7 Surprising Spices That Will Up Your Vegan Cuisine

4 minutes read

As a vegan, one thing I’m tired of hearing, is that plant-based foods lack flavour.

For reals?Vegan Meals

The main reason why people think vegan food is this tasteless, cardboard-like-thing trying to pass as food, is simply that most folks don’t know how to use spices properly.

If you are one of them, stop beating yourself up.

I’m here to help.

I’ll let you in on a little secret… There is a whole world of flavors beyond salt and pepper.

(Or chicken stock and butter, if that’s your thing.)

Whether you’re a beginner in the kitchen or a veteran looking for inspiration, here are 7 spices you’ve never heard of that will up your vegan cuisine!

1. Panch Phoran

Panch Phoran

A delicious whole spice blend that is used in Bangladesh and Eastern India, Panch Phoran simply means “five spices”.

Typically, Panch Phoran consists of fenugreek seed, nigella seed, cumin seed, black mustard seed and fennel seed in equal parts.

Unlike Garam Masala, where the spices are powdered, in Panch Phoran, the spices are used whole.

Panch Phoran is delicious sprinkled on or used for pickling vegetables. It is also a great addition to any “carb-like” food such as naan bread.

Why not make your own?

Pair it with :

  • Potatoes
  • Broccoli
  • Cucumber

2. Grains of Paradise

Grains of Paradise

With a name like that, you know that’s something you should keep in your pantry.

Grains of paradise, or alligator seeds are a west african species from the ginger family. Their flavor is a pungent, peppery one with hints of citrus.

Although they look and taste somewhat (keyword : SOMEWHAT. Not exactly) like black pepper, they’re dried seeds, not berries.

I love it as I find it is far more versatile than black pepper.

Use it as you would regular black pepper but remember you can emphasize its citrus flavor by adding it to salad dressings or enhance its slight herbiness by herbs like thyme, rosemary and sage.

Just go ahead and play around with it.

It’s pretty much fool proof ;)

Pair it with :

  • Fruit desserts (Peach cobbler, grilled pineapple, apple pie…)
  • Tomatoes
  • Vegetable tajine

3. Ethiopian Berbere

Ethiopian Berbere

If you’ve ever eaten food from the eastern Horn of Africa (Eritrea, Djibouti, Ethiopia and Somalia) chances are you’ve tasted berbere, a complex blend of chile peppers and spices.

The recipe does vary a little from cook to cook but hot peppers, black pepper, ginger, fenugreek, coriander, cardamom, cinnamon, and cloves is what you usually find in it.

A combination of spicy, bitter and sweet, berbere adds warmth and depth to all sorts of dishes like beans, soup, grilled veggies…

Check out this amazing ethiopian lentils recipe!

Pair it with :

  • Lentils
  • Vegan yogurt (for an AMAZING dip!)
  • Pizza

4. Asafoetida


Good news, you don’t have to be able to pronounce it to use it.

Derived from a species of giant fennel, asafoetida has a very unique smell and flavor. So unique in fact, that your first instinct might be to put it back on the shelf where you found it.

But know that this could be a HUGE mistake.

Also known as Hing (I know, I could have said that from the start.), this powder is a crucial ingredient in Indian vegetarian cooking. It gives dishes a super savory element that is sometimes lacking in plant-based food.

Perhaps the aroma of the raw spice isn’t the most pleasant, but it’s a totally different story when it is paired with hot oil or vegan butter.

Surprise your non-vegan friends with this incredible new flavor next time they come over!

Pair it with :

  • Curry
  • Lentils/Beans
  • Cauliflower

5. Mahlab


Mahlab is an aromatic spice made from the seeds of a species of cherry, the St. Lucy’s cherry.

Mostly used in desserts, it tastes a bit like cherries, a bit like roses and a bit like almonds (Or exactly how I picture what heaven would taste like).

And there’s also a little bitterness to it.

