5 rare and unusual spices

Online cooking school will help you learn how to balance flavor with spices, but the art of masterfully seasoning a dish can be a challenge for even the most experienced chef. A well-stocked herb and spice rack is like a color palette for a painter. To properly address flavor, you’ll need spices that hit the spectrum of sweet, sour, salty, bitter and umami. However, you’re never going to be able to stock a kitchen with all the world’s ingredients. Besides the reality that you have limited space, some ingredients are simply too rare and expensive. The world’s most peculiar spices can go for outlandish prices and are often hard to come by, but some of them are more accessible than you might think. Here are five rare and unusual spices that will add some complexity to your cooking:

1. Ambergris: This additive is extremely rare and valuable, but what it’s made from might surprise you. Ambergris is essentially the waste produced by a whale made from broken down squid beaks, now used mostly in the world of perfumery. The favorite breakfast of English King Charles II was reportedly eggs and ambergris.

2. Fennel pollen: This seasoning is collected from wild fennel found mainly in Italy and California. It has a much stronger, sweeter taste than regular fennel. Be prepared to spend some money on this spice though, as it costs around $25 an ounce.

3. Saffron: This spice is made from the  dried up stigma of the crocus plant. Saffron is notoriously one of the world’s most expensive spices, but fret not because it has a long shelf life and very small amounts are needed to flavor a dish. This spice is also likely sold at your neighborhood specialty grocery store, making it a good long-term investment for your spice rack.

4. Sumac: Sumac has a sour citrusy flavor that will add some zest to a seafood dish. It is mainly a finishing spice that can be used as a garnish similar to lemon. Sumac is made from dried berries of the sumac plant. This spice is cultivated with extra care as some varieties of the plant are poisonous. Sumac is rather affordable at a little over $1 per ounce.

5. Wattleseed: Mainly used in Australian cuisine, there are over 120 varieties of edible wattleseeds found in the land down under. Wattleseed can be used to add flavor to numerous savory and sweet dishes, including cakes and breads. Ground up wattleseed is often used as dessert topping.

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