Premade spice blends: Do you use them? Which ones?

I came across a random Huffpost article about spice blends while poking around the web. It starts off with this statement:

While some chefs turn up their noses at spice blends ― such as everything bagel seasoning or Old Bay, for example ― these flavorful seasonings can be a real asset in the kitchen.

Which got me thinking about my relationship with spice blends. I don’t call myself a capital-C ‘Chef’, but I like to make good food from scratch and I know my way around spices. In most cases I like to make my own spice blends from scratch, but there are exceptions. Here are my yays and nays:

Old Bay
I’ll start with this one since it’s mentioned at the start of the article. I don’t use Old Bay a lot, but when I want to use it, to me it has a unique flavor that I’d be hard-pressed to duplicate. I’m sure I could look up a copycat recipe online, but why bother? I like a little Old Bay in my crabcakes, or crabby eggs made with leftover crab from dinner the night before. It’s also good sometimes on eggs alone or on chicken.

Cajun / Creole spice blends
To me they are easy to mix up myself-- paprika, garlic powder, black pepper, powdered oregano and thyme, salt, etc etc… but I do keep a container of Tony Chacere’s Creole Seasoning on hand, which I’ll use as a base for a BBQ dry rub, doctoring it up from there. Or sometimes by itself if I’m in a hurry on a weekday and don’t feel like going to a lot of trouble.

Curry Powder
This is something I am big on making from scratch every time when I make a curry sauce because it’s so much better than premade. I toast the whole spices in a dry pan, grind them up and mix them, and then bloom them in some ghee. Fantastic.

Garam Masala
As much as I enjoy making and eating Indian food, I never quite understood the purpose of garam masala. Many Indian recipes will call for curry powder spices and garam masala. What’s so special and unique about GM as a spice blend? It contains many of the same ingredients of a curry powder. I’m not sure why it stands alone as its own thing. It probably has to do with regional styles of Indian cuisine.

BBQ Dry Rubs
This is where I like to go all mad scientist and make my own, mixing up anything and everything I can find or think will work well at the time. Though as mentioned, I do sometimes use Tony Chacere’s Creole Seasoning as a starting base.

How about you guys, whether you’re Capital C ‘Chefs’ or just like to cook? Oh yeah, here’s the article I mentioned at the top:

Well, I’ve certainly used Old Bay in the past. I usually make my own BBQ dry rub, but I’ve used cajun blends. I guess the thing I use the most is Italian Seasoning, which is just a blend of herbs. McCormick is the one I usually get. I use it when I make quick spaghetti sauce (i.e. doctored off-the-shelf sauce) for everyday dinners.

I use Old Bay Seasoning, Garam Massala, Various Curry powders and pastes, Cajun seasoning, ans some garlic/cheese powders.

My gf recently made a fish & crab soup that was excellent. I thought it was missing some Old Bay, but I never mentioned it. A few days later I heated up the leftover soup, but I added some Old Bay also.

As we were eating, she mentioned how soups and stews often taste better after sitting for a while. I agreed. Then she contemplated her soup and said she was sure she’d mistakenly not used any Old Bay, yet she thought she could now detect it’s presence. I was so busted.

Haha, I can relate to that. My wife is a pretty good cook, but she doesn’t enjoy cooking as much as I do and doesn’t do it as much, so when she does she’s self-conscious about her cooking. If I doctor it with anything more than salt and pepper (and sometimes even that) I’m in trouble. Once she made some chicken and rice soup for us, and I got busted squeezing a little fresh lemon juice into my bowl.

The first blend that came to mind is Kirkland Organic No Salt blend. Not a great name, but it is a combination of 21 spices, and I find it a great place to start when seasoning meats, chicken and soups.

I am also a huge fan of Tajin Clasico which is a blend of salt, lime and chilli peppers. It can be sprinkled on almost everything savory.

I have not used Old Bay enough to know how to use it. I use curry powders, pastes and garam masala.

Madhur Jaffrey says storebought has way too much coriander (I think) because it’s a cheap filler. She strongly recommends making your own if you need it.

As a general rule, both garam masala and curry powder are no more helpful as ingredients than if a recipe called for ‘barbecue sauce.’ I very rarely see good recipes that call for garam masala and almost never for curry powder rather than just naming the amounts of specific spices. OTOH, If you cook lots of indian food, it would make sense to create your own house blend to serve as a general base for your curries.

Of the top of my head, I think I currently have Old Bay and herbs de Provence at home right now.

I do love pre-made paste blends. My local Asian market has some rocking tom kha and tom yum pastes. I’ve got some of those in the pantry along with a couple general “Thai red/green chili paste” jars.

Honestly, I mostly use it for popcorn.

In general, the list you have are all ones we keep on hand. We don’t use a ton of Old Bay, but it’s indispensable when you want that specific flavor. I tend to make my own BBQ rubs as well, but I do have a bottle of one that’s pretty solid in there for when I’m just feeling lazy. We’ve also got a lot of Penzeys samples of various blends- we occasionally use them for grilling or seasoning vegetables, but they honestly don’t get a lot of mileage in our kitchen.

