Calling all vegan cooks! What herbs and spices can't you live without?
November 12, 2015 1:21 PM   Subscribe

A newly vegan friend's birthday is coming up, and I want to assemble a gift box of four to six jars of high-quality spices and herbs for her. So, vegan cooks of the green, what herbs, spices, and blends do you find indispensable?

A good friend of mine has recently gone vegan and is now really into trying out new vegan recipes. She is having a birthday next month, and I want to get her some really good-quality herbs, spices, or blends - about 4 to 6 jars that I can put in a gift bag as a present.

So I turn to the vegan cooks of the green - what are your top two or three herbs, spices, and/or spice blends, that you can't live without?

My friend has no food allergies. She is single with a full-time job, so is more likely to want to do easy-prep one-pot or stir-fry meals and not want to grind her own spices or make her own custom blends.
posted by Rosie M. Banks to Food & Drink (31 answers total) 34 users marked this as a favorite
Dr. Fuhrman's Vegizest and Matozest. Also Penzey's Sunny Paris. Also salt free Spike and Mrs. Dash. And if you have room for more, make it more Penzey's esp. their incredible cinnamon, thyme, paprika, peppercorns, and Tuscan Sunset. And of course cumin and coriander, staples of vegan cooking.
posted by bearwife at 1:30 PM on November 12, 2015

Nutritional yeast, but she will probably want a pound or two, rather than a small amount that would fit in a spice jar. Black salt is an exotic "spice" sometimes used in vegan cooking to give the sulphurous smell/taste of eggs. Vegan cooking really just uses normal herbs - oregano, cumin, coriander, rosemary, etc.
posted by ChrisHartley at 1:32 PM on November 12, 2015 [2 favorites]

Best answer: My veg*n friends love smoked paprika in things like bean soup and stuff--it adds that missing something.
posted by wintersweet at 1:32 PM on November 12, 2015 [7 favorites]

Best answer: I have this set from Trader Joe's and use it constantly. You can see the spices better here: zhoug (green, oregano and such - I use it whenever Italian-y spices are needed), ras el-hanout (more middle eastern, amazing with olive oil and fresh bread, or with chickpeas, or with anything), pilpelchuma (I had never heard of this - spicy and delicious and warm), and sumac (A TOTAL GAME CHANGER; I love it so much).

Not typical and nice to have: dried limes (the Ottolenghi cookbooks have a ton of those, and it's easy to throw one in with rice or lentils), full vanilla beans, an assortment of cinnamons, and assorted ethnic spice blends (e.g., Chinese five spice, berbere).

Actually, now that I mention Ottolenghi, they have a store here you can use for ideas. For some of them, I'd be totally lost (annatto?); others, I'd love but would never buy myself (black garlic, orange blossom water).
posted by quadrilaterals at 1:45 PM on November 12, 2015 [2 favorites]

Penzey's Spices has some nice gift boxes you might want to look into. I'm not a vegan, but cook that way fairly often, and my parents got me the Indian Curries box as a present recently. It's awesome!
posted by damayanti at 1:46 PM on November 12, 2015

Best answer: It's not remotely fancy, but the one thing I truly can't live without is MSG. Nutritional yeast, yes, but you can easily find that in bulk bins at natural food stores.

For single spices, 100% yes to smoked paprika, but Hungarian sweet paprika is also incredible. And I really love epazote and bay leaves for making dried beans from scratch.

For spice blends, I'm especially obsessed with World Spice Merchants' Voodoo (for rubbing on tofu before grilling), ras el hanout (for Moroccan chickpeas) and berbere (for misir wot), as well as Spice House's Ozark Fried Chicken Seasoning (for "shake 'n' bake" tofu).
posted by divined by radio at 1:47 PM on November 12, 2015 [4 favorites]

Best answer: Seconding wintersweet on the smoked paprika. I used an insane amount of that when I was vegan. I would sometimes also use smoked red pepper, to get a similar flavor. I think I also used much more turmeric than I do as a nonvegan (more Asian-ish cooking as a vegan, and you use a lot of turmeric in tofu scrambles), and more ginger. I wouldn't say I used star anise often, but I use it basically never now and occasionally when I was a vegan. And star anise is expensive and might not already be in the pantry.

These two aren't exactly spices, but come in shelf-stable tins/ bottles so could work in a gift basket: tahini and sesame oil. I went through them like water as a vegan! They both give you a rich taste that can be harder to create in vegan cooking. Tahini is also great since "creamy," and it's high in calcium.
posted by sometamegazelle at 1:48 PM on November 12, 2015 [1 favorite]

Best answer: Smoked paprika, chipotle powder, Mexican oregano, and tarragon are all favorites of mine.

Nutritional yeast is also an excellent choice.
posted by darksong at 1:49 PM on November 12, 2015 [1 favorite]

Best answer: Mexican oregano, regular oregano, thyme, flavored salts, cardemon , rosemary.
posted by WalkerWestridge at 1:56 PM on November 12, 2015

1. Kala namak (eggy, sulfurous salt; indispensable in my vegan household; in bold because seriously an awesome thing for many vegans)
2. Turmeric (really commonly used to add color and a tangy, almost gingery flavor to dishes and sauces; if you can find a nice supplier, really well-prepared turmeric powder tastes much better than the mass-produced stuff you get at mega grocery stores--I get mine in bulk from the awesome co-op in my city)
3. Zaatar (sour berry powder that goes great on all manner of greens)
4. Nutritional yeast (as mentioned, almost every vegan goes through pounds of this stuff a year and probably has a nickname for it like "nooch")
(On that note, a tiny jar of Marmite is wonderful for people already used to/in love with nutritional yeast)
5. Smoked _____ (paprika, salt, pepper, etc.; I love smoked black pepper and paprika, but also made a batch of home-smoked ancho chiles that I then ground up with salt to make a wonderful smoked hot salt, loads of interesting similar blends are commercially available; in response to everyone wowed by various kinds of smoked paprika listed above, I highly recommend you introduce yourselves to La Dalia, the most sumptuous paprika I've ever tasted)
6. Powdered or flaked dulse (and/or a bag of kombu)

