Asian spices might be the most essential thing to have in your pantry. However, many people in the US and UK might not be familiar with using some Asian seasonings in their cooking.
Therefore, we've put together this guide to help demystify these ingredients that will change your palate.
After much research and testing, we found your pantry's 15 most essential seasonings.
Along with this list of Asian spices, we also have included the most popular recipes they are commonly in and how to store them properly. So read on if you want to start building your spice collection!
This is one of the most important Asian spices in the world. It is mainly used in sweet and savoury recipes in Indian, Vietnamese, Moroccan, and several Chinese cuisines. According to early records, cinnamon came to Egypt as early as 2000 BCE.
You can buy it whole and crush it yourself whenever needed. Store the sticks of cinnamon upright in a vacuum-sealed container. Apart from its sweet fragrance, cinnamon also has several health benefits. Cinnamaldehyde, one of its aromatic compounds, is good for your metabolism and health. It is the main ingredient in recipes such as dirty chai latte and hotteok.
Another essential Asian spice is sesame seeds. They are often in Indian, Chinese, Japanese, Vietnamese and even Caribbean and East African cuisine. The seeds can be used whole, raw, toasted, mashed into a paste, pressed into oil, or also ground into powder form.
White Sesame Seeds
There are white and black sesame seeds. And if that wasn't enough reason to add them to your collection, sesame seeds also have several important vitamins and minerals such as zinc, selenium, copper, iron, vitamin B6, and vitamin E. Therefore, we recommend keeping both black and white sesame seeds. You can buy them untoasted and store them in airtight glass jars.
But if you only want one type, think about what you will use them for. If you are using them as toppings or for texture, choose the white ones. This is because they are milder in flavour.
On the other hand, buy the black sesame seeds if you plan on using them for flavour. A good example is black sesame paste, often used as a filling for pastries.
Black Sesame Seeds
A major component of Chinese and South Asian spices is star anise. It is another spice used in both sweet and savoury dishes. Buy them whole and store them in airtight glass jars.
To test the freshness of star anise, break off a point of a star and press it until the seed pops out. It is no longer fresh if you can't smell its aroma immediately. Star anise is used in recipes such as Thai tea and Zongzi.
As far as Asian spices go, you can't get more famous than cloves. They lend an intense warmth and delicious spicy-sweet kick to any dish. This spice is often in sweet and savoury dishes.
As with most of the spices on this list, buy them whole and store them in a dry, airtight glass jar away from sunlight. Along with being extremely versatile, they are also one of the most affordable seasonings out there. With cloves, a little goes a very long way.
Although fresh ginger is essential to most Asian cuisines, dried ginger is also common. Fresh ginger is sweeter, more aromatic, and often has a more nuanced flavour than ground ginger.
Additionally, despite losing some of its strength with time, ground ginger can last longer on your shelf than fresh ginger and is more heat-resistant. Add it to soups, sauces, and dressings. You can also use it to replace fresh ginger in a pinch. It keeps for around 1 year in an airtight container.
Turmeric lends a beautiful earthiness and yellow colour to whatever dish you add it to. Because of its brilliant hue, it is one of the staple Asian spices for chicken marinades. It is a staple in many Indian as well as Middle Eastern and North African dishes.
It also has several health benefits. Research has shown that it can improve heart health and lessen chronic pain. If you are a fan of Indian cuisine, don't skip out on this seasoning, as it is essential for many dishes.
Despite its name, Szechuan peppercorns do not add spice. Instead, they give a delicious numbing and tingling effect.
They are a beautiful light pink colour and are used in a lot of Chinese dishes. For example, this is one of the most common Asian spices for stir fry.
You can buy them whole and store them in the fridge in an airtight container. They will be usable for a month. But for longer-term storage, we recommend freezing.
While not traditionally used in many cuisines, the arrival of modern food preservation and globalisation has led to the widespread adoption of this seasoning. It adds a much stronger garlic and umami flavour. Also, garlic powder saves you the trouble of peeling and dicing several small cloves of fresh stuff.
