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Starter Spices For Cooking in
Your Vegan Kitchen

It's amazing to think that spices for cooking have been used for thousands of years for food preservation, medicine, religious ceremonies, decoration, and just to be provide more flavor to foods.

Although the shear number of different spices can make picking them confusing, you can feel assured that adding just a few extras to your kitchen will improve your cooking skills.

Even before I was a vegan, I used spices for cooking, but I always thought they just helped to enhance the flavor of my foods. What I didn't know is that many spices are actually really healthy as well.


Allspice isn't actually a combination of several spices, it just got its name because its taste has flavors from many spices. It is grown in Jamaica, Honduras, Guatemala, and Mexico and is used often in their dishes. It's delicious in baked goods. Some people also use it for stomach aches, cold, and as a tea.


Arrowroot comes from Central America and the West Indies and is a great thickening agent for cooking, used in place of corn starch. Herbalists use the spice to control diarrhea, vomiting, and other stomach aches. It is also sometimes used for athlete's foot and other fungal diseases.


Basil is a spice for cooking that contains vitamin C, calcium, iron, potassium, vitamin A and beta-carotene which both prevent free radicals from attaching in your body. It also has flavonoids that protect your body, as well as anti-bacterial properties. It has magnesium, which can help reduce inflammation and increase blood flow.

Most importantly, it's one of my favorite spices for cooking. It's a Mediterranean flavor and is used in Italian, Greek, Turkish, and Spanish cooking.

Bay Leaves

Bay leaves have been used since Ancient Greek and Roman times for spices. Now they are grown all over the world, especially in warmer clients, and comes in two varieties-- the Mediterranean bay, and the Californian bay, which has a stronger flavor. Bay leaves have vitamin A, vitamin C, some iron and manganese, and a little bit of calcium, magnesium, and potassium.

The flavor of bay leaves is really strong, so it's normally used in small amounts just to infuse food with its flavor. I always keep a few bay leaves on hand to steep into soups, and then the leaf is removed before serving.


Caraway is actually a seed that is commonly ground and used as a spice in cooking. It is grown all around the world, and is native to Europe, Asia and Africa. It contains protein, and a property called carminative, which is used to reduce gastrointestinal pain.

You find caraway seeds in rye bread, and they're what actually give the bread its distinctive flavor. You can also crumble it and add it to savory dishes.


Cardamom was used by Ancient Greek, Roman, Egyptian and Arab people. Cardamom is often used in Indian dishes, such as curries, and it is also used in chai tea. It is great for improving digestion, stimulating the metabolism, cleansing the kidneys and bladder, and detoxifying the body of caffeine.

Cardamom has a rich, warm flavor to it that reminds me of winter nights. I normally use just a tiny amount of it in savory dishes, but it can also be added to sweet foods to liven up the flavor.


Cayenne came from French Guiana in South America and is now grown all over the world. It is from the chili pepper family and is very spicy. Its spiciness comes from a substance called capsaicin, which is known to reduce pain and inflammation, help the heart, and to prevent ulcers.

Spices with capsaicin are also studied for their ability to boost immunity, prevent stomach ulcers, clear nasal passages, and help lose weight. Cayenne also has vitamin A from its beta-carotene, which is a great antioxidant.

Cayenne is a nice spice for cooking savory foods and I use it to give some subtle heat to bean balls, pasta, whole grain meals, and beans. You can even use it to give some kick to vegan desserts with chocolate in them.


Cilantro comes from the coriander seed and is full of phytonutrients, flavonoids, and phenolic acid compounds, which can help to control blood sugar, reduce inflammation, lower cholesterol, aid digestion and prevent gas, and fight free radicals.

This spice for cooking is also is a good source of fiber, iron, and magnesium. It is studied for its effects on reducing metals in our system and helping with mercury poisoning. Some have found these spices to be good protection against salmonella bacteria and urinary tract infections.

What's funny about cilantro is that there are actually lots of people who have an aversion to the flavor of cilantro and think it tastes like soap. I've read of groups on facebook called "I hate cilantro."


