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Scary Spices

October 30, 2023
16 min. read

As we continue our flavorful journey through the world of spices, we shift from the comforting embrace of sweet spices to the fiery thrill of “scary” spices. If you recall, in our previous installment, we delved into the warm and aromatic world of sweet spices that evoke memories of cozy autumn evenings. Now, as Halloween approaches, we’re turning up the heat with spices that pack a punch. These “scary” spices, with their spicy-hot profiles, are not for the faint of heart, but for those who dare to venture into the world of heat and flavor.

From the fiery kick of cayenne pepper and the smoky heat of paprika to the complex warmth of curry powder and the zesty punch of sriracha, these spices and blends are not just about the burn; they’re about enhancing flavors, adding depth, and elevating dishes to new heights. Whether you’re a seasoned spice enthusiast or a curious newcomer, there’s a world of “scary” spices waiting to be explored.

As we journey deeper into this world of heat, we’ll explore individual profiles of these spices, discover blends that have spiced up cuisines worldwide, and indulge in recipes that showcase their fiery potential. So, brace yourselves, as we embark on this adventure!

A List of “Scary” Spices:

  • Black Peppercorn: A kitchen staple that provides a sharp, spicy kick when freshly ground.
  • Cayenne: A fiery red pepper powder that brings intense heat to dishes.
  • Dried Chilies (various): Dried versions of chili peppers that can range from mild to scorching, used whole, crushed, or ground.
  • Ginger: A root with a zesty and slightly spicy flavor, commonly used in both sweet and savory dishes.
  • Gochujang: A fermented chili paste with a sweet, savory, and spicy profile, essential in many Korean dishes.
  • Harissa: A spicy and aromatic chili paste from North Africa, often infused with garlic, caraway, coriander, and cumin.
  • Horseradish & Wasabi: Both offer a sharp, sinus-clearing heat, with horseradish being popular in Western dishes and wasabi in Japanese cuisine.
  • Mustard: Made from mustard seeds, it offers a sharp, pungent heat that can be quite intense.
  • Paprika: A ground spice made from dried red peppers, offering a range from sweet and mild to hot and spicy.
  • Pepper Sauces (e.g., Tabasco): Liquid condiments made from fermented chili peppers, vinegar, and salt, adding instant heat to dishes.
  • Pepper Flakes: Crushed dried chilies that add a burst of heat and are often sprinkled on pizzas and pastas.
  • Sichuan Peppercorn: Known for its unique numbing sensation, it’s a cornerstone of Sichuan cuisine.
  • Sriracha: A Thai hot sauce made from a blend of chili peppers, garlic, vinegar, sugar, and salt, known for its fiery kick and garlicky undertone.

Spicy Seasoning Blends:

  • Blackening Seasoning: Popular in Cajun cuisine, blackening seasoning gives a charred, spicy crust to meats and fish when seared in a hot skillet.
  • Cajun Seasoning: Hailing from Louisiana, Cajun seasoning is a spicy and savory blend that captures the essence of Southern cooking, adding a kick to dishes like jambalaya and gumbo.
  • Chili Powder: A staple in Southwestern and Mexican cuisine, chili powder combines the heat of ground chili peppers with aromatic spices, offering a warm and earthy flavor profile.
  • Chorizo Seasoning: This robust blend captures the essence of Spanish chorizo, combining smoky paprika with a mix of spices for a fiery, aromatic flavor, ideal for meats and stews.
  • Creole Seasoning: Similar to Cajun seasoning but with its own unique twist, Creole seasoning offers a balanced blend of heat and herbs, perfect for seasoning meats and stews.
  • Curry Powder: A cornerstone of Indian cuisine, curry powder is a fragrant blend that imparts a rich, golden hue and a complex flavor to dishes, ranging from mild to spicy.
  • Jerk Seasoning: With its roots in Jamaica, jerk seasoning is a spicy and sweet blend that’s perfect for marinating meats, especially chicken and pork.
  • Old Bay: A classic seafood seasoning, Old Bay brings a spicy and savory touch to dishes, especially crab cakes and shrimp boils.
  • Taco Seasoning: A must-have for Taco Tuesdays, this blend infuses ground meat with the flavors of Mexico, making every bite a fiesta.

Tip: Learn more about spicy ingredients and flavor profiles in our Sense Series: Spicy blog post.

