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15 Spices and Spice Blends That Will Make Almost Any Meal Better

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Spice It Up

It's easy to fall into a rhythm of cooking favorite and familiar dishes, but this doesn't mean you can't take them to new and exciting places. Spices and spice mixes are perfect for lending a unique bent to a dish you may have become all-too-familiar. They can add depth, richness, and umami in, literally, a pinch. With a few spice mixes in your cupboard, you can always count on a few culinary tricks up your sleeve to transform a meal. 

You can find many of these spices at your local grocery, Trader Joe's, or Whole Foods. Amazon is an obvious source, as well. For home chef's looking for harder-to-find or higher-end flavorings, Brooklyn-based Snuk Foods' online "global grocery" is another great go-to.

Related: 19 Sauces and Seasonings to Keep Home-Cooked Meals Interesting

smoked paprika
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Za'atar
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Za'atar

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Za'atar's hidden powers lie in sumac, a spice derived from a small fruit with incredibly bright and acidic flavors. The perfect balance of grassy oregano, rich sesame, acidic sumac, and salt make za'atar a staple ingredient in Middle Eastern breads and spreads. Sprinkle it on store bought hummus or some greek yoghurt, along with a glug of fine olive oil, and happily scoop away with whatever flatbread you can find.

Related: 29 Must-Try International Street Foods Under $5

Old Bay
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Old Bay

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Around the Chesapeake Bay, Old Bay has a cult-like following that may surprise someone just passing through Maryland. Sure, it's used to season crabs and other sea critters, but you will find it everywhere else on a Maryland menu, and tins of it on every table. And for good reason. Top your potatoes, cooked any way, with Old Bay and you won't regret it, or toss a pinch into a stir fry to feel like you are bobbing along the bay on a warm summer's eve. 

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Curry Powder
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Curry Powder

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A heady and healthful blend often including turmeric, coriander, curry leaves, cumin, and other spices (though the ingredients can vary depending on where in the world the blend originates), curry powder is a pantry staple that often gets overlooked. Instead of limiting its use to curry sauces, consider the possibilities of a sprinkle in a pot of rice, or a couscous salad. Curry powder can add an unexpected dimension to an otherwise flat or ordinary starch. Not to mention, it is phenomenal for seasoning seafood. Or, you can do as the Swedish do, and sprinkle it on banana pizza.

Related: Chicken Curry and Other Hearty Winter Meals in 30 Minutes or Less

Chipotle Chilis
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Furikake
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Furikake

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This Japanese spice blend is an umami bomb, typically including things like nori, sesame seeds, and bonito flakes. Head to your local Asian grocer, and you will find that it comes in a dozen varieties, whether spicy, sweet, or smoky. Traditionally used for seasoning rice, furikake can be used on any number of things. It is excellent sprinkled on fish, used to garnish a salad, or even to marinate meat.

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Chimichurri
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Chimichurri

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The condiment that defines a South American steakhouse, chimchurri is often seen slathered over thick cuts of steak that have been grilled over live coals. It is a mix of dried herbs and chili flakes, mixed with garlic, olive oil, lemon juice, and salt in just the right proportion. You can buy a dry blend and mix it to your liking, and slather it over anything you like, steaks or mushrooms, fish or rice. Count on cleaning the plate with a crusty piece of bread.

Related: Where to Find Great Cheap Steak in Every State

Bell's Poultry Seasoning
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Bell's Poultry Seasoning

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The tin of Bell's, which you may have seen at the store but never noticed, is delightfully old-timey. While it may have originally been conjured up as a poultry and stuffing seasoning, it is wonderful on fish and roasted vegetables. Think of it as an American herbes de Provence, a ready-made blend of herbs meant to infuse delicate meats and starchy vegetables. If you want to avoid accumulating a ton of different herb jars, Bell's is a tasty alternative. 

Related: 17 Spiciest Foods Around the World

Chili Lime Salt
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Chili Lime Salt

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We know about lime salt from sipping margaritas, relishing in its salty acidity on the rim of our glass. But chili lime salt, which adds a kick of heat, is central to the fruit stands on the streets of Mexico City. Passersby of every age and background stop for refreshing sliced fruit dipped in this zingy pairing. It would also be perfect sprinkled on a sushi-grade fish crudo. 

Related: 21 Delicious and Inexpensive Mexican Dishes

Raz el Hanout
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Everything Bagel Mix
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Everything Bagel Mix

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The everything bagel is, undeniably, one of the most popular bagels. Sesame and poppy lend a seedy crunchiness, while onion, garlic, and salt mingle to produce an irresistible smell and drool-worthy flavor. But here's the hot take: why limit yourself to bagels? Rub everything mix on a salmon fillet to create a beautiful crust under the broiler, or toss it with root vegetables that you plan on roasting in the oven. 

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Dukkah
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Dukkah

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This rather unusual spice blend also includes nuts and seeds, giving it a crunchy texture and toasty aroma. Often used in Middle Eastern appetizers as a textural addition to breads or dips, Dukkah is perhaps the most delicate of these spice blends, pairing perfectly with raw vegetables or mixed up with olive oil and salt as a dip for bread. It may also sit happily on a cheese board, ideal for topping some fresh farmer's cheese or ricotta.

Related: 15 Superfoods to Help You Eat Healthy

Harissa
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Harissa

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Harissa can typically be found as a paste, but it can also be used dry as a rub or seasoning or made into a paste by adding olive oil. Hailing from North Africa, harissa is made up of roasted peppers, hot and sweet, and a generous helping of garlic, supported by spices like cumin and coriander. Think pizza, hummus, chips, or sausage. If your regular hot sauces aren't doing it for you anymore, give harissa a try. A dollop goes a long way in a bowl of steaming stew or lentils. A unique variety of this spread is made with rose petals added to the mix.

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pumpkin spice
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Cinnamon Sugar
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Cinnamon Sugar

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Let's not forget this childhood classic and all-time favorite. Cinnamon sugar can be mixed up in five seconds and kept in a jar, ready to be sprinkled on buttered toast, steamy oatmeal, sliced apples, or a scoop of ice cream. Use brown sugar and something about that combination just defines comfort and warmth. 

Related: 18 Oatmeal Recipes That Will Make You Miss Going to Brunch a Little Less