Cinnamon is one of the oldest spices, and is grown in India, Sri Lanka, Indonesia, Brazil, Vietnam, and Egypt. Cinnamon has fiber, iron, manganese, and calcium, and is a natural antioxidant.

It appears to have great health benefits like lowering LDL cholesterol, regulating blood sugar, preventing yeast infections, reducing cancer cell development, blood clotting, reduction in arthritis pain, fights E coli bacteria, boosts memory function, and is a natural preservative because it stops bacterial growth.

Of course cinnamon is an amazing spice for cooking sweet vegan desserts like cinnamon buns, pretzels, cookies, cakes, and puddings, but it also gives an interesting flavor to savory dishes.


Cloves date back at least 2000 years in Asia, and were traded around the world. Cloves have manganese, dietary fiber, vitamin C and omega-3 fatty acids, calcium and magnesium. They have a large amount of a compound called eugenol, which has been found to reduce inflammation, preventing environmental pollutants from being toxic, and as a mild anesthesia.

Clove powder has a really strong flavor, and it mixes well with foods that call for cinnamon and nutmeg.


Cumin is another of the ancient spices that is now used in the Middle East, India, China, and the Mediterranean. The seed form holds its flavor longer than ground. Cumin is a good source of iron and manganese, which aid in energy and the immune system. Cumin also helps digestion and in protecting against carcinogens.

I find myself using cumin often as a spice for cooking vegan food. It has such an intense flavor and mixes perfectly into savory dishes like tofu scramble, bean balls, and curries.


Curry is a mixture of spices such as coriander, turmeric, cumin, and fenugreek in their blends. Sometimes ginger, garlic, fennel seed, cinnamon, clove, mustard seed, green cardamom, black cardamom, mace, nutmeg, red pepper, long pepper, and black pepper may also be added. It is sold in the spice section and has all the benefits of the ingredients inside it.


Dill has been used for thousands of years in Russia, Africa, and the Mediterranean. It is a good source of iron, manganese, and calcium. Dill helps to protect against free radicals and carcinogens, to regulate bacterial growth, and to prevent bone loss.

I love dill with nutritional yeast on popcorn, quick dill pickles, and it's an amazing spice for cooking in faux tuna salad sandwiches.

Herbes de Provence

Herbes de Provence is a mixture of spices that is commonly used in the Provence region of France. It usually has rosemary, marjoram, basil, bay leaf, thyme, and sometimes lavender flowers and other herbs.

If you're running low on any of your herbs, you can use this nice combination of herbs in most recipes, especially if you're making something with a Mediterranean flair.

Mustard Seed

Mustard seeds were written about in Sanskrit about 5000 years ago, so we know it's an ancient spice as well. It came from Europe, the Middle East, and Asia, but the Romans were the ones who turned it into the mustard paste we know today. It is now a hugely popular spice around the world.

Mustard has a large amount of selenium and omega-3 fatty acids, as well as phosphorous, magnesium, manganese, dietary fiber, iron, calcium, protein, niacin and zinc. Its health benefits include appetite stimulation, digestion, clearing the sinuses, increases blood circulation, inhibits cancer cell growth, and anti-inflammatory.

Be careful: mustard powder is much stronger than prepared liquid mustard, so add it carefully.


Nutmeg helps lower blood pressure, increase blood circulation, sooth stomach aches, stop diarrhea, detoxify the body, reduce respiratory problems, and stimulate the brain. It is also an anti-inflammatory and aids in digestion.

The scent of nutmeg reminds me of the holidays, and it makes for a really nice light addition to cookies, cakes, tea, cocoa, and on top of wilted leafy greens.


Oregano was used all the way back to Ancient Greece and Rome, and is now grown all over the world. It has tons of vitamin K, as well as iron, manganese, dietary fiber, calcium, magnesium, vitamin A, vitamin C and omega-3 fatty acids. It works as an anti-bacterial agent, and has more antioxidant power than most other fruits and vegetables.

Oregano is another common spice for cooking Mediterranean food, and its aroma reminds most people of pizza. I add it to sauces, pasta, and bean balls, but it's extremely versatile and can mix with many dishes.