* * *

Make Your Own: Gochujang (Korean Red Pepper Paste)

Gochujang is a staple in Korean cuisine, a fermented chili paste that boasts a complex flavor profile encompassing sweet, savory, and spicy notes. Made from a blend of ingredients like glutinous rice, fermented soybeans, and red chili pepper powder, gochujang undergoes a meticulous fermentation process that can span several months, resulting in its deep, rich flavor and distinctive red hue.

Tip: If you love spicy pepper-based sauces and spreads, you might also be interested in our Step-by-Step Customizable Hot Sauce Recipe here.

How to Make Quick & Easy Gochujang*


  • ½ Cup Miso Paste
  • ⅓ Cup Gochugaru Pepper Flakes
  • ¼ Cup Honey (or Maple Syrup)
  • ¼ Cup Hot Water
  • 2 Tbsp. Soy Sauce
  • 1 Tbsp. Mirin or Sake
  • 1 Tsp. Rice Vinegar
  • 1 Tsp. Garlic Paste


  1. Add ingredients to a small saucepan and stir over medium heat until the mixture bubbles.
  2. Turn off heat and allow to cool for 15 minutes.
  3. Store in a clean, sterile jar in the fridge for up to one month.

*Note: Traditional Gochujang (Korean red pepper paste) requires a lengthy fermentation process and many complex steps. This recipe serves as a simple alternative with a similar flavor profile. You may instead prefer to look for already prepared gochujang in the international section your local grocery store.


Featured Recipe: Gochujang Pulled Chicken Sandwich

Dive into a fusion of flavors with this pulled chicken sandwich, where the Korean chili paste, gochujang, takes center stage. This key ingredient lends a sweet, savory, and spicy profile to the dish. Paired with sesame seeds, dill mayo, and pickles, this sandwich, served on Martin’s Sandwich Potato Rolls, is a delightful blend of textures and tastes, with the gochujang ensuring every bite has a kick.

More Recipes with Gochujang

  • Korean Fried Chicken Sandwiches: A flavor-packed sandwich that combines crispy fried chicken with the sweet and spicy kick of gochujang, complemented by a tangy kimchi slaw, all nestled between sesame-seeded Big Marty’s Rolls.


* * *

Make Your Own: Blackening Seasoning

Blackening seasoning is a robust and aromatic blend that’s closely tied to the “blackening” cooking method, a technique that originated in Louisiana. This seasoning typically combines a medley of spices such as paprika, cayenne pepper, garlic powder, onion powder, thyme, and oregano. When generously applied to proteins and then seared at high heat, it creates a charred, blackened crust that’s bursting with flavor. This method not only locks in the juices of the protein, but also imparts a smoky and spicy kick, transforming dishes into flavorful masterpieces.

How to Make Homemade Blackening Seasoning


  • 1 ½ Tablespoons Smoked Paprika
  • 1 ½ Tablespoons Garlic Powder
  • 1 Tablespoon Onion Powder
  • 1 Tablespoon Kosher Salt
  • 2 Teaspoons Dried Oregano
  • 2 Teaspoons Dried Ground Thyme
  • 1 Teaspoon Cayenne Pepper
  • 1 Teaspoon Black Pepper


  1. Combine spices and store in a cool, dry place.


Featured Recipe: Blackened Burger with Cajun Mayo

Experience that Southern heat with this blackened burger, seasoned with a robust blackening rub that includes smoked paprika, cayenne pepper, and dried oregano. The burger is topped with crumbled blue cheese, adding a creamy contrast to the spicy seasoning. The Cajun mayo, infused with hot pepper sauce and lemon juice, adds another layer of heat and zest, making this burger a fiery delight for those who love a spicy challenge.

More Recipes Using Blackening Seasoning


* * *

Make Your Own: Cajun/Creole Seasoning

Grilled Cajun Catfish Sandwich

Cajun and Creole seasonings are both rooted in Louisiana’s vibrant culinary traditions but have distinct flavor profiles. Cajun seasoning is spicy and earthy, with ingredients like paprika, cayenne pepper, garlic powder, and onion powder, reflecting the bold flavors of Cajun cuisine. On the other hand, Creole seasoning offers a more complex and herbaceous taste, incorporating similar spices as Cajun but also adding herbs like thyme and basil. While both seasonings share common ingredients, Creole seasoning is typically milder and more layered, whereas Cajun seasoning packs a spicier punch.

