Throw out your old spices and start fresh with high quality, potent spices sourced from around the world. And while you’re at it, build a global spice pantry—all it takes is a pinch to transform your cooking.
People often ask me how to improve their cooking quickly and easily. My answer is always spices—dump your old spices, buy new ones, use whole spices whenever possible, and diversify your spice pantry to give you the instant tools you need to electrify your cooking.
Last week my wife made a simple butternut squash soup. She left out some of the more pungent ingredients so our son Oliver would like it. The solution? I sprinkled Urfa pepper on it and it was fabulous. Rich, fruity flavor with just a touch of heat. It really made the dish.
I also like to borrow a tip from Indian cooking and make a tarka. This is oil infused with a spice—black mustard seeds, coriander, cumin—whatever you like. After just a few minutes in a small skillet, drizzle the flavored oil over a dish just before serving. It’s amazing how much flavor and excitement this simple concept adds to almost any recipe.
One problem with spices is that they are not all created equal. In fact, there is a world of difference between great spices and everyday spices. I discovered this years ago when I was visiting Morocco on the far side of the Atlas Mountains. I brought back some local spices and the flavors were unlike anything I had tasted before. These spices transformed my cooking.
Today, we announce our full line of spices—20 different blends and single spices in total. Some of these items we have sourced directly from around the world, and others we have found by working with a top-notch spice wholesaler. We tasted many different sources for these spices (sources do change with the seasons) to find the ones that really made the grade. These are not your run-of-the-mill supermarket spices.
Here’s a simple recipe for using our spice blends with canned chickpeas. It’s a quick and easy recipe that brings home the power of spices to change your cooking. Drain, rinse and pat dry a 15½-ounce can of chickpeas. In a medium bowl, toss them with 2 tablespoons of cornstarch, then transfer to a mesh strainer and shake to remove excess. In a 10-inch skillet over medium-high, heat ¼ cup extra-virgin olive oil to shimmering. Add the chickpeas and cook, stirring occasionally, until golden brown and crisp, 5 to 8 minutes. Remove from the heat and toss with 4 teaspoons of either Milk Street Barbecue Blend #1 or #2, Milk Street Sichuan Salt, or the Milk Street Za’atar Mix. It’s the perfect snack, a crispy accent to rice or grain pilafs, or a crouton alternative for salads.
A few or our blends are particularly interesting. The Coffee Sugar is based on the Middle Eastern concept of adding cardamom to coffee—we also add vanilla and cocoa. Also, our Za’atar blend is unique—the foundation of this blend is wild thyme but we have boosted the flavor with Aleppo pepper and two other secret ingredients. It’s bright and fresh. You might also want to try our Secret Salt that is based on a garlic salt recipe from the Republic of Georgia. It contains garlic, fenugreek, caraway, coriander, etc.
We sell many of our spices whole, rather than ground, believing that freshly ground spices have the best flavor. Grind what you need for each recipe in our beautiful heirloom-quality cast iron grinder or pick up a blade-style coffee grinder and dedicate to the purpose. It is also good to toast whole spices in a skillet for a few minutes or until they become aromatic.
If you are interested in changing how you cook, we suggest that you order the following: Black Mustard Seeds (great when infused with oil and used as a finishing drizzle), Za’atar (an herbal blend that works on anything), Sumac (bright and slightly sour; this spice is transformative and used throughout the Middle East), Urfa Pepper (rich, fruity and slightly hot), and Smoked Paprika (known in Spain as pimentón, this is a workhorse spice—you can even make a soup out of it with old bread, garlic, water and a coddled egg. And a container of our Secret Salt will also come in handy since it boosts the flavor of vegetables and makes a great rub for chicken and fish.
Black Mustard Seeds
Packing trademark pungency and a crunchy pop, we use mustard seeds to add punch and texture to Indian curries and vegetable dishes. We grind them coarsely into spice rubs for pork and toss a spoonful into sauerkraut or braised cabbage. Or we pickle them and use them for salads, like our Avocado Salad with Pickled Mustard Seeds and Marjoram Vinaigrette, or as an accompaniment to cheeses or charcuterie. (Or, mix the pickled mustard seed mixture to taste into mayonnaise as a terrific sandwich spread).
Minty and citrusy, cardamom shines in both sweet and savory dishes and is used broadly from Scandinavia through the Middle East and the Indian subcontinent. Ours is freshly ground and vibrant. We add it to our Browned Butter-Cardamom Banana Bread and Cardamom-Coconut Chicken. Swap out completely or partially for cinnamon in baked goods or try adding a scant spoonful to your brewing coffee for a Middle Eastern spin.
