Have you ever found yourself half way through cooking and discovered that you are out of a specific herb or spice needed for the recipe? What can you use to substitute?
Are you looking for homemade spice mixes and seasoning to blend recipes? How do you preserve the quality, freshness and flavor of your spices and herbs? My handy list of close substitutions of herbs and spices will rescue your recipe and save you from your cooking woes.
Remember that the substitutions of herbs and spices may slightly differ from the ingredients you are replacing. I’ve also developed some seasoning blends and rubs from around the world that I hope capture your taste buds, and add that special flavor to your food. With this spice list, you’ll be able to prepare cuisine dishes from other countries anytime.
Spices – tend to be derived from the roots, bark, flowers, or seeds of a flavorful plant.
Herbs – are dried (or fresh) leaves of edible plants that impart an aromatic flavor.
Herb and Spice Substitutions
Remember: For any herb, you can substitute 1 teaspoon dried herb for 2 tablespoons fresh herb.
Allspice: 1 tablespoon; you may substitute with: ¼ tablespoon cinnamon + ¼ tablespoon nutmeg + ½ teaspoon clove powder+ ¼ tablespoon black pepper + ½ teaspoon salt.
Basil, dried: 1 teaspoon; you may substitute with: 1 teaspoon oregano.
Cardamom powder: 1 tablespoon; you may substitute with: 2/3 tablespoon cinnamon powder + 1/3 tablespoon clove powder.
Chives, fresh: 100 g; you may substitute with: 80 g green onion + 20 g leek or 100 g green onion.
Cinnamon powder: 1 teaspoon; you may substitute with: 2/3 teaspoon nutmeg + 1/3 teaspoon allspice.
Coriander powder: 1 tablespoon; you may substitute with: ½ teaspoon curry powder mix + 1 teaspoon caraway powder + 1 teaspoon cumin powder + 3 tablespoons fresh coriander leaves.
Cumin powder: 1 teaspoon; you may substitute with: ½ teaspoon caraway powder.
Ginger powder, fresh: 1 teaspoon; you may substitute with: ¼ teaspoon ground ginger.
Mint, dried: 1 teaspoon; you may substitute with: 1 teaspoon dried basil.
Mustard seed, brown: 1 tablespoon; you may substitute with: 2/3 wasabi powder or 1 teaspoon horseradish powder.
Nutmeg: 1 teaspoon; you may substitute with: ¾ teaspoon cinnamon + ¼ teaspoon ginger powder.
Oregano: 1 teaspoon; you may substitute with: ½ teaspoon thyme + ½ teaspoon dried basil.
Red chili pepper: 1 tablespoon; you may substitute with: ½ tablespoon sweet paprika + 1 tablespoon white pepper.
Rosemary dried: 1 teaspoon; you may substitute with: ½ teaspoon dried basil.
Saffron: 1 teaspoon; you may substitute with: 1 tablespoon turmeric powder (for color).
Tarragon, dried: 1 teaspoon; you may substitute with: 1 teaspoon fresh dill or fresh basil.
Apple pie spice mix
Ingredients: 1 tablespoon; you may substitute with: ½ tablespoon cinnamon powder + ¼ tablespoon nutmeg powder + 1/8 tablespoon cardamom powder + 1/8 tablespoon allspice + ½ teaspoon ginger powder + 1/6 tablespoon brown sugar.
How to make it: Combine all the spices in a small bowl and stir together well until everything is combined evenly. Great for apple pie, apple crisp, baked apples, muffins, cupcakes, cookies, and oatmeal.
Baharat – 7 spice mix
Ingredients: 7 ½ tablespoons; you may substitute with:1 tablespoon black pepper +1 tablespoon cinnamon powder+ ½ tablespoon nutmeg powder+1 ½ tablespoons coriander powder+ ½ tablespoon clove powder+ 1 tablespoon cumin powder+ ½ tablespoon ginger powder+ 1teaspoon salt+ ½ tablespoon cardamom powder.
How to make it: Combine all the ingredients together until well mixed. Baharat, Arabic for “spice”, is an all-purpose spice blend commonly used throughout the Middle East to season meat, grains, soups, tomato-based sauces and vegetables.
Barbecue Spice Rub
Ingredients: 1 ½ cup; you may substitute with: ½ cup brown sugar + ½ cup paprika + 1 tablespoon ground black pepper + ¾ tablespoon salt + 1 tablespoon chili powder + 1 tablespoon garlic powder + 1 tablespoon onion powder + 1 tablespoon Worchester sauce + 1 tablespoon rosemary (optional)
How to make it: Mix the ingredients, rub on the meat with a little olive or corn oil and let marinate from 2 hours to overnight. Barbecue and enjoy!
