There is an element of mystery to many store-bought spice blends, though it’s more of a “whatsinit” than a “whodunnit.” If you take a look at the ingredients list of even your most beloved spice blends, you will most likely find the phrase “and other spices.” What does that mean? It’s possible that the manufacturers are trying to protect a secret family recipe, but it’s also possible that these mixes contain additives, possibly MSG, and a lot of extra salt.

The much better option is to just make you own spice blends at home. Then you know exactly what goes in them and can learn how much of which ingredients you like the most to include in your blends. Plus, the possibilities are endless when it comes to spice blends. Give these incredible options a try to get started!

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1. Za’atar

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Za’atar, a spice blend with a smoky, earthy flavor, has quite a history, dating back to ancient Egypt. Maimonides, a philosopher and physician from the 12th century, prescribed Za’atar to patients for respiratory illnesses and claimed the spice blend to be a “brain food.” In more recent times, children in Lebanon were encouraged to eat Za’atar sandwiches in the morning before a big test.

Za’atar recipes vary from country to country, but many variations include sumac. Sumac can be a bit tricky to find, but once you find it, you’ll revel in its tangy, slightly fruity flavor. It can be found in many Middle Eastern specialty stores, as well as online.

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To make 1 cup of Za’atar, combine 1/2 cup dried thyme, 1/3 cup dried oregano, 3 tbs. sumac, 3 tsp. toasted cumin seeds, 3 tbs. toasted sesame seeds, and a dash of freshly ground black pepper.

Add your Za’atar to hummus, dust it on your pita chips, or use it to marinate olives. Za’atar is often referred to as a “finishing spice,” meaning you can also sprinkle it on food you’ve already prepared for some extra flavor.

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You can also make a Za’atar vinaigrette to go over grilled veggies, like zucchini and eggplant. It’s also excellent in a large bowl of veggies and rice, such as this nourishing bowl that makes a delicious hearty dinner. 

2. Blackened Seasoning

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Who says meat eaters should have all the fun? Blackened seasoning is typically associated with meat and seafood, but it can actually be a great seasoning blend for “blank-canvas” foods like tofu, potatoes, and cauliflower. One dash of this spice and you’ll feel like you’re at a summer barbecue, even if it happens to be in the middle of winter when you’re eating it.

To make 1/2 cup of blackened seasoning, combine 2 tbs. sweet paprika, 5 tsp. salt, 2 tsp. onion powder, 2 tsp. garlic powder, 2 tsp. cayenne pepper, 1 1/2 tsp. freshly ground white pepper, 1 1/2 tsp. freshly ground black pepper, 1 tsp. dried thyme, and 1 tsp. dried oregano.

Try it in veggie burgers for a smoky flavor, or on a variety of stir-fried or grilled veggies for a more robust flavor.

3. Turmeric Newari Spice Blend

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The Newars of Nepal, a group of people indigenous to the Kathmandu valley, have a reputation for being incredible chefs. The stars of Newari cuisine are chickpeas, potatoes, eggplant, cauliflower, lentils and, of course, the spices!

To make approximately 1/2 cup of Turmeric Newari Spice Blend, combine 4 tsp. garlic powder,  2 tsp. ground ginger, 2 tsp. ground ginger, 2 tsp. ground cumin, 1 1/4 tsp. turmeric, 1/2 tsp. chili powder, 1/4 tsp. ground black pepper, and 2 1/2 tsp. sea salt.

Use this mix the next time you make your favorite curry or add it to popcorn!

4. Basil Salt

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When Joni Mitchell penned the lyrics, “You don’t know what you got ‘till it’s gone,” she may have been thinking about basil plants. If you’ve ever had a basil plant, you know that one moment you’re up to your ears in basil, and the next moment your basil plant is gone forever. So how to make that abundance last? You can store fresh herbs by freezing them,  or you can make an amazing salt blend, like the one below. Since this recipe will last six months, you can carry the summery taste of basil well into the fall and winter.

To make approximately 1/2 cup of basil salt, preheat your oven to 175 degrees Fahrenheit. Line a rimmed baking sheet with parchment paper. Combine 1/4 cup coarse sea salt with 1/4 cup minced fresh basil in a spice grinder, or a coffee grinder. Spread the salt mixture on to the baking sheet and bake for 15 minutes, stirring occasionally. Turn off the oven and let the salt blend dry in the oven for 30 minutes. Once cool, transfer to a jar and seal tightly.

Try this salt blend on these Cold Rice Noodles in Spicy Thai Peanut Sauce or on this Tomato Basil Broccoli Noodle and White Bean Salad. Or check out this list of foods that pair well with basil to get inspired!

You can also make salt blends with thyme, sage, rosemary, savory, or lavender. There is a lot of room for experimentation. That’s the great thing about blends — you can create them to suit your needs and your tastes. See some more tips on making your own spice blends here and let us know if you have a favorite too!

Lead Image Source: Indian Baigan Bharta- Roasted Eggplant Dip