A few that we do use a fair amount that aren’t on your list are:

  • Chili powder (not chile powder/powdered chiles). Basically a mixture of powdered chiles, cumin, garlic and a few other spices. It’s what makes a pot of chili taste like chili. And it’s also common in a lot of Tex-Mex type cooking and in BBQ rubs as well.

  • Poultry seasoning. It’s very useful for making dressing at Thanksgiving/Christmas.

  • Chinese Five Spice blend. It’s another less used one, but it’s also one that you can’t really do without when you do need it.

  • Herbes de Provence. We use a fair amount of this on things like roast chicken, roast pork, etc…

And we do use the various Thai pastes on occasion- specifically the curry pastes (red, yellow or Massaman), for making our bastardized Thai curry dish.

Yeah, I always have a jar of Thai-style red curry paste on hand in the refrigerator. Often it’s just the “Thai Kitchen” brand you can get in any grocery store for convenience sake, but I have picked up some jars of really good red chili pastes at Asian markets in the past.

I use a few spice blends, but generally don’t go out of my way to make them myself. The reason is that in general, it’s hard to tune the flavor of a specific dish with a pre-made blend. I have plenty of dried spices, so I mix and match on the spot.

However, there are a few I use frequently -

Penzy’s Chinese Five Spice Powder is very useful, and I don’t frequently use enough of most of the constituent spices (well, other than cinnamon) to keep around going stale.

I also normally use their Bouquet Garni blend in a teaball for when I’m doing a quickie stock with a leftover poultry carcass rather than going out of my way to buy a bunch of fresh herbs.

Lastly, I love their ‘Pie Spice’ blend, which I put on roasted sweet potatoes, hot cocoa, and the occasional latte. The mix of cinnamon, the hint of cloves, the touch of vanilla. drool

Excuse me, since I am unexpectedly home today after a window at work blew in during the 100+ mph gusts yesterday, this is the perfect excuse for a second cup of coffee.

The ones I use most often are:

Gebhardt’s chili powder
Penzey’s Arizona Dreaming and their Frozen Pizza Seasoning
Slap Ya Mama Cajun seasoning
Anything and everything from Flatiron Pepper Company

You are absolutely correct on this. Garam masala varies region to region and is supposed to be added very sparingly and only to a very few dishes.

In Bengal, Garam masala is made of the trinity of spices - nothing more, nothing less : Cloves, Cinnamon and Cardamom in equal weights. You mix the three and coarse grind it. In India, it is traditional for grinding this on a wet granite stone (like this one Buy Bengali Shil Nora Online | Bengali Pestle and Mortar | | India's First and largest Bengali eCommerce site |

I just grind it in a coffee grinder and store it in a small jar in the freezer.

Most spices are bloomed, but Garam masala is not. I just sprinkle half a teaspoon of the coarse powder on some dishes.

Thanks, am77494, great garam masala info!

[background] I’m a Pakistani-born chap of South Indian descent, but a long time US resident.

I buy garam masala already ground from an Indian store. I also buy already ground spices from either Indian or regular grocery stores. I label them and chuck them in the trash after a year.

I am sure that you get better results with making your own GM and grinding your own spices. But I simply couldn’t be arsed. I already have to cook any “Indian” food outside which can be a bit challenging for a good part of the year here in New England. So I’m not screwing around with whole spices ground into a tablespoon of mixed spices to order for each session.

But “curry powder” really is completely a crap-shoot and I never buy it. Well actually I have Japanese curry powder, but no one in our household has any clue what that is SUPPOSED to taste like!

Does Lawry’s seasoned salt count? I use it in breading for fried chicken.

Also some of the Penzey’s mixes are quite good. BBQ 3000, Chili 9000, Sunny Spain and the like.

We have not been able to find this one lately, sadly.

We use Lawry’s Seasoned Salt mainly in scrambled eggs, Old Bay on fish and veggies and various other items, and we have a Greek seasoning mix I picked up at a Greek festival, which I use in rice, kabobs, veggies, fish, etc. I think we also have a pre-packaged cajun mix for other various uses, depending on what we feel like.

I also load a grinder with various dried spices we have around for a unique mix, adding some dried garlic pieces I prepare myself. That gets used on omelet veggies, eggs, etc.

Haven’t checked the store lately, but I have a nearly full jar in the rack, so I should be good. But you reminded me of a few others:

Johnny’s Seasoning salt
Penzey’s 4S Seasoning salt
Montreal Steak seasoning

I’m from Maryland so Old Bay tends to find its way into a lot of things it usually wouldn’t.

We use a lot of Penzey’s Fox Point seasoning.

We use those and a old favorite, Lawreys Seasoned Salt, which is perfect on burgers.

I make a wonderful Greek Lemon Chicken Soup. You were so right adding some fresh lemon juice!

Montreal Steak is my go to rub for beef.