How many times have you started a recipe only to realize you’re missing four of the spices listed? Or you just downed the best spoonful of chicken tikka masala and wondered what makes it taste so damn good? We’ve found ourselves in these situations before, and we want answers.

We’re breaking down the flavor profiles of our favorite cuisines, and telling you which spices work their magic within the dishes. Plus, for the life-hackers out there, we'll do you one better than just telling you which spices to buy: We’re listing exact measurements for how to make the ultimate spice blend for each cuisine. Add a tablespoon or two to your dish and you’ll be good to go.

guide to spices: Italian

Though more reliant on ingredient freshness than seasoning, herbs (as opposed to spices) play a large role in Italian cooking. In fact, many popular Italian dishes are seasoned with no more than herbs and olive oil. While the most potent flavor comes from fresh herbs, dried will always work in a pinch.

DIY Italian Seasoning Mix: 
1 1/2 teaspoons dried oregano
1 teaspoon dried basil
1 teaspoon dried parsley
1/2 teaspoon onion powder
1/4 teaspoon garlic powder

guide to spices: Indian

Indian cuisine varies tremendously based on region, but certain spices reign in many dishes. Indian cooking relies on a strong flavor base of spices sautéed in fat (such as ghee, butter, or oil) before adding protein and vegetables. Though Indian recipes will often call for common spice blends like garam masala, a number of flavors turn up regularly.

DIY Indian Seasoning Mix:
2 tablespoons ground coriander
1 tablespoon ground cumin
1 1/2 teaspoons ginger powder
1 teaspoon mustard powder
1 teaspoon garlic powder
1 teaspoon turmeric
1/2 teaspoon ground cardamom
1/2 teaspoon ground cinnamon
1/4 teaspoon nutmeg
1 dried bay leaf (add while cooking but remove before serving)

guide to spices: Mexican

Heavily influenced by Spanish cuisine, Mexican dishes often incorporate seasoned protein, corn product, beans, and cheese. The chili pepper remains the most important spice in Mexican cooking, as its heat contrasts the heaviness of protein, dairy, and corn.

DIY Mexican Seasoning Mix:
1 tablespoon coriander
1 tablespoon chili powder
1 teaspoon garlic powder
1 teaspoon cumin
1/2 teaspoon oregano
1/4 teaspoon cinnamon
1 teaspoon salt

guide to spices: Chinese

Chinese food is divided into eight regional cuisines, making it massive in scope and variety: Anhui, Cantonese, Fujian, Hunan, Jiangsu, Shandong, Sichuan, and Zhejiang. While the dishes that come from each region are distinct in flavor, spice similarities exist. And don't forget to have rice vinegar, sesame oil, and soy sauce on hand too.

DIY Chinese Seasoning Mix:
1 teaspoon garlic powder
1 teaspoon ginger powder
1 teaspoon chili pepper
1/2 teaspoon ground star anise
1/2 teaspoon crushed fennel seed
1/2 teaspoon ground cinnamon
1/4 teaspoon ground cloves
 

guide to spices: Thai

Thai food relies heavily on (often spicy) seasoning in simply prepared dishes. Though known for its use of fresh herbs and spices, a strong base of dried versions will lend similar flavor to typical proteins served in Thai dishes (think: pork, chicken, fish, and shellfish).

DIY Thai Seasoning Mix:
2 tablespoons garlic powder
2 tablespoons ginger powder
1/2 tablespoon cumin
1 teaspoon basil
1/2 teaspoon ground cardamom
1/2 teaspoon curry powder
1/4 teaspoon turmeric

guide to spices: Mediterranean

A cuisine rich in olives (and olive oil), wheat products, seafood, and produce, Mediterranean food’s unique flavor comes from seasoning. Focusing more on herb- and spice-kissed plant-based ingredients than on hunks of meat, Mediterranean recipes will often call for spice blends like za’atar, harissa, and ras el hanout, which are distinct but incorporate some of the same spices and herbs.

DIY Mediterranean Seasoning Mix:
2 teaspoons dried basil
1 teaspoon ground coriander
1 teaspoon ground cinnamon
1 teaspoon dried oregano
1 teaspoon dried rosemary
1/2 teaspoon dried thyme
1/2 teaspoon ground cardamom
1/2 teaspoon ginger powder
1/4 teaspoon ground cloves
1 dried bay leaf (add while cooking but remove before serving)

guide to spices
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