemon but much less tart, which makes it a great addition to meats and savory dishes.

How to Cook With Sumac
The most common uses for sumac are in salads, sandwiches, hummus, and dry rubs for meat. It is also sometimes used as an ingredient in certain spice blends. Unlike many spices, the more heat that is applied to sumac, the less flavor it will have. Because of this, sumac is best added near the end of a recipe.

Give sumac a try with this recipe for Sumac Avocado Toast below!

Avocado Toast with Sumac

3. Juniper Berry

If you're a fan of a gin and tonic, you've most definitely tasted juniper berries without knowing it. Juniper is the primary ingredient gin, and it gives this liquor its distinctive tanginess.

What Does Juniper Taste Like?
Juniper berries might sound sweet, but their actual flavor is more piney and tannic. The primary flavors of juniper berries are a unique combination of citrus and rosemary.

How to Cook With Juniper Berries
If you're looking to add that elusive "green" flavor to what you're cooking, juniper berries are your answer. Their unique flavors make them great for savory teas and sauces, but they are also common in recipes for marinades because they pair well with gamey meats.

Curious about these berries? Try this recipe for Apple and Juniper Berry Kraut below!

Apple and Juniper Berry Kraut

4. Cardamom

If you want to use a spice that will make your kitchen smell amazing, cardamom is the spice for you! And it's more prevalent than you might think. If you've ever tasted apple pie spice, chai tea, or certain types of curry, you've tasted cardamom. It is also sometimes included in mulling spices for mulled wine and wassail.

What Does Cardamom Taste Like?
Cardamom tastes a little like cinnamon, but it's definitely its own spice entirely. The flavor is sweet with herbal, nutty, and citrusy notes that give it that signature scent.

How to Cook With Cardamom
Sometimes used with spices like cloves, cinnamon, and nutmeg, cardamom is most commonly found as an ingredient in apple pie spice. It's also featured heavily in Indian cuisine as a way to add a slightly sweet touch to dishes with a lot of spice.

Try your cardamom with this recipe for Creamy Coconut Cardamom Rice Pudding!

Creamy Coconut Cardamom Rice Pudding

5. Alfalfa Sprouts

You've probably had alfalfa sprouts on sandwiches before without even knowing! Be sure to wash your sprouts thoroughly before eating them; because of the way they grow, they can sometimes be breeding grounds for bacteria.

What Do Alfalfa Sprouts Taste Like?
Alfalfa sprouts have a very mild flavor, but they can transform a dish nonetheless. Their grassy appearance can bring a sandwich to life and transform something from bland to gourmet. While their flavor is sometimes described as green and watery on their own, they really can make a difference in the overall dish.

How to Cook With Alfalfa Sprouts
We recommend trying alfalfa sprouts on sandwiches, paired with avocado spread, or even in your morning omelet.

Try alfalfa sprouts with this recipe for Ham, Turkey, Avocado, and Alfalfa Sprout Panini below!

Ham, Turkey, Avocado, and Alfalfa Sprout Panini

6. Amchur Powder (Mango Powder)

Amchur powder is made by slicing and drying green mangoes. The mangoes are then turned into a powder that has a unique flavor of its own. This spice is often used in mango chutney and other fruity spreads.

What Does Amchur Powder Taste Like?
If you're expecting amchur powder to taste exactly like mangoes, you might be disappointed. There's still a hint of mango in amchur, but the prominent flavor is a tangy, sour flavor that's slightly sweet and a little bit acidic.

How to Cook With Amchur Powder
The only time you will probably use amchur is in dishes from South Asia, especially in Indian cuisine. It's important to note that cooking amchur for too long will make it lose some of its flavor, so it's probably best to add it in at the end.

Aching to try your amchur? Give this recipe for Crackling Okra a try.

Crackling Okra

7. Galangal

No, it's not just fancy ginger! Galangal is a root, just like ginger, and it does resemble other roots like ginger and turmeric, but it is without a doubt its own spice entirely.

What Does Galangal Taste Like?
Galangal does taste very similar to ginger, but there is definitely an extra layer of spiciness. Galangal is also more piney and tannic than ginger, and it has notes of citrus fruits.