It’s one of those spices that you could live your whole life without, but once you’ve tasted it, you can’t live without.

Pair it with :

  • Bread
  • Carrot
  • Eggplant

6. Sumac


Have you ever played the Just One game?

I know I have.

The Just One game is when you’re too lazy to really cook, you pick just one herb or spice to accompany your dish.

I’ll often throw whatever veggies I have left and either sautée or roast them with cumin. And that’ll be my dinner.

But recently, I’ve discovered the magic that is sumac.

Though it’s related to Poison Ivy, the variety of sumac that we eat is not poisonous.

(I’m not trying to kill you.)

Flavor wise, it has a very nice, fruity-tart flavor which is not quite as overpowering as lemon. You can use it with pretty much anything.

Try it in this vegan farro and roasted sweet potato salad!

Pair it with :

  • Fries
  • Chickpeas
  • Watermelon

7. Wattleseed


If I say chocolate, hazelnut and coffee, you think dessert right?

What if I told you there’s a seed out there that has all the delicious characteristics of your favorite treats?

I believe the words you are looking for are thank you.


Seriously, if you’ve never tried cooking with wattleseed before, you will be amazed by the nutty, slightly bitter chocolate flavor it brings to the table.

And with a low glycemic index and high protein content, wattleseed is also an excellent candidate for low fat, healthy cuisine.

Pair it with :

  • Mushroom
  • Vegan ice cream
  • Pancakes

Your turn to spice it up! …

I gave you a pretty good head start here ;)

Vegan cuisine is the best cuisine. You just gotta get out of the box a little.

It makes me laugh (sour kinda laughter) when I hear people say that without butter there ain’t no flavor.

Homie, if that’s what you think, you can’t cook. That’s all.

And remember, these are only 7 out of hundreds of fabulous flavors you can play with.

Go crazy! YOLO! (Oh no, I did not just write that.)

In all seriousness though, spices will bring your vegan cuisine to the next level.

Like, expert level.

Did you know any of them? What are YOUR favorite spices?

Let me know in the comment box below!

  • allisonsklar

    I LOVE sumac! It’s so beautiful with thyme and sesame (I may or may not have a love affair with za’atar.) I’ve never heard of the Grains of Paradise, though. I definitely need to get my hands on those. Where do you buy your spices here? I often have trouble finding even my sumac (and when I do find it, it’s super expensive!) Great post by the way. I like your style.

    • http://veganvibe.co Emily-Jade Charland

      Thank you so much! To be completely honest, I buy most of my spices online. It’s a lot cheaper and I have to admit that not having to look for what I want in 12 different stores is kinda cool :) Try savoryspiceshop.com, they’re super cheap and awesome.

    • http://www.danbenoni.com/ Dan Benoni

      True, sumac is so good. I really like to mix it with turmeric whenever I can!

  • Alison Dorian

    very surprised about the Asa…/Hing- loved it in a store bought lentil chip, your info is fab!, I got into fresh oregano, organic garlic and onion powder and allspice or nutmeg in lentil soup…cannot regularly afford cardamom, but, WOW. tried to grind some berries with success…also, I did cook pro, briefly and 9.5 out of 10 loved vegan food!!!

    • http://veganvibe.co Emily-Jade Charland

      Thank you Alison!! Spices are, in my opinion what make a dish. Especially with vegan food, where you can’t rely on things like animal fat, or cream or butter, if you know your spices, you are more than halfway to a delicious meal! :P

      • Alison Dorian

        how about organic, naturally flavorful, chopped select baby herbs,…ground (in blender or better) hulled raw pumpkin seeds, sunflower seeds, walnut or almond meal mixed in or as topping! 30 tasty years of VEGANISM…oh, and, a dash of tahini doesn’t hurt…goes with ground red pepper, paprika and ground onion…

        • http://veganvibe.co Emily-Jade Charland

          Haha, that sound pretty damn good too!! :)