Cajun spice mix
Ingredients: 2 tablespoons; you may substitute with: 1/3 tablespoon white pepper + 1/3 tablespoon black pepper powder + ½ tablespoon garlic powder + 1/3 tablespoon onion powder + 1/3 tablespoon sweet paprika + 1/3 cayenne pepper.
How to make it: Combine all the spices in a small bowl. This mix is great on meats, pasta, and vegetables.
Must-have Chinese seasoning
Ingredients: 1 cup; you may substitute with: ½ tablespoon ginger powder + 1 teaspoon Sichuan peppercorn or cajun spice mix or white pepper + 2 tablespoons honey + 1 tablespoon soy sauce
+ 1 ½ tablespoons oyster sauce + 40 ml orange juice + 10g chicken stock + 180 ml water + 1 tablespoon cornstarch (add more ½ tablespoon cornflower for more thickness).
How to make it: Set a saucepan over high heat; add all ingredients with 150 ml water. Bring to a boil. Add then the cornstarch with 30 ml water and cook, stir, until the sauce boils and thickens.
Great for: Chinese dishes, especially chicken or shrimp with cashew nuts, chicken or duck with orange sauce.
Ingredients: 7 tablespoons; you may substitute with: 4 tablespoons of chili powder + 1 ½ tablespoons salt+ 2 tablespoons paprika + 1 ¼ tablespoons onion powder + ½ tablespoon garlic powder +1 teaspoon cayenne powder + 1 tablespoon cumin powder +1 tablespoon lime juice.
How to make it: Mix all ingredients. To use, sprinkle chicken or steak with fajita seasoning, rub with lime juice and let marinate for several hours.
Indian garam masala
Ingredients: 8 ½ tablespoons; you may substitute with:
3 tablespoons cardamom seeds + 2 ½ tablespoons cumin seeds + 2 tablespoons coriander seeds + 1 cinnamon stick+ 2 teaspoons turmeric powder + 2 teaspoons whole cloves + 2 tablespoons black peppercorns + 1 tablespoon red chili flakes.
How to make it: Combine ingredients in a wide saucepan over medium-high heat. Toast until fragrant. Remove from heat; grind the toasted spices in a spice grinder to a fine powder. Spoon in the turmeric and combine. Dish must cool completely. Garam masala is traditionally used as an addition to curries and as an all-purpose seasoning in Indian cuisine.
Italian seasoning mix
Ingredients: 10 tablespoons; you may substitute with: 4 tablespoons oregano + 2 tablespoons dried basil + 2 ½ tablespoons dried thyme + 1 tablespoon dried rosemary + ½ teaspoon salt + 2 teaspoons garlic powder + 1 ½ teaspoons onion powder.
How to make it: Place all the ingredients in a jar and shake well. Use this blend for a burst of Italian flavor!
Great for all Italian recipes such as: pizza, pasta dishes, chicken parmesan, lasagna, hearty meat stews and broth-based soups.
Taco seasoning mix
Ingredients: 1 cup; you may substitute with: ¼ cup chili powder + 2 tablespoons cumin powder + 2 tablespoons garlic powder + ½ tablespoon onion powder +1 teaspoon oregano + ¾ tablespoon sweet paprika +1 teaspoon black pepper powder.
How to make it: Mix all ingredients and shake before using.
To use: Sprinkle on ground beef or chicken as you would do with any store-bought taco seasoning.
Storage, Freshness and Cooking Tips
• Keep herbs and ground spices for 1 year, and 2 years for whole spices.
• Store in a tightly covered plastic container, in a dark place away from air and moisture.
• Plastic jars should be washed every three months.
• Refrigerate paprika, chili powder and red pepper for best color retention, especially in summer or hotter climates.
• For uncooked foods, add spices and herbs several hours before serving to allow flavors to blend.
• Flavor base or bold flavors such as garlic, chili, ginger and lemongrass should be added at the start of cooking.
• Delicate herbs such as basil, coriander, oregano and mint should be added near the end of cooking time or even after you’ve turned the heat off because heating can cause flavor and aroma losses. If you want to taste a sharper pronounced flavor of your herb and a more delicate blended flavor, add half of your herbs during cooking and half after you’ve finished cooking.
• Some spices like cinnamon, ground cumin, paprika, coriander, turmeric, cayenne pepper, garlic powder, onion powder, ginger powder, white pepper powder and black pepper powder are hydrophobic. So, when they are mixed with water, they don’t dissolve – they stick together and form lumps. Before adding these spices to your dish, mix them well with cold water in a bowl to dissolve. Using a strainer, pour them into the dish.
– Fady Khoury is an International Executive Chef and Catering & Food Consultant in Lebanon. www.linkedin.com/in/fady-khoury-01337b3b