Savor the Flavors of 10 Spanish Spices

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Spanish spices can transform the most humble ingredients into a masterpiece of flavor.

From paprika that paints dishes red to the warming touch of cumin, Spanish cuisine showcases a medley of grown and imported spices that bring each bite to life.

The use of these spices speaks not just to Spain’s geographical advantages but also to its cultural heritage, shaped by centuries of global trade and conquest.

Let’s set sail and learn more…

Spanish Spices

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Smoked Paprika (Pimentón)

Not all paprikas are the same, and within Spain, pimentón stands as a pillar of flavor in the kitchen.

Made from ground, smoked peppers, it imparts a mild spiciness along with a smoky depth. The varieties are categorized by pungency — sweet, bittersweet, and hot.

Use the sweet variant for a smokiness without the heat in dishes like romesco sauce, or dial it up with the hot version for that characteristic kick in chilis and stews.

Saffron (Azafrán)

Known as the most expensive spice in the world by weight, saffron is Spain’s gold, worth its weight in flavor.

A small pinch of these red threads adds a rich and aromatic note, turning a simple paella into a work of culinary art.

Beyond paella, saffron can also elevate risottos, bouillabaisse, and even desserts with its unique floral essence.

Cumin (Comino)

Cumin seeds bring warmth and depth to Spanish dishes, often used alongside paprika.

It’s a staple in chorizo and morcilla sausages, as well as in the spice blend, comino molido, which is used to flavor meat, seafood, and vegetable dishes.

Roasting cumin seeds briefly before grinding releases their nutty undertones, intensifying their flavor and enticing aroma.

Oregano (Orégano)

Not just any oregano — the Spanish variety has a potent flavor that stands up to the assertive seasonings of Spanish dishes.

Sprinkle it onto grilled meats or use it in marinades and rubs for a fragrant, herby profile that lingers on the tongue.

In combination with other Spanish spices, oregano adds a layer of complexity and depth, especially in tomato-based sauces.

Bay Leaves (Laurel)

Bay leaves are the silent but powerful workhorse of Spanish cooking, offering an earthy, slightly bitter undertone that accentuates but doesn’t overpower.

They’re a key component in Spanish stews like the slow-cooked fabada, and in the preparation of escabeche.

When using bay leaves, remember that a little goes a long way — one or two leaves can typically infuse a whole pot of soup or stew.

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Pimento de la Vera

Cousin to the renowned pimentón, Pimento de la Vera is a smoked, dried pepper. It comes in sweet, bittersweet, and hot varieties, adding a distinctive smoky flavor to dishes.

Try using it to smoke oils or charred/red meats, much like the famous paprika.

Fennel Seeds (Hinojo)

In Spain, fennel seeds are a traditional part of sweet sausages like sobrasada, and a common sight in bread and pastries.

Their slightly sweet, anise-like flavor is versatile, finding a place in both sweet and savory dishes alike.

Anise (Anís)

Similar to fennel but with a sharper, more robust, and pungent flavor, anise is common in Spanish baking, particularly in the production of Roscos de Anís, a type of anise cookie or bread. It’s also a component of herbes, an anise-flavored spirit popular in Spain.

Turmeric (Cúrcuma)

Hailing from India, turmeric has gradually infiltrated Spanish cuisine through globalization.

Known for its earthy, bitter, and peppery flavor, it’s a key component in spice blends like curry powder, as well as an essential spice in the preparation of Spanish potatoes dishes and seafood stews.

Nutmeg (Nuez Moscada)

Although more commonly associated with European cooking, nutmeg finds its way into Spanish cuisine, offering a warm, nutty flavor that complements other spices well.

It’s most often used in small amounts to season bechamel sauces, gratins, and sometimes, even in sweet preparations.

Tips for Buying, Storing, and Using Spanish Spices

When purchasing spices, look for ones with vibrant colors and a strong, aromatic scent — this indicates freshness. It’s best to buy spices in small quantities since they lose their potency over time.

Storing Spices

Spices should be stored in a cool, dark place away from heat and moisture. Glass containers with airtight lids are the best for preservation.

Avoid exposing them to air and light, as this can accelerate the loss of flavors and aroma.

Using Spanish Spices

Experiment with the amount of spice you use to find your flavor preference. Also, consider roasting spices gently before use to release their full flavor.

Be mindful of how long you’re cooking spices; some are delicate and can turn bitter if overcooked.

Recipes to Try with Spanish Spices

spanish empanda

Traditional Spanish Tortilla with a Smoky Paprika Twist

This classic Spanish dish is upgraded with a pinch of sweet or hot smoked paprika, offering a twist on the traditional flavors that still complement the creamy texture of the potato and egg.


Spanish Chickpea and Spinach Stew with Cumin

Cumin’s warmth is the perfect foil to the iron-rich, earthy notes of spinach and chickpeas in this robust vegetarian stew.


Patatas Bravas with Spiced Tomato Sauce

The crispy potatoes are the perfect vessel for a smoky, tomato-laced sauce made with both sweet and hot pimentón, offering a tingling warmth with every bite.

Best Patatas Bravas Recipe

Cod with Garlic and Sherry

Subtly flavored with pimentón and bittersweet Pimento de la Vera, this cod dish packs a punch without overpowering the delicate fish.


Embracing the Richness of Spanish Cuisine through Spices

Spain’s vibrant and varied cuisine is indebted to the colorful palette of spices that enhance its regional dishes.

By adding Spanish spices to your culinary explorations, you can open new doors to the rich tapestry of this country’s food.

Whether it’s the smoky notes of paprika, the golden threads of saffron, or the earthy warmth of cumin, each spice tells a story that you can make your own in the kitchen.

Start slow, savor the flavors, and before you know it, you’ll be whisked away to the sun-dappled hillsides of Spain with each and every bite.

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