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Exotic Spices

In the course of human history, people have often wanted what was difficult to obtain. We want the new, the rare, the out-of-the-ordinary, and that holds true with spices. For more than 4000 years, people have been trading in spices from around the world, and spices like cinnamon and ginger, once fiercely sought after, are now commonplace in pantries around the world.

Today’s exotics open the door further into cuisines around the world, reflecting both our desire to dig deeper into the food we’ve already culturally adopted and continue to explore flavors that are not yet familiar to our palates. The current lineup of exotic spices include things like the fruity-spicy heat of Korean chili flakes, the tart citrus flavor of sumac, and the umami richness of Japan’s shichimi togarashi.

Hundreds of years ago, sampling these flavors required an ocean voyage and the threat of pirate attack. Fast-forwarding to the modern era, the massive advancements in technology and transportation have made spices that were considered exotic or rare much easier to come by. With the click of a mouse or a few taps on our phone we can have a variety of flavors that would have been unimaginably difficult to obtain delivered to our doorstep. Start reading below to get an idea of what sort of spices we have available; once we’ve fired up your interests you can read more about our selection of exotic spices and seasoning blends here.


Saffron

The most expensive spice in the world because it requires a lot of work to grow. It comes from the stigma of the blue flowering crocus, Crocus sativus, and it must be handpicked. About 200-500 stigmas make up a single gram of saffron, and usually there are only three per flower. It takes acres upon acres of land to grow enough flowers to even produce a pound of this spice. It's a good thing that most recipes only call for a pinch of it then, since only a small amount is required to give food both beautiful color and flavoring. Saffron is used in paella, sauces, rice, seafood dishes, as well as many other foods from many cuisines all over the world.


Grains of Paradise

These are also called Melegueta pepper or Guinea grains. Coming from the Melegueta tree that grows in West Africa, these are related to both ginger and cardamom. Grains of Paradise were commonly used as a pepper substitute when the price of pepper became too high. They will give your cooking a hot, spicy, aromatic flavor and are used often in Caribbean and African cooking.


Sumac

This spice comes from the dried berries of the Rhus coriaria plant, which you may know by the name of Sicilian Sumac. This is not the only plant that gives us Sumac. Rhus aromatica, or the North American Sumac is another source for this spice. There are some other varieties of sumac which are poisonous so be careful to avoid those varieties. This spice imparts a sour lemony flavor and compliments fish or red meat. It is used widely in North African, Middle Eastern, and Southern Mediterranean cooking.


Amchur Powder

Made from unripe mangos that have been sliced, sun dried, and then ground into a fine powder, Amchur powder is a commonly used souring agent in North Indian cooking. It is frequently found in curries, chutneys, stews, soups, and in vegetable dishes.


Asafoetida

Asafoetida is an incredibly powerfully smelling spice that is used mostly in Indian vegetarian cooking. It is a good replacement for onion and garlic and is used in a lot of diets that are popularized in America. Some people who are eating gluten free gravitate toward this spice, which comes from the dried and powdered gum resin from several species of Ferula, a perennial herb.


Black Cardamom

Black cardamom, smoked and dried over an open fire, is like the cool neighbor you had when you were a kid; he wears a leather jacket, listens to his music a little too loud, but doesn’t mind if you borrow his records and is there for you when you need him. Rich and aromatic, black cardamom is smoke-forward with an underlying menthol quality that imparts a brisk freshness, and is hard to replicate.


Black Mustard Seed

This pungent little seed, the Brassica nigra, is an integral part of Indian and Pakistani cooking. Warming the seeds helps temper mustard’s inherent spiciness and allow the full range of flavors—from the nutty to the floral—to bloom. Though it is easy to grow, the black mustard seed (unlike its brown and white counterparts) must be harvested by hand. This preserves the integrity of the seed but also makes it significantly more difficult to come by.


Red Miso

Punch up the umami goodness with our red miso powder. Made from soybeans that are fermented for months, or even years, red miso is bold and salty and can steal your heart with the flick of a teaspoon. A little goes a long way because its flavor can be aggressive; red miso is best used on sturdier foods, like stews and braises, and on vegetables that can fight back.


