Spice substitutes

How to Make Spice Substitutes

There is often a misconception made around spices. When people say they don’t like “spicy” food, what they really mean to say is that they don’t like chilli. But spices are a way to add depth and taste to your cooking.

Getting to know your spices is fundamental to being able to expand your cooking repertoire. This base knowledge will also give you a better understanding of recipes and cuisines so that you can wing it alone when you’ve got a few odds and ends in the fridge. Essentially, spice knowledge will enable you to be more creative with what you’ve got, and waste less food.

Ever thrown in the towel when planning to cook Thai just because you don’t have ginger? Some basic knowledge on spice substitutes could have fixed that!

If you are like me, then you will likely have a buildup jars at the back of your fridge. The ones we buy for green curry, pesto, and laksa. Reading the ingredients of these is a great thing to do, as some are packed full of exotic things we wouldn’t normally get our hands on, like lemongrass and kaffir lime that can go perfectly with another dish!

Here are some of the most common spices and dinner recipe ingredients, and what they can be substituted with.

For more kitchen tips and tricks, catch Jessy at our Root-to-Stem Cooking workshops.

Cardamom > cinnamon and nutmeg > ginger > clove

From the ginger family, cardamom has a spicy, herbal, and citrus taste. Mix together equal parts ground cinnamon and nutmeg and use in place of the cardamom called for in your recipe. Out of nutmeg? Then, try equal parts cinnamon and ginger, or equal parts cinnamon and ground cloves instead.

Turmeric > saffron > annatto > curry powder > ginger > cumin

Turmeric is mildly aromatic and has scents of orange or ginger. It has a pungent, bitter flavour. Saffron will work well for colour but is not a match for taste. Use sparingly. All other substitutes will provide the peppery, slightly sweet flavour. Start with half of the amount of turmeric called for and adjust as you go.

Chives > onion > shallots > garlic > celery seed > herb stems > stalks

Chives have a delicate onion flavor and are a great substitute for onion if you prefer a milder flavor. Start with half and adjust.

Oregano > basil > thyme > Italian seasoning > savoury > mint

Oregano, from the mint family, has a warm, “balsamic”, and pungent taste. Start with half of what the recipe calls for and adjust to suit your taste.

Cumin > caraway > parsley > ground coriander > chilli powder > garam masala > curry powder > taco seasoning

An earthy, lemony flavour, cumin is from the parsley family. Cumin and caraway are both in the parsley family. They are similar in appearance and taste though cumin has a stronger, hotter flavour. Use caraway seeds in place of cumin seeds or ground caraway in place of ground cumin. For all of the above, start with half as much as the recipe calls for and adjust upwards to suit your taste.

Mustard seeds > wasabi > horseradish

If to be used with other strong spices and herbs, mustard seeds can be left out. It will go unnoticed especially if the dish is to be cooked. If you are looking to substitute, try the above. Start with a quarter as much and adjust to your taste.

Bay leaf > thyme > oregano

Bay leaf is pungent, sharp, and bitter. Use a quarter of what the recipe requires.

Paprika > cayenne pepper

A mild pepper. Use only a quarter of the amount of paprika if substituting with cayenne pepper.

Dried red bell pepper > fresh capsicum (chopped) > zucchini > tomato and grape (chopped and drained)

If you are like me, then you will likely have a buildup jars at the back of your fridge. The ones we buy for green curry, pesto, and laksa. Reading the ingredients of these is a great thing to do, as some are packed full of exotic things we wouldn’t normally get our hands on, like lemongrass and kaffir lime that can go perfectly with another dish!

Jessie will be releasing a book in late 2019 that will outline the principles of cooking without a recipe. Until then, she encourages you to experiment with things you already have in the pantry and at the back of your fridge.

Jessie Alice

Jessie Alice is a cook and artist hailing from Melbourne. She helps people re-envision the value of food waste through Leftover Lovers. What started in January 2016 as a weekly public event focused on sharing meals and discussing food waste, Leftover Lovers has since turned into a full-time project through which Jessie holds workshops, appears on cooking shows, and consults for local food businesses.

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