5 Underrated Spices You Should Be Using

We all love spices, right? Well, Rachel Walker, the founder of Rooted Spices, likes them more than you. Here are five spices she thinks deserve more love.
5 Underrated Spices
You really need to up your spice game.

One of the best ways to upset someone on the internet is by cooking a recipe that doesn't have enough spice or seasoning on it. The comments will range from "looks bland" and "needs cayenne" to "you should be tried at The Hague for what you've done". Spices are something that people are extremely passionate about. Perhaps none more so than Rachel Walker. Not only is Rachel the co-author of The Modern Spice Rack – an insightful cookbook and guide she's written with Esther Clark which explores the most common spices in our cupboards, offering up inventive and delicious ways of how to best make use of them in a range of recipes – but she's the CEO of Rooted Spices. Rooted Spices sell a vast and impressive range of spice blends and single-origin spices (think single-origin coffee, but for spices) sourced from countries with the conditions and climate to guarantee the best possible taste.

To help you figure out which essential – and non-essential – spices you should be adding arsenal, Rachel has written us this lovely guide on what she thinks the most underrated spices are. Hint: they're not Scary, Sporty, Baby, Ginger, and Posh. From nutmeg to Tellicherry peppercorns, all of these spices will add a certain je ne sais quoi to your spice cupboard.

1. Nutmeg

Wars were once fought over this spice. Such was its enormous value, flâneurs took to wearing silver nutmeg graters round their neck (the V&A has a good collection) and Elizabethan recipes show entire nutmegs grated into a 8-egg flan. The heady flavour was linked to status and wealth, but in the late-eighteenth century it fell out of fashion. In British cuisine a tentative grate continued to be used in cold weather dishes like bechamel sauce, gratin dauphinoise, bread and butter pudding – but little beyond that. Welcome nutmeg back into the fold and look further afield for inspiration. Grenada is a big growing region – there, nutmeg chicken stew is a local delicacy and nutmeg ice cream is a go-to on the Caribbean island. Think of it alongside spinach, pumpkin and ricotta in Italian cuisine and with pork in Indonesian semur babi (nutmeg pork stew). If you’re keen to start using this spice in new ways, then the best way is to put a whole nutmeg and grater on the table alongside the salt and pepper, and you’ll soon find yourself using it as the finishing flourish it over everything from Carbonara to stewed apples and hot buttered crumpets.

Urfa Pul Biber

As is often the way with chefs’ ingredients, the trouble is in the sourcing – not so much the cooking. This dark-coloured Turkish chilli pepper is yet to hit the mainstream, but if you can track down a tin (online retailers, like Rooted Spices stock Urfa Pul Biber) then you’ll delight in its ease of use and sensational flavour. Expect complex coffee, raisin notes – even a smokiness. A pinch will transform even the most simple dishes from avocado toast to fried eggs. Add some to foaming butter to finish a beef steak and you’ll see why this Southern Turkish chilli is a different ball park to bog-standard, paper-dry chilli flakes.

3. Fennel Seeds

Fennel seeds are hardly a new arrival to British spice racks – it’s a European spice, cultivated in herb gardens for centuries and used as far back as Roman times. The excitement here is the discovery of new applications for the deliciously fragrant seeds. Unlike the strongly-flavoured fennel bulb, fennel seeds have sweetness and subtlety – a pinch can transform simple bakes (like a Pound Cake) and they pair brilliantly with strawberries (macerated, even churned into an ice cream). Look further afield for inspiration, where the sweetness of fennel seeds balances spice blends like Chinese Five Spice or Panch Phoran (used in NE India, Bangladesh and Nepal).

4. Tellicherry Peppercorns

If you’re wondering if it’s worth spending that extra quid on quality spices, then conducting an at-home pepper tasting is a great place to start. There’s a huge spectrum available – with pre-ground, gray pepper in cafe shakers sitting at one end, and dark oily peppercorns at the other. In the UK, pepper has long-been used as an everyday seasoning (“season with salt and pepper” being the signoff of many a recipe), but it’s not so often used as a lead flavour. Quality peppercorns (Tellicherry and Malabar are prime growing regions) have a bright heat to them, and nuanced flavours – perhaps eucalyptus or grapefruit. Bang some quality peppercorns in a pestle and mortar, and take a little nibble. It’ll blow your socks off.

5. Coriander Seeds

Coriander seeds have long been a spice rack staple, and are a backbone to many different global cuisines. The mellow, citrus notes generally make up the orchestra – used in an understated way to prop-up other spices in a blend – but nudge coriander seeds into the limelight, and you’ll reap the benefits. Get the best flavour from them by toasting coriander seeds or crackle them in hot oil for a few seconds, and then use them as a finishing flavour. It’s a dramatic way of adding lemony bursts to roast vegetable-style dishes (like ratatouille or pepperonata), and a delicious way to top pale cheeses (mozzarella, feta). It only takes a few seconds, but the effect can transform a dish.

Feeling Spicy?

You can find a range of high-quality spices over at Rooted Spices.

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