Whole Coriander Seeds
The seeds of cilantro, coriander packs a clarifying, citrus-like flavor that mellows as it cooks. We use them liberally whole—their texture softens when cooked—and freshly ground (its flavor fades fast). Try it in our traybake-style Coriander-Roasted Chicken or Cracked Potatoes with Vermouth, Coriander and Fennel.
Whole Cumin Seeds
Cumin is one of the most widely used spices in the world. For good reason: its husky, earthy, slightly smoky flavor accentuates the flavors of meats and galvanizes vegetables like cauliflower and beets. Try it in our Stir-Fried Cumin Beef to get a real sense of its potential. Or try tarka, an Indian flavoring agent that blooms spices in hot fat. It’s drizzled over all manner of beans, vegetables, soups and stews. We even like it over popcorn.
Whole Fennel Seeds
With its licorice-like flavor, fennel seed plays a starring role in French cooking and a background role in countless curries and spice rubs. Try it in our Sweet Potato and Shallot Casserole with Fennel Seed, Cracked Potatoes with Vermouth, Coriander and Fennel or crush with equal parts chilies, peppercorns and coarse salt as a spice rub for pork or chicken.
Sourced from a women’s collective in Afghanistan, our saffron is powerfully aromatic and richly flavored. A little goes a long way. Try it in our Risotto Milanese, which highlights the spice’s unique aroma and flavor to full effect. Or grind up with kosher salt and fennel seed to dust over salmon or shrimp before broiling or sautéing.
The mouth-tingling power of this Chinese spice largely defines the cooking of the Sichuan region and shows up in Taiwanese cooking as well. We developed arguably the world’s best fried chicken with a triple dose of the peppercorns: Crispy Sichuan-Chili Chicken. The chili oil embedded in that recipe is terrific over fried eggs.
Essential to Spanish cooking, smoked paprika is just that: chilies slowly dried over smoldering wood before being ground. It packs a potent smokiness and a valuable ingredient for adding body and depth. We use smoked paprika to great effect in our Spanish Spice-Crusted Pork Tenderloin Bites (Pinchos Morunos).
Produced in Turkey, this glossy, deep-burgundy chili flake has an earthy, cocoa flavor with moderate heat level and stone-fruit finish. Urfa pepper is best used as a garnish on roasted meats, winter squash, legumes, even pizza. We keep a bowl on the table.
Uncouple pepper from salt and consider it a spice in its own right. Our colorful blend combines black, white, red and green peppercorns for a rounded complexity. Try it in our Italian classic Cacio e Pepe to get a full sense of the pepper blend's flavor. And use it everyday in your tableside grinder—fresh pepper packs a full flavor that preground pepper can’t match.
Barbecue Rub No. 1
Inspired by the warm, mildly spiced flavor of Lebanese baharat, this mysteriously complex blend is suited for flavoring everything from beef, lamb and salmon to sweet potatoes or roasted winter squash. Chickpeas too—try this Crispy Chickpea recipe, which works as a light snack or salad garnish.
Barbecue Rub No. 2
This our rendition of a light, bright and spicy southern Indian curry. Dust it over chicken and fish or stir it into a simple bowl of lentils with a spoonful of coconut milk. Use the blend in thick Greek yogurt as a quick dipping sauce for vegetables or blend into olive oil and toss with vegetables before roasting. It's particularly delicious when paired with lime juice—try on sautéed spinach or roasted carrots.
Nordic-inspired, this mix blends cardamom and vanilla with just a hint of cocoa for warmth. It’ll improve any cup of coffee or turn a simple bowl of whipped cream into dessert onto itself. Add it to your Greek yogurt and top with berries or dust it over your favorite sugar cookies before baking for subtle crunch and a hit of flavor.
Our secret salt references the unique cuisine of Georgia. Influenced in equal parts by European and Middle Eastern, Georgian cooking is dynamic and full of compelling flavors. The salt blends garlic, fenugreek (which has a slightly maple-like flavor), black pepper, caraway, coriander and dill. Use it over vegetables and as a spice rub for chicken or fish before cooking.
We love the tingly effect and floral flavor of Sichuan peppercorns. For our salt blend, we rounded it out with a touch of warm 5-spice powder, sugar and hint of cayenne pepper. Try it on a quick beef stir fry with a little bok choy, asparagus or green beans, or dust it over morning eggs and even a bowl of popcorn.
There are few things the Middle Eastern spice mix za’atar can’t improve. It’s typically made from dried herbs, sesame and salt. We’ve boosted our version with Aleppo pepper and a couple secret touches to make it a one-stop flavor enhancement. Sprinkle it over chicken, fish, vegetables and eggs or fold it into Greek yogurt or a pool of extra-virgin olive oil for an instant crudité or bread dip.