Paprika comes from the same family as cayenne and thus has many of the same health benefits. It has a ton of vitamin C and helps lower blood pressure, improve blood circulation, with digestion, and as an antibacterial agent.

In the non-vegan world, paprika is the spice sprinkled on top of deviled eggs, but in the vegan world, it helps give punch and a light peppery flavor to savory dishes.


Parsley comes from Southern Europe 2000 years ago and is one of the most popular spices in today's time. It has vitamin A, vitamin C, and vitamin K. It is a good source of iron and folate. The oils in parsley have been found to stop tumor formation, neutralize carcinogens, work as antioxidants, protect against rheumatoid arthritis, and prevention of heart disease.

It's really easy to grow your own parsley, and you can even dry it and crumble the leaves to make dried parsley. Because it's used in so many cuisines, it's extremely versatile.


Peppercorns originally came from India, and were used in ancient times, eventually becoming an important part of the spice trade. Black pepper has manganese, iron, vitamin K, and dietary fiber. It has been found to aid in digestion and help the intestine by stimulating the taste buds, which send a message to the stomach to help digest food better. It is also an antibacterial and antioxidant.

Peppercorns are berries from the pepper plant and come in black, green, and white, each at a different stage in development. Pink and red peppercorns are from another type of plant.

Red Pepper Flakes

Red pepper flakes come from cayenne peppers that are dried and crushed. See "cayenne" for details on health benefits.This is a popular spice in Italian dishes, and I use it to top off vegetables, pasta, sauces, soups, pizza, and whole grain meals.


Rosemary is another herb used to aid in digestion, and is used to treat stomach aches and headaches. It can also slow skin damage, cancer development, slow damage from free radicals, reduce fluid retention, improve kidney function, and ease liver swelling. Rosemary has vitamin E and great antioxidants.

Many vegans combine rosemary and lemon as a topping for baked tofu or tempeh, creating a dish really similar to non-vegan chicken dishes we all ate as kids.


Saffron comes from strands inside flowers that are handpicked and stripped. It is one of the more expensive spices fo cooking, but a little goes a long way. It has been shown to improve mood disorders and prevent cancer.

I love it with cooked quinoa and rice, as it's most popularly used in Spanish paella.


Sage is an ancient herb that came from the Mediterranean and is now also grown in North America. It has been used to ease swelling and bleeding (especially menstrual bleeding,) ease stomach aches, improve memory, strengthen the nervous system, and to ease rheumatoid arthritis.

Sage gives the vegan cook a way to translate old chicken dishes into vegan creations because it has an earthy, peppery, warm flavor. It's amazing in chickpea cutlets or bean balls, and I use it in seitan and vegetable soups.


Turmeric has been used for at least 2500 years in India, first as a dye, and then for medicinal purposes. It is a great anti-inflammatory agent and has helped treat arthritis. It also works as an antibacterial and antiseptic agent, so it can clean cuts and burns and help heal skin problems such as psoriasis.

Turmeric has been studied for its effects on preventing the spread of prostate, breast, and pancreatic cancer. It has also been shown to detoxify the liver, help with fat metabolism, treat depression, and slowing or preventing leukemia, multiple sclerosis, and Alzheimer's disease.

Vegans commonly use turmeric in tofu scrambles because it gives the food the bright yellow color of old-fashioned scrambled eggs. It has a distinct flavor, but it's not super strong, so you can add other spices for cooking to it and enhance the flavor.


Thyme was used by ancient Egyptians for embalming pharaohs and in ancient Greece as incense. It has iron, manganese, vitamin K, calcium, and fiber. It has been used for a long time to treat respiratory problems and bacterial infections.

Thyme is featured in a lot of vegan soups, sauces, gravies, and bean recipes, and is incredibly versatile.

I hope you've enjoyed this guide to spices for cooking. You can find all of these spices for cooking at regular grocery stores, as well as in the bulk sections of health food stores. When you start cooking vegan, I recommend picking up just what you need for recipes. That way you keep the expenses down and you can accumulate a full spice cabinet over time, as you need.

Remember to store your spices for cooking away from sunlight and heat, as that will cause the flavors and health benefits of your spices for cooking to rapidly disintegrate.

› Spices for Cooking

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