5 Spices You Can Make At Home

Is anyone else feeling super stressed every time you have to go to the grocery store these days? I know I am. Social distancing in these tiny Manhattan shops seems impossible, even with limiting the number of people inside, trying to manage traffic flow, and the new requirement that we wear face coverings in public. I find it more stressful than normal and I like to avoid trips if I can.

The good news for me is that I’m an entrepreneurial cook after years of being in the Peace Corps with access to limited ingredients or trying to preserve loads of fresh vegetables from my community-supported agriculture farm share. One of my big learnings was that some common spices that I thought were “real spices” are actually blends. I started mixing these spice blends at home because I’m usually well-stocked spice-wise and it saves money if I have all the ingredients already. Right now, it also saves me a trip to the store. An added bonus when you mix your own is that you can make adjustments according to your personal tastes. If you want to change the level of heat, you can adapt the amount of pepper. If you’re avoiding salt, just leave it out. It gives you a lot more flexibility. You’re going to be wondering why you haven’t been mixing your own spices all along!

Need a place to store the spices? Check out my DIY Spice Rack.

Here are five of my favorite spice blends and the recipes for them. The DIY spice method works best for people who already have a lot of spices in the cabinet. Except for my berbere recipe posted in October, I’m sticking to blends made from ground spices since whole spices feel like a luxury right now and aren’t available at my grocery store anyway.

Chili Powder

Contains: sweet paprika, ground cumin, garlic powder, dried oregano, onion powder, cayenne pepper, salt (store-bought versions often have salt)

Used for: Chili; seasoning eggs, veggies, meat, or beans; meat rub; casseroles. Prominent in Tex-Mex dishes

Used in: Easy Potato Hash for Two, Spicy Jackfruit Tacos


  • 2 tablespoons sweet paprika
  • 2 teaspoons ground cumin
  • 2 teaspoons garlic powder
  • 1 1/2 teaspoons dried oregano
  • 3/4 teaspoon onion powder
  • 1/2 teaspoon cayenne pepper

Tips: If you want more or less heat, adjust the amount of cayenne pepper accordingly. If you want a smokier flavor, replace 1 tablespoon of sweet paprika with smoked paprika.

Curry Powder

Contains: The ingredients can vary greatly, but curry powder always contains turmeric, coriander, and cumin; chilis like cayenne pepper; and may add sweeter notes like cinnamon, cardamom, or cloves

Used for: The bright yellow powder found in grocery stores is a Western rather than Indian invention, and isn’t used in Indian cooking. The powder can be used in soups, sauces, marinades, stir-frys, roasted vegetables, and more. Confusingly, the most traditional curry dishes often don’t contain curry powder.


  • 2 tablespoons ground turmeric
  • 2 tablespoons ground coriander
  • 2 tablespoons ground cumin
  • 2 teaspoons ground ginger
  • 1 teaspoon mustard powder
  • 1 teaspoon ground cinnamon
  • 1/2 teaspoon black pepper
  • 1/2 teaspoon cardamom
  • 1/2 teaspoon cayenne pepper

Tips: Adjust or remove the cayenne pepper to change the heat level. Don’t have cardamom? Mix 1/4 teaspoon cinnamon and a 1/4 teaspoon cloves or nutmeg for this recipe.

Garam Masala

Contains: The ingredients vary regionally, but garam masala means ” usually contains cinnamon, cloves, cardamom, cumin, and coriander.

Used for: Unlike curry powder, garam masala does originate from the Indian subcontinent and is used in many Indian dishes. It is often sweeter than curry powder and does not have hot chilies.


  • 1 tablespoon ground cumin
  • 1 1/2 teaspoons ground coriander
  • 1 1/2 teaspoons ground cardamom
  • 1 1/2 teaspoons black pepper
  • 1 teaspoon ground cinnamon
  • 1/2 teaspoon ground cloves
  • 1/2 teaspoon ground nutmeg

Tips: If you don’t have cardamom, you can increase cinnamon by 3/4 teaspoon and increase either cloves or nutmeg by 3/4 teaspoon.

Pumpkin Pie

Contains: Cinnamon, nutmeg, ginger, cloves, and sometimes allspice

Used for: Common in fall recipes in the United States, such as pumpkin pie, other pumpkin-based baking (breads, muffins, etc), and the notorious pumpkin spice latte.


  • 4 teaspoons ground cinnamon
  • 2 teaspoons ground ginger
  • 1 teaspoon ground cloves
  • 1/2 teaspoon ground nutmeg


Contains: Chilis, garlic, ginger, coriander, black cumin (nigella seeds), and several spices originating from Ethiopia. The full description of each spice is in the recipe link below.

Used for: Popular in dishes originating in the Horn of Africa, it can be used in stews and curries featuring beans or meat.

Used in: Ethiopian Spiced Clarified Butter (Niter Kibbeh); Shiro Wat

Recipe: DIY Berbere Spice Mix

Tips: Even in the best of times this recipe is difficult because some of the spices are rare outside of Ethiopia. Read the recipe closely for details and possible substitutions.