Juniper Berries

Juniper berries are thought to be the only spice that comes from a conifer (cone-bearing seed plants) and a cold climate. They grow on small juniper shrub that is common throughout the Northern hemisphere and are a prime ingredient in gin. The seeds can take three years to mature and turn blue when they are ripe enough to be picked. Their aromatic flavor with its sweet accent is popular in European cuisines. In the United States the juniper berry is frequently found in marinades, brines, stuffing and sauces.


Korean Chili Flakes

Though Korean food didn’t take on a spicy-hot flavor profile until the 1600s, it didn’t take long for gochugaru, Korean dried chili flakes, to become an integral part of that cuisine. Spicy, smoky, and slightly sweet, gochugaruadd a bracing and unique bite and vibrant pop of red to any dish to which they’re added.


Long Pepper

Also known as Bengal pepper, Long Pepper is a close relative to Black Pepper, though it is hotter with some sweet undertones. Popular in Indian, African, Indonesian and Mediterranean cooking, this is a small but long catkin that can be grated or crushed just before use. It compliments any rich food, especially if it is buttery.


Nigella Seed

Fennel flower is another name for this spice. It has a pungent and slightly bitter flavor with a hint of sweetness and a body that is small, black, sharply pointed. This seed is commonly used in Bengali cooking.


Fennel Pollen

With a long culinary history in Northern Italian cuisine just a pinch of fennel pollen can make an average dish extraordinary! Fennel Pollen started gaining in popularity in the United States during the 1990's when it was introduced to Chef Mario Batali. What makes this often described as "Culinary Fairy Dust" is how Fennel Pollen imparts a full, rich, savory flavor to cooked foods. This is sometimes described as umami, that deeply intense and savory flavor that top chefs are always in search of.


Dried Makrut Lime Leaves

Native to Southeast Asia, the makrut lime is also grown in Australia, California and Florida. Makrut lime has other names such as Indonesian lime or wild lime. It used to be called kaffir lime, but there is cultural sensitivity surrounding that name, so we've chosen to call it by the name they use in Thailand. Makrut Lime Leaves are a signature flavor of many Thai curries, salads, soups and stir-fries. Makrut lime is very popular in Balinese, Cambodian, Malaysian and Thai cuisine.


Pasilla de Oaxaca Chile

Pronounced "Pah-SEE-yah day Waa-HAAK-kah," this chile is not well known in the United States but it is gaining some popularity among serious chile heads. Most people in the US are more familiar with the smoked chipotle, also called smoked jalapenos, but the Pasilla Oaxaca possesses a bit less heat than the chipotle and twice the smokiness. It is in the hilly region of Oaxaca in southern Mexico that these long pasilla chilles are smoked. These chiles are popular in vegetarian dishes for their rich smokiness that brings out a bacony ham flavor without the addition of any meat. Also used in the famous "mole negro", Latin style bean dishes, soups, sauces and in a regional favorite – rellenos.


Tasmanian Pepperberry

This spice is used primarily in Australia's bushfood, which are foods from local cuisines that have gained mainstream popularity in recent years. These dishes are usually made with ingredients that are indigenous to Australia, hence the popularity of the Tasmanian Pepperberry. This spice tastes slightly sweet, then gets spicier as the day goes on. 


Piment d'Espelette

Grown and cared for almost exclusively by women, this chile is the pride and joy of the Basque region. This chile is fruity with just a little bit of heat, making it a perfect fit for the otherwise mild French cuisine it calls home. Piment d'Espelette is just about the spiciest thing you will ever find in authentic French cuisine. Every October, it is celebrated with a festival that spans the entire Basque region, and the scent that fills the air is a welcome reminder of the hard work women have put into maintaining this delicious crop and source of pride for the area.


Each one of these spices offers something unique to the cooking experience. When you experiment with new flavors and styles of cooking, you not only branch out with your food options, but also your exposure to the different tastes of the world. Work some of these into your regular routine and you will find your standard recipes become exciting and new again.


Read More

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