How Do Vegans Add Flavor?
Vegans add flavor to their food by using spices and seasonings. The vast majority of spices are vegan but you don’t need to keep hundreds of spices on hand.
After being plant-based for close to 25 years, I’ve pared down the number of spices in my kitchen. I’ll share with you the essential vegan spices that you need for your kitchen.
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What spices are not vegan?
Spices and herbs are generally always plant-based and vegan but some seasonings are not. Anchovy paste, bonito (fish) flakes, and dried shrimp are not vegan.
Other seasoning sauces that aren’t vegan include Worcestershire sauce, oyster sauce, and fish sauce.
20 Best Vegan Spices Every Newbie Should Have
As a new vegan, it can be overwhelming trying to figure out which of the hundreds of spices you need. But over the years I’ve found that most dishes require the same few spices in different combinations.
I didn’t include salt and pepper on this list because I assume most people have those as a staple in their home already.
Here are my recommendations for the essential spices all vegans should have.
Basil is an herb from the mint family that is easy to grow in containers. Basil is used in cuisine worldwide depending on the variety.
Dried basil is made from sweet basil which smells like anise but sweeter.
2. Cayenne Pepper
Cayenne pepper is a moderately hot chili pepper used to spice up dishes. It’s flavor blends well with Latin and Asian dishes that you want to add some kick to. Cayenne is 8 times hotter than chili powder.
3. Chili Powder
Chili peppers are from South America and milder than cayenne peppers. You can add chili pepper to anything to warm it up without burning your tastebuds.
Cinnamon is made from the inner bark of certain tree species. You can get whole sticks of cinnamon and a micro grater to grind what you need each time, or already ground cinnamon is fine too.
Cinnamon is a warming spice with a bitter taste. This is why it’s usually paired with sugar in desserts to balance the flavor.
Cloves come from the flower buds of an evergreen tree. They can be used whole or ground to flavor Indian dishes. Cloves are one of the ingredients in garam masala.
Coriander is a member of the parsley family. The leaves are called cilantro but its seeds are coriander.
Coriander can be eaten whole once toasted or ground up. It pairs well with cumin in Indian dishes but is also a staple in Mediterranean cuisine.
Cumin is a staple in many culture’s cuisines such as Indian, Asian, Mexican, and African. Cumin can be ground or used in seed form. It’s often the main ingredient in spice blends like curry powder and taco seasoning.
8. Curry Powder
Curry powder is a spice blend made of coriander, cumin, turmeric, ginger, mustard, cinnamon, and cardamom. If you don’t like curry or would rather make your own curry blend, then skip getting this one.
Dill weed is the leafy part of the dill plant. It is an herb that can be dried and saved for later. Dill seed is a spice but it is less commonly used.
I’d recommend starting off with dried dill weed. Dill seed tastes similar to caraway seed and is used mainly in Northern European dishes.
10. Garam Masala
Garam masala is a spice mixture made from toasted cinnamon, peppercorns, mace, coriander seeds, cumin seeds, and cardamom pods ground into a powder.
You can make your own or conveniently have a bottle of pre-mixed garam masala on hand. It’s traditionally used in Indian cooking.
11. Garlic Powder
Garlic powder is a staple for most dishes. It’s dehydrated garlic cloves ground into a powder. The concentrated flavor gives any dish a garlic taste.
You can use garlic powder in conjunction with fresh garlic cloves. It also works in a pinch when you don’t have any fresh garlic on hand.
In Caribbean, Asian, and Indian cuisines, fresh ginger root is oven used. In Western cooking, ground ginger can be used as a substitute since ginger root isn’t used as frequently yet.
Ginger made from dried and finely ground ginger root. It gives dishes a slightly sweet peppery taste.
13. Mustard Powder
Mustard powder isn’t the same as the yellow mustard you put on veggie burgers. Mustard powder is a mixture of finely ground white and brown mustard seeds. Usually, a small amount of turmeric or saffron is added to help with the color.
You can use mustard powder to make your own homemade mustard condiment. It’s also used a lot in vegan cheese dishes to bring out an umami flavor.
Nutmeg is made from the seed of the Indonesian nutmeg tree. Mace is a similar spice made from the outer seed coating of the nutmeg fruit.