More importantly, it keeps for much longer than fresh garlic. Nowadays, it is a staple Asian spices for ramen, soups and dressings. But it can also be added to almost any recipe using fresh garlic. You also use it in a lot of European cuisines. So, buy some if you don't have them on hand yet!
This seasoning imparts a slightly sweet, nutty, yet intensely savoury flavour to almost any dish. It is part one of the components of the Chinese five spice powder and is also used in Vietnamese, Filipino, and Indian cuisines.
To us, it is one of the best Asian spices for vegetable dishes.
It is also in Mexican and Caribbean cuisine. To get the best flavour, buy the whole seeds and toast and grind them yourself. It will be good for use for more than a year if kept in an airtight jar.
Fennel stalks, bulbs, and leaves are all edible. However, "fennel" as a spice means the plant's seeds. It is one of the components of the Chinese five spice powder. Also, it is in Malaysian, Indonesian, Indian, and even Mediterranean dishes.
It has an aniseed-like strong and warm flavour and a sweet aroma. And it seasons savoury, rich dishes like stews, soups, and slow-cooked meats. You can even add it to spicy or hot dishes, such as crispy Cantonese chilli beef.
Sansho pepper is one of the key seasonings of Japanese cuisine. And it is used in most Japanese dishes, including stir fry, salads, soups, and even simple boils.
Sansho pepper has a similar flavour to Szechuan pepper. It has a note of peppery heat, followed by a faint numbing sensation, with a citrus flavour with a touch of sweetness. You can taste this distinct spiciness by trying popular dishes such as Szechuan chicken or Mapo Tofu.
Many Westerners might be familiar with lemon pepper - this is a more elevated, naturally lemony pepper. Buy the whole peppercorns if you can find them, although that might not be possible depending on where you live. Store in a dark, cool place in an airtight container.
Black cardamom is one of the most common Asian spices in Vietnamese, Indian, and Chinese cuisines. It has a robust menthol flavour. This spice also has undertones of resin, camphor, and a mildly minty scent that helps to balance the savoury flavour.
Black Cardamom Pods
Black cardamom, black pepper, cloves, and chillies are classified as "warming" spices because of these rich, overpowering undertones. So, it adds depth to braised meat and slow-cooked rice dishes. Buy the pods whole and test their scent by crushing them as you would with star anise. Store in a cool dark place in an airtight container.
After talking about black cardamom, you can't forget green cardamom. It is an undried version of the black cardamom pods. It is one of the most commonly used Asian spices, especially in sweet dishes.
Green Cardamom Pods
The flavour of green cardamom is a herbal warmth that is more lemony than fennel and sweeter than cumin. It is a fragrant cross between eucalyptus, mint, and pepper. We recommend buying the whole pods. You should store them in a cool dark place and in an airtight container.
Whether it is as a powder, crushed, flakes, or even dried whole, no list of Asian spices can be complete without adding a little bit of, well, spice.
Ground Cayenne Chilli
Whichever form you prefer it in, vacuum seal the chilli and keep it away from heat and light. Whole dried chillies are the most cost-effective. You can also crush or powder according to your needs. However, they can be difficult to find whole.
Although basil may seem like a common flavouring to Westerners, the basil referred to when talking about Asian spices is not the same. Different kinds of basil leaves are used across different cuisines. Of course, use whichever you can find close to you.
Dried Basil Leaves
Try looking for the whole dried leaves or the lightly crushed ones. Store them in an airtight or vacuum-sealed container away from heat and moisture.
List of Top Asian Spices
- Sesame Seeds
- Star Anise
- Ginger Powder
- Szechuan Peppercorn
- Garlic Powder
- Sansho Pepper
- Black Cardamon
- Green Cardamon
- Dried Basil
We hope this article helped you learn about the 15 best Asian spices to keep in your pantry! If you want to see more from us, including our many tried and tested recipes for common Asian foods, follow us on Instagram @honestfoodtalks. Additionally, you can follow us on Pinterest if you use it to organise recipes (like we do!).