How to Make Cajun/Creole Seasoning


  • 3 Tablespoons Paprika (Sweet and/or Smoked)
  • 2 Tablespoons Garlic Powder
  • 2 Tablespoons Dried Oregano
  • 1 Tablespoon Kosher Salt
  • 1 Tablespoon Onion Powder
  • 2 Teaspoons Black Pepper
  • 2 Teaspoons Ground Cayenne
  • 1 Teaspoon Dried Thyme (optional)
  • 1 Teaspoon Dried Basil (optional)
  • ½ Teaspoon Ground Bay Leaf (optional)


  1. Mix all ingredients together and store in an airtight container.


Featured Recipe: Cajun Catfish Sandwich

Dive into the rich flavors of the South with this Cajun Catfish Sandwich. The catfish is seasoned with a blend of Cajun spices, pan-fried to perfection, and served on a soft Martin’s Big Marty’s Roll. The spicy kick from the seasoning is balanced by the mildness of the catfish, making it a delightful treat for those who love a hint of heat.

More Recipes Using Cajun Seasoning

  • Grilled Shrimp Po-Boy with Cajun Aioli: A classic Southern sandwich featuring grilled shrimp seasoned with Cajun spices, complemented by a rich and spicy aioli.
  • Cajun Chicken Salad: A zesty chicken salad infused with the bold flavors of Cajun seasoning, perfect for a light yet flavorful meal.


* * *

Make Your Own: Chili Powder

Chili powder is a vibrant blend that marries the heat of ground chili peppers with the aromatic notes of spices like cumin, garlic powder, and oregano. This spice mix is a cornerstone of Southwestern and Mexican cuisines, where it’s frequently used to impart depth and warmth to dishes such as chili, stews, and various grilled meats.

How to Make Homemade Chili Powder


  • 2 Tablespoons Ground Dried Chili Peppers (e.g., Guajillo, Ancho)
  • 1 ½ Tablespoons Cumin
  • 1 ½ Tablespoons Smoked Paprika
  • 1 Tablespoon Oregano
  • 1 Tablespoon Garlic Powder
  • ½ Tablespoon Onion Powder
  • ¼ Teaspoon Ground Cayenne (optional)


  1. Mix all ingredients together and store in an airtight container.


Featured Recipe: Southwest Corn & Chicken Dip

A creamy, spicy, and utterly delectable dip that’s perfect for any gathering. This Southwest Corn Chicken Dip combines tender chicken, sweet corn, and a medley of spices, all brought together in a multi-cooker for ease and convenience. Serve it with bread chips or on Martin’s Hoagie Rolls for a delightful appetizer or entrée.

More Recipes Using Chili Powder

  • Air Fryer Chili Lime Bread Chips: Crunchy bread “chips” seasoned with a blend of chili and zesty lime, perfect for snacking or dipping.
  • Chili Pulled Beef Sandwiches: Tender beef slow-cooked with chili seasoning, resulting in a sandwich that’s bursting with deep, spicy flavors.
  • Chili Joe Sliders: A spicy twist on the classic Sloppy Joe, featuring beef seasoned with rich chili flavors.
  • Super Quick Chili: A hearty chili dish that’s packed with bold flavors, perfect for those who love a spicy kick.
  • Chili Half Smokes: A delightful dish that combines the smokiness of grilled sausages with the heat of chili powder, cumin, curry powder, and cayenne.


* * *

Make Your Own: Chorizo Seasoning

Chorizo seasoning is a vibrant and spicy blend that brings the essence of traditional Spanish chorizo to any dish. With its base of smoked paprika, this seasoning offers a deep, smoky flavor, complemented by the warmth of cumin, garlic, and onion. The addition of chili powder and cayenne pepper adds a fiery heat, perfect for infusing meats, stews, and vegetable dishes with a rich, robust, and aromatic kick characteristic of chorizo sausage. This homemade blend is a quick and easy way to add depth and a bold, spicy twist to your meals.