You're a thoughtful friend!
posted by late afternoon dreaming hotel at 2:00 PM on November 12, 2015 [1 favorite]

Maybe make some mixes. Mexican seasoning mix and Italian seasoning mix are good starts. Also think about making some flavoured salts. For individual spices, I use smoked paprika, cumin, ground coriander seed, and turmeric all the time. (Disclaimer: not vegan, but usually cook strict vegetarian.)
posted by sincarne at 2:01 PM on November 12, 2015

Best answer: Also, I always want these flavored salts. (nb: The Friends Forever is not vegan.) You could probably make something similar without too much trouble.
posted by quadrilaterals at 2:04 PM on November 12, 2015

OH MAN SMOKED PAPRIKA. You can get a spice blend called South African Smoke Seasoning at Trader Joe's that is largely made up of smoked paprika, if you need an easy source.

I also like to keep vegetarian bouillon handy.
posted by the_blizz at 2:06 PM on November 12, 2015 [1 favorite]

Oh, maybe also some dried mushrooms, for that umami flavor.
posted by the_blizz at 2:07 PM on November 12, 2015

This Gulf Spices mix is awesome, and unusual to Western palates. The kitchen smells heavenly when you use it.

Thirding smoked paprika and chipotles (whole or powder).
posted by Johnny Wallflower at 2:11 PM on November 12, 2015

(The recipe above uses mace, which I'm fond of in savory dishes for its warmth and pungency.)
posted by Johnny Wallflower at 2:14 PM on November 12, 2015

Fancy vinegar.
posted by amtho at 2:22 PM on November 12, 2015

Best answer: I have never eaten meat and can't stand smoked anything because my tastebuds go "That's meat-like!" and that's the end of it. I am not the only veg*n I know like this, though I expect we're a fussy minority? But if she was vegetarian prior and does not eat meat imitations like tofu dogs, smoke flavour might not be ideal.

Mostly I just wanted to recommend berbere and vegan Worcestershire, mushroom powder, and True Lemon & True Lime. Also: tamarind paste, zaatar, anything floral (these bourbon geranium crystals are lots of fun), really good peppercorns.
posted by kmennie at 2:30 PM on November 12, 2015

Response by poster: Thanks all! I marked some best answers but really all were "best" in some way.

I think what I might do is make up a gift basket with some nutritional yeast, a bottle of sesame oil, and some flavored salts, spices and herbs.
posted by Rosie M. Banks at 2:57 PM on November 12, 2015

Best answer: Don't forget about truffle salt!
posted by serelliya at 3:42 PM on November 12, 2015

Best answer: I like garam masala. It's an Indian spice mix for Indian food, basically.
posted by AppleTurnover at 3:51 PM on November 12, 2015 [1 favorite]

Best answer: Truffle salt is amazing. Everyone should have some really good oregano (though it's always much better fresh). Vegan specific, I agree that any smoked spice is going to go a long way towards making meatless version of meaty recipes taste less like they're missing something.
posted by 256 at 4:26 PM on November 12, 2015

Let me nth kala namak, which can be found in Middle eastern, Asian, and Indian markets. Probably in a plastic bag, which you could re-package in a spice jar.
posted by QuakerMel at 5:15 PM on November 12, 2015

Zanzibar curry powder, turmeric, italian seasoning, and some kind of chili powder.
posted by bile and syntax at 5:18 PM on November 12, 2015

Ethiopian berbere is one of my favorites. I like the blend made by the Teeny Tiny Spice Company (available on Amazon). The berbere is sold alone and also as part of a set of West African spices. What a wonderful, thoughtful gift!
posted by FencingGal at 5:44 PM on November 12, 2015



posted by Cool Papa Bell at 6:18 PM on November 12, 2015

The Kitchen Imp is a small company in Seattle. She has unusual spice blends, sampler sets, and lovely packaging.
posted by valannc at 9:43 PM on November 12, 2015

Good salt, smoked paprika, liquid smoke, nutritional yeast (which I don't consider a spice, but I do damn near cook with it every day).
posted by Kitteh at 2:59 AM on November 13, 2015

Masaman curry paste, which comes in little cans in markets near me, appears to be vegan based on the ingredients. However some of the recipes I'm seeing online list shrimp paste as an ingredient so other brands might not be vegan.
posted by XMLicious at 9:06 AM on November 13, 2015

Pomegranate molasses is not exactly an herb or spice, but it does provide a unique flavor to dishes like muhammara and fesenjan (the latter is not traditionally vegan but can be made so). It also goes well in salad dressings.
posted by aws17576 at 8:11 PM on November 13, 2015 [1 favorite]

Response by poster: Update: I wound up making a gift basket with the following: blood orange infused EVOO, balsamic vinegar, one bag of nutritional yeast, cinnamon, smoked paprika, five spice powder, garam masala, and curry powder, all of the spices from The Spice House. My friend LOVED it! It was a huge hit. So thank you all!
posted by Rosie M. Banks at 6:02 AM on December 1, 2015 [2 favorites]

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