A long time ago, my family decided that regular Thanksgiving foods lacked flavor, so we switched things up with some new additions from the spice cabinet. After all, a mix of many spices is what creates balanced flavor profiles and delicious dishes. I will be introducing just a few of these extra seasonings (excluding salt and pepper) to highlight the basics that can spice up your Thanksgiving spread. Without further ado, here are tips and tricks to add new flavors to your typical Thanksgiving foods.


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Turkey is well-known for being a generally bland and tasteless bird. The biggest problem with cooking a whole turkey is its lack of moisture and inability to hold flavoring. Use red chili powder, curry powder, cumin, coriander powder, and turmeric mixed in a curd marinade for a slight spiciness and umami flavor. All of these spices—along with paprika, ginger garlic paste, garam masala, and asafetida—can also be used to elevate sides like mashed potatoes, green beans, corn, soup, and gravy.

Chill Powder comes in a range of different red colors and levels of spiciness. With so many chilies to choose from, there's a place for it in every dish—even if you aren't someone with a high spice tolerance. Garam Masala is a blend of cinnamon, peppercorns, cardamom, mustard seeds, coriander seeds, cloves, mace, and nutmeg toasted whole and then ground for a blend of warm and savory notes. Asafetida is a powder extracted from a plant in the Ferula family that packs a powerful umami punch. Toast the spices in a little bit of oil or add a little at a time as you cook while constantly tasting to build up the flavors to your liking.

#SpoonTip: If turkey alternatives like chicken, fish, or ham don't give you the same Thanksgiving nostalgia factor, try having a turkey leg centerpiece for a richer flavor from the dark meat.


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The sweets of Thanksgiving don't need as much help as the main and side dishes, but there's always room for improvement. Cranberry sauce is usually seasoned with hints of orange, lemon, and sugar. For additional depth without compromising familiar holiday flavors, add cinnamon and nutmeg. If you're feeling more adventurous, add green cardamom, cloves, or saffron.

Cardamom gives a fragrant, menthol-like flavor that pairs well with savory and sweet foods—green cardamom's herbal, citrus flavor pairs well with sweet dishes in particular. Cloves are another warm spice that pairs well with cinnamon and nutmeg. Saffron is a well-known but underused spice in American cooking that could step up your sauce game. Any combination of these three spices would add a surprise to your Thanksgiving pies, sweet potato casseroles, and cakes as well.

What makes spices so great is their versatility in sweet and savory cooking. There are no concrete rules or absolutes when it comes to adding character to your dishes. With time and experimentation, you can come up with your own combinations and develop new flavor profiles in foods even outside of the Thanksgiving universe. Now is the time for you to dust out that spice cabinet and get cooking!