How to Make Homemade Chorizo Seasoning


  • 2 Tablespoons Smoked Paprika
  • 2 Tablespoons Ancho Chili Powder (adjust to taste for heat)
  • 1 Tablespoon Garlic Powder
  • 1 Tablespoon Onion Powder
  • 1 Large Bay Leaf, broken into small pieces
  • 1 Teaspoon Ground Cumin
  • 1 Teaspoon Dried Oregano
  • 1 Teaspoon Ground Coriander
  • ½ Teaspoon Ground Cinnamon (optional)
  • ¼ Teaspoon Ground Cloves (optional)
  • ¼ Teaspoon Cayenne Pepper (optional, for extra heat)
  • Salt and Black Pepper, to taste


  1. Mix all ingredients together and store in an airtight container.


Featured Recipe: Chorizo Sliders with Mexican Street Corn Slaw

These Chorizo Sliders with Mexican Street Corn Slaw are a fiesta of flavors in every bite. The sliders feature juicy, spicy chorizo patties, perfectly complemented by a vibrant and tangy Mexican street corn slaw. The slaw, a delightful mix of sweet corn, fresh herbs, and a zesty dressing, adds a refreshing crunch and balance to the rich chorizo. Served on soft, fluffy potato rolls, these sliders are an ideal choice for a lively gathering or a fun family dinner, bringing a taste of Mexican street food right to your table.


More Recipes Using Chorizo Seasoning:


* * *

Make Your Own: Curry Powder

Curry powder is a fragrant mixture of spices, with key ingredients like turmeric, coriander, cumin, and fenugreek often taking center stage. Its roots lie deep within Indian cuisine, and it serves as the heart of many dishes, from rich curries and comforting stews to seasoned rice and vegetable preparations.

How to Make Homemade Curry Powder


  • 2 Tablespoons Ground Coriander
  • 1 Tablespoon Ground Cumin
  • 1 Tablespoon Ground Turmeric
  • 1 Teaspoon Ground Fenugreek
  • 1 Teaspoon Ground Cardamom
  • 1 Teaspoon Ground Black Pepper
  • ½ Teaspoon Ground Ginger
  • ½ Teaspoon Dry Mustard
  • ½ Teaspoon Ground Cinnamon
  • ½ Teaspoon Ground Cayenne


  1. Mix all ingredients together and store in an airtight container.


Featured Recipe: Curried Chicken Salad Sandwich

Curried Chicken Salad Sandwich with Roasted Cashews and Golden Raisins

Experience a burst of flavors with this Curried Chicken Salad Sandwich. Tender chicken chunks are mixed with a creamy curry-infused mayo, adding a spicy twist to the classic chicken salad. Served between two slices of Martin’s Cinnamon-Raisin Swirl Potato Bread, this sandwich promises a delightful culinary journey with every bite.

More Recipes Using Curry Powder

  • Green Apple Chutney Dogs: A unique twist on hot dogs, topped with tangy green apple chutney, adding a sweet and sour kick to each bite.
  • Pav Bhaji: A classic Indian street food dish featuring a spicy vegetable mash served with buttery, toasted rolls for a flavorful and satisfying meal.


* * *

Make Your Own: Jerk Seasoning

Jamaican Jerk Chicken Tacos

Jerk seasoning is a fiery Caribbean concoction that melds the warmth of spices like allspice and thyme with the intense heat of scotch bonnet peppers. Traditionally, this blend is used to marinate meats, especially chicken and pork. Once marinated, the meats are either grilled or smoked, resulting in dishes that burst with a distinctive spicy and smoky flavor.

How to Make Homemade Jerk Seasoning


  • 1 Tablespoon Garlic Powder
  • 1 Tablespoon Onion Powder
  • 2-3 Teaspoons Cayenne Pepper
  • 2 Teaspoons Dried Parsley
  • 2 Teaspoons Brown Sugar
  • 2 Teaspoons Salt
  • 1 Teaspoon Paprika
  • 1 Teaspoon Ground Allspice
  • 1 Teaspoons Dried Thyme
  • 1 Teaspoon Ground Nutmeg
  • ½ Teaspoon Black Pepper
  • ½ Teaspoon Dried Crushed Red Pepper
  • ½ Teaspoon Ground Ginger
  • ½ Teaspoon Ground Cinnamon


  1. Mix all ingredients together and store in an airtight container.


Featured Recipe: Jamaican Jerk Chicken Tacos

Transport your taste buds to the Caribbean with these Jamaican Jerk Chicken Tacos. Chicken tenderloins are seasoned with a homemade jerk blend, featuring spices like allspice, garlic powder, cayenne pepper, and paprika. Served on flattened Martin’s Potato Rolls as taco “tortillas”, these tacos are a fusion of flavors that are both spicy and savory.

More Recipes Using Jerk Seasoning


* * *

Make Your Own: Old Bay Seasoning

Hot Cheesy Crab Dip

Old Bay seasoning is a savory medley that boasts ingredients such as celery salt, paprika, and mustard. Hailing from the Chesapeake Bay area, this seasoning is synonymous with seafood, particularly crab and shrimp. However, its versatility extends beyond the sea, enhancing everything from soups to fries with its unique flavor profile.

