10 Spice Substitutes That Will Save You Big Bucks

Missing an ingredient but don't want to run out to the grocery store? Here's how to substitute spices with what's already in your pantry.

A shelf full of spices can transport an ordinary ingredient around the world. For instance, adding curry powder to chickpeas makes them distinctly Indian, whereas chili powder leans Latin American, while five spice provides an Eastern spin.

But, what if a recipe calls for a specific spice or spice blend you don’t have in your pantry? No need to rush to the store: Try our handy spice substitutes instead.

These replacements for common spices—from earthy cumin to savory-sweet pumpkin pie spice—preserve the original flavor profiles. Keep these common spice replacements in your back pocket to save time and money. (How do you save money on groceries? Share your tips with us!)

Editor’s Tip: For each substitution below, we recommend starting with half as much as the original recipe calls for. You can always add more if the swap works well with the other flavors in the recipe.

Cumin Substitutes

Ground Cumin Spilled from a TeaspoonMichelle Lee Photography/Getty Images

  • Cumin Seeds: If your recipe calls for ground cumin and you only have cumin seeds on hand, pop a few in a spice grinder. Or, use a mortal and pestle to make your own powder. A teaspoon of seeds creates about 3/4 teaspoon powder.
  • Caraway and Smoked Paprika: Cumin and caraway are both in the parsley family, so they have a similar flavor profile. Caraway lacks cumin’s smoky flavor and aroma, though, so adding a pinch of smoked paprika to the mix will help it taste like the original.
  • Coriander and Cayenne: Coriander is another member of the parsley family, and it shares cumin’s smoky elements. To mimic cumin’s heat, add a tiny pinch of cayenne.
  • Chili Powder or Taco Seasoning: If you don’t mind adding extra heat to a dish, store-bought chili powder and taco seasoning are great substitutes here. Cumin is the main ingredient in most of these combinations, so the flavor profile should be very similar. They’ll both contain additional spices (like paprika, garlic powder and cayenne), so keep in mind these blends will alter the flavor of the finished dish. They also tend to be red because of the chilies, which may alter the dish’s color, too.
  • Garam Masala: Like chili powder, the main ingredient in garam masala is usually cumin. It also contains warming spices like cinnamon, nutmeg and cardamom, giving garam masala a floral, earthy and citrusy flavor profile