‘Tis the age of accessibility…
Whether it’s local or sourced from across the planet, whether it’s in or out of season, it’s possible to access nearly anything we want, when we want it. Albeit that acquiring may be a different story, but access is easy.
I want seasonings that are versatile, reasonably priced, easy to find, and are inherent to making basic recipes taste great.
When I stare at my spice shelf, these 10 jump out at me as the best Paleo seasonings used often in my kitchen (and the recipes on this site… and the recipes used in The Frugal Paleo Cookbook).
Garlic powder or similarly (yet different) granulated garlic is key in my kitchen because of the umami factor it brings to simply prepared meats and vegetables. A little goes a long way, so it’s on my list as an affordable way to enhance the flavor that savory clean ingredients already bring to the table.
From kosher to Celtic sea, from fine grain to coarse, salt matters. Looking beyond table salt, the varieties available actually carry notable flavor and intensity differences, making a particular salt right for a particular job. For example, finishing dark chocolate with a few grains of coarse sea salt on top enhances the understated sweetness whereas blending in a finer-grain kosher salt would just taste like… salty cacao. Similarly, using a fine grain Himalayan salt to season grill fished will evenly flavor the fish as opposed to dropping chunky bits of salt from a coarser grain resulting in a “hit or miss” experience for your tongue. So not only is salt key, but the right kind of salt for the job is even… key-er.
On black pepper, I’ll say that you only realize how significant of a spice it is when you can no longer use it. Last year in order to bring some health issues back under control, I held to strict AIP for 6 weeks and with that had to omit all pepper, including this innocuous staple. If you’re one to enjoy flavor-rich foods, then you’ll see this one in your ingredient list time and time again. And PS if you’re really big into black pepper, you might appreciate the post on SeriousEats.com comparing different varieties from around the globe.
Not one to break out a designated spice grinder, I find that already ground spices meet my needs. While cumin seeds are common in Indian recipes (as even Latin, Mexican, South American preparations), I find that I’ve been able to get away with just the basic ground cumin I find in nearly any grocery store. Exotic is always cool, but when it’s 6pm on a Thursday night and everyone’s hungry, I’m gonna stick with what gets dinner made fast. Ground cumin, you know just what I need: to put a meal on the table boasting big flavor, that didn’t ask me to spend hours cooking in order to make it happen.
Ground coriander seeds
Not to be out-shined by the more prominent cumin nor the commonly known herb cilantro (a coriander seed’s ultimate end), I find ground coriander to be easier on the taste buds than both cumin and cilantro. In fact, I tend to add more of it than cumin in both Mexican/Latin and Indian recipes. Coriander seeds play well with others, don’t hog the spotlight from other seasonings, and yet are an important fixture to many ethnic recipes. In the bromance of Mexican/Latin and Indian cuisines, coriander seeds are the ultimate wingman to cumin, spicy peppers, and a host of curries.
Crushed red pepper flakes
You mean those things at pizza joints next to the grated parmesan? Yep. That’s what I mean. These are always in my spice cabinet so I can create depth in an Italian red sauce, kick up grilled meats and roasted vegetables, and properly heat up Indian and Mexican food without slicing into a fresh chile pepper. Sometimes the risk of accidentally touching my face after prepping a pepper is more than my scatterbrained self can handle. So it’s for my own safety really that I use the flakes. Also, these things pair amazing with a bit of ground cinnamon for red sauce, lemon juice over grilled prawns, or with garam masala, crushed tomatoes and creamy coconut milk for a fast Indian sauce.
Captain Obvious, reporting for duty with this one. Basil, whether fresh or dried, is a must. Now this might be the Italian in me talking, but fresh basil leaves torn over just about anything in the summer tastes better — even strawberries! And in the winter, dried basil with basic tomato sauce, fresh garlic and some good olive oil spells warmth and comfort. If you dig Italian food, or have taste buds, basil should always been on hand.
Ground cinnamon, not the sticks. Cinnamon sticks are cool if you’re Martha Stewart (and Martha, I am not), but let’s talk efficiency, flavor, and versatility. From American apple crumbles, to Mexican moles, to Sicilian ragus, to Moroccan tagines, to Ethiopian berbere, cinnamon has worked its way onto the plate of nearly every cuisine on the planet. Your spice rack might come down with a serious case of FOMO (fear of missing out) if you neglect to keep it stocked with this one.
Smokey chili powder
Ancho and chipotle are a couple examples to choose from. The idea here is to get something that’s a little spicy and a little smokey in your Paleo seasoning arsenal. This stuff is meat’s best friend… and it’s pretty darn friendly with sweet potatoes too. Since we eat a fair amount of both of those when going the Paleo route, grab a bottle. Mix it with cumin, coriander, salt, pepper, granulated garlic, red chile flakes and a pinch of cinnamon for a killer rub. (see what I did there?)
And finally, fresh parsley. The flat-leaf Italian variety works wonders to finish a dish. I love to give it a rough chop and sprinkle over… well, pretty much anything. It makes ugly brown food tolerable to look at, it offers brightness to offset a savory dish that’s a little on the rich side, and it goes in Ranch Dressing so you can knock out one at home. Cause we all know that Americans love their Ranch… I have kids. I get it.
So there you have it! My 10 best Paleo seasonings to help you get your mileage out of building a versatile and affordable spice collection.
What would you add?
What herb or spice is your culinary BFF?
The cutting room floor
There were a couple that I really debated over, so much so that I just had to share my thinking about these herbs and spices that definitely hold their own in the flavor department.
How amazing is dill in creamy dressings and sauces, especially when it’s tossed with crisp cucumber? Ah, I just love it. But it’s not as versatile as other herbs (dried or fresh), so I had to parking lot it.
Again, the Italian in me is throwing a tantrum because nutmeg is the secret ingredient to absolutely delicious cooked greens and white sauces. People think I’m crazy on social media when I share that grating just a bit of fresh nutmeg over cooked dark leafy greens is THE way to enhance their flavor and increase complexity. (Seriously I could actually hear a few of them laughing out loud over the interwebs.) I mean, if Rachael Ray has been saying it for years, then it has to be true, right?
Try it and see: Rainbow Chard with Hazelnuts
Man this stuff is great. Deviled eggs, potato salad, barbecue… deviled eggs. Smoked paprika just helps food taste better and should definitely be something to consider picking up for your second-string spice shopping.
If I had a number 11 on my list above, that final spot would go to rosemary. I used to find it too intense, but once I found ways to balance the distinct flavor it became a favorite. I love to use it with tomato, with balsamic vinegar, and with lemon. Here are three recipes that should you what I mean:
What makes oregano awesome is it’s versatility. While basil is more popular and expected flavor in Italian and Mediterranean food, oregano is always along for the ride. Plus oregano dips further into Greek food and somehow built a boat and rowed itself to Mexico. Mexican recipes, like adobo, often call for oregano and even though Mexican oregano is a thing, I find that subbing out the regular stuff does the job in a pinch. You’ll find oregano used all the time this way in my 15 salt-free seasoning blends at the back of The Frugal Paleo Cookbook.
This was a toughy for me because cilantro swings both ways between Latin and Asian cuisines. That kind of flexibility means smart savings for your budget-friendly menu planning. But there’s a funky thing with cilantro… about half of you out there hate it. Apparently it can taste like soap! Seriously, watch this video to learn more.
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