How to Make Old Bay Seasoning


  • 1 Tablespoon Celery Salt
  • 1 Tablespoon Ground Dried Bay Leaves
  • 2 Teaspoons Mustard Powder
  • 1 Teaspoon Hot Paprika
  • 1 Teaspoon Smoked Paprika
  • 1 Teaspoon Black Pepper
  • 1 Teaspoon White Pepper
  • 1 Teaspoon Cayenne Pepper
  • ¼ Teaspoon Ground Nutmeg
  • ¼ Teaspoon Ground Cinnamon
  • ¼ Teaspoon Ground Ginger
  • 1/8 Teaspoon Ground Cardamom
  • 1/8 Teaspoon Ground Cloves
  • 1/8 Teaspoon Ground Mace


  1. Mix all ingredients together and store in an airtight container.


Featured Recipe: Old Bay Burger

Old Bay Burger

A classic burger with a seafood-inspired twist! This Old Bay Burger is seasoned with the iconic Old Bay seasoning, known for its spicy and savory notes. Paired with fresh toppings and served on a Martin’s roll, it’s a burger that offers a unique taste of the coast in every bite.

More Old Bay Recipes

  • Warm Crab Dip: A rich and creamy dip featuring crab meat and the distinct flavor of Old Bay, perfect for gatherings or parties.
  • Crab Grilled Cheese: A luxurious grilled cheese sandwich filled with succulent crab meat and seasoned with the iconic Old Bay.
  • Cold Crab Dip: A chilled crab dip seasoned with Old Bay, paired with crispy bread crackers for a delightful snack.
  • Crab Cake Bites: Bite-sized crab cakes seasoned with Old Bay, offering a perfect balance of spice and savoriness.
  • Crab Cake Slider: Mini sliders featuring Old Bay-seasoned crab cakes, served with remoulade, delivering a burst of flavor in every bite.


* * *

Make Your Own: Taco Seasoning

Taco Grilled Cheese

Taco seasoning is a lively mix characterized by spices like chili powder, cumin, garlic powder, and onion powder. Essential to both Mexican and Tex-Mex cuisines, this blend is the go-to choice for seasoning a wide range of taco fillings, whether it be beef, chicken, beans, or vegetables, ensuring each bite is zesty and flavorful.

How to Make Homemade Taco Seasoning


  • 2 Teaspoons Chili Powder
  • 1 Teaspoon Cumin
  • ½ Teaspoon Paprika
  • ½ Teaspoon Garlic Powder
  • ¼ Teaspoon Oregano
  • ¼ Teaspoon Onion Powder
  • ¼ Teaspoon Salt
  • ¼ Teaspoon Black Pepper
  • Red Pepper Flakes, to taste


  1. Mix all ingredients together and store in an airtight container.


Featured Recipe: Taco Pizza Mini Burger

A delightful fusion of two favorites—tacos and pizza—in the form of a burger! This Taco Pizza Mini Burger features a beef patty seasoned with a blend of taco spices, topped with salsa, lettuce, tomatoes, and olives. Served on Martin’s Slider Potato Rolls, it’s a mini treat packed with maxi flavors.

More Recipes Using Taco Seasoning

  • Taco Grilled Cheese: A fusion of the classic grilled cheese sandwich with the bold flavors of taco seasoning, resulting in a cheesy and spicy delight.
  • Cheesy Taco Hoagies: Hoagies filled with a cheesy taco-flavored filling, offering a unique twist on the classic taco.
  • Slow Cooker Tacos Al Pastor: Tacos filled with slow-cooked pork seasoned with chili powder, salt, oregano, garlic, onion, and cumin, delivering a deep and rich flavor profile.
  • Sweet & Spicy Pork Carnitas Tacos: Tacos featuring pork carnitas flavored with a blend of sweet and spicy ingredients, offering a delightful contrast of flavors.


* * *

As we wrap up our exploration of “scary” spices, we hope you’ve been inspired to experiment with heat in your culinary creations. From the subtle warmth of paprika to the blazing intensity of dried chili peppers, there’s a world of heat waiting to be explored. If you’re looking for more spicy inspiration, check out our Sense Series on Spicy and the Spicy Sandwich Showdown. Stay tuned for more flavorful adventures to come. Until next time, keep those taste buds tingling and embrace the heat!


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