How to Cook With Galangal
Galangal is often used in Thai food, which is where it gets its nickname, Thai ginger. Recipes with fish often feature galangal, and it's common in some times of curries as well. Also like ginger, galangal comes in both powder and root form.

Give this recipe for Hot and Sour Fish Soup a try and see for yourself how galangal and transform a dish.

Hot and Sour Fish Soup

8. Garam Masala

While garam masala is technically a spice blend instead of one spice, it's one that is in a lot of dishes you've probably eaten without even knowing it!

What Does Garam Masala Taste Like?
Garam masala recipes may differ slightly, but most recipes include cinnamon, nutmeg, allspice, cardamom, mace, coriander, and peppercorns. This is the spice blend that makes curry so irresistible!

How to Cook With Maram Masala
The majority of recipes that use garam masala will probably be curry. But it can also be used with chicken, in soups, and recipes for hummus!

Give this recipe for Chicken Curry a try!

Chicken Curry

9. Achiote (Annatto)

Achiote comes from the seeds of the somewhat strange-looking, prickly achiote fruit.

What Does Achiote Taste Like?
Achiote does not have a very strong flavor, and it is mostly used for coloring and dyeing foods naturally. However, in large quantities, it can have a light, tangy flavor that's nutty and earthy.

How to Cook With Achiote
There aren't many recipes out there that call for achiote, but this recipe below for Achiote-Seared Shrimp with Quick Habanero-Pickled Onion is absolutely divine!

Achiote-Seared Shrimp with Quick Habanero-Pickled Onion

10. Caraway Seeds

According to Serious Eats, caraway comes from the same family of plants as fennel, dill, and cilantro! It's the seed that gives rye bread its distinctive flavor and color, and it's a great way to add subtle flavor to just about any savory dish.

What Do Caraway Seeds Taste Like?
Caraway seeds taste a little bit like dill. They have an earthy and pungent flavor that's unique but easily paired with many kinds of cheese and meats!

How to Cook With Caraway Seeds
The most important thing to know about caraway seeds is that a little bit will go a long way. Their flavor is intense but divine! Any recipe that uses cumin or dill could use a little sprinkling of caraway seeds as well.

Give this recipe for Corned Beef with Muenster Cheese and Wilted Cabbage a try to see just how delicious caraway seeds are.

Corned Beef with Muenster Cheese and Wilted Cabbage

11. Borage (Starflower)

Of all the edible flowers, borage (sometimes called Starflower) is probably one of the most well-known.

What Does Borage Taste Like?
This small, purple flower will add herbal and floral notes to just about anything you cook with it.

How to Use Borage
One of the most popular uses for Starflower is in a gin and tonic, also sometimes called a borage cocktail! The flavor that these flowers add is very subtle, but it's a great way to add an elegant touch to your drinks at a cocktail party.

Try something really crazy with your starflower with this recipe for Baked Salmon with Borage Raita, shown below.

Baked Salmon with Borage Raita

12. Nigella Seeds

Nigella seeds come from the seeds of the nigella sativa plant, also sometimes called black caraway. These small, black seeds are full of flavor and versatile!

What Do Nigella Seeds Taste Like?
Nigella seeds are often compared to black pepper or oregano. They have a bitter taste that often adds a flavor to dishes similar to onions. Nigella seeds make a great replacement for cumin, black pepper, and onions.

How to Cook With Nigella Seeds
Cooking with nigella seeds is a piece of cake. They go well with just about anything, but they are most commonly used in naan bread and on salads.

Give this recipe for Feta and Avocado Salad with Red Onions, Pomegranate and Nigella Seeds to see for yourself just how delicious these seeds are.

Feta and Avocado Salad with Red Onions, Pomegranate and Nigella Seeds

What rare spices do you like to cook with?
Let us know in the comments below!

Your Recently Viewed Recipes

Leave a Comment


Cancel Reply to Comment

Thanks for your comment. Don't forget to share!


Report Inappropriate Comment

Are you sure you would like to report this comment? It will be flagged for our moderators to take action.

Thank you for taking the time to improve the content on our site.

Join our community of 5 million cooks!

Thank You for Signing Up!
There was an issue signing you up. Please check your email address, and try again.

More from "Cooking Tips"

Close Window