For the freshest nutmeg, get a whole seed and use a micro grater to grate what you need. Nutmeg has a bittersweet flavor similar to cloves.
15. Onion Powder
Onion powder is a staple spice along the same lines as garlic powder. It’s made from dehydrated onions that are ground into small granules or powder.
Onion powder is a concentrated onion flavor so less is more. It works well to enhance a dish with onion without having chunks of onion. Onion powder is great for when you don’t want to use an entire onion or when you’re out of fresh onion.
Oregano is an herb from the mint family. It is dried out and used to add flavor to Mediterranean recipes.
Depending on your climate, oregano is an easy herb to grow outside or in a container garden. Dry and save the excess herb for use later.
I often get asked, “Is paprika vegan?” The smokey bacon flavor of paprika can make you think it contains animal products but it is completely vegan.
Paprika is made from dried ground peppers but is not spicy. The peppers are very mild. Paprika can be bought in regular for a milder taste or smoked for a nice smokey addition to your meal.
Rosemary is a woody evergreen herb with needle-like leaves. These leaves can be use fresh or dried and saved.
Rosemary is very aromatic and gives the most flavor when cut or ground in a mortar and pestle. Rosemary is used to season Mediterranean dishes and works well in soups, casseroles, and stews.
19. Star Anise
Star anise is a beautiful potent spice whose pod is in the shape of a star. Commonly used in Chinese cooking, star anise’s taste gives meals more depth and heartiness.
Start experimenting with star anise when cooking Chinese dishes but as you become more accustomed, expand your usage to stews and even baked goods.
Turmeric is a spice that comes from the root of a turmeric plant. It’s typically used in Asian cuisine and gives food a beautiful amber color.
Turmeric is used in most curries but also in mustard, vegan butter, and vegan cheeses. Learn what it tastes like and how to choose the best root.
Tips For Finding Discount Spices
Once you start cooking lots of vegan food, you will realize you’re going through a lot of spices. Instead of cutting back on usage and eating bland food, follow these two tips for finding discount spices.
Find Specialty Markets
Spices can get expensive so here’s a vegan money-saving tip: get your spices at your local Indian or Asian supermarket.
Spices like curry, cumin, coriander, and star anise can be found for significantly less at the Indian market rather than the regular grocery store.
If you use a lot of Asian flavors, then turmeric, ginger, and chili can be found at close to half the price at your neighborhood Asian market.
Grow Your Own Spices
Many spices can be grown in your garden or even on your windowsill in a container. The great thing is that once the growing season is over, you can harvest and dry any excess herbs.
Once tried, you can store your spices for use throughout the winter months to save you money. Try to grow the spices that you use the most of and grow well in your climate.
How To Keep Spices Fresh
Typically, whole spices stay fresh for up to two years and ground spices stay fresh for 6 months. For maximum freshness, store spices in a cool, dark place away from sunlight and in an airtight container.
Red spices like paprika store best in the fridge to keep its color. Fresh spices will have a strong aroma.
If your spices are old and don’t smell good anymore, replace them. I recommend going through your spice cabinet once a year and replacing what’s needed.
The Best Way To Organize Spices
Organizing your spices makes it easier to keep track of which spices you have and where they’re located. Here are my favorite ways to organize spices.
Slide Out Spice Organizer
A roll-out spice cabinet allows you to use your current pantry or cabinet space. Spices can be hard to find stacked on top of one another. This solution keeps them organized in one compact area.
Tiered Spice Rack Shelf
This expandable bamboo tiered shelf makes seeing your spice labels easier. It comes with three levels that can hold spices. The spice shelf can expand longer or shorter to better fit your pantry shelf.
Cabinet Door Spice Rack Strips
This spice rack is perfect for someone who is low on space. It uses adjustable strips that stick to the inside of your cabinet door. Spices can pop in and out.
You don’t need to buy hundreds of spices after becoming a vegan. You can cook 90% of your meals keeping fewer than 20 spices in your kitchen.
I recommend that someone new to the plant-based diet finds vegan-friendly versions of their favorite recipes and uses the seasonings above to flavor them.
What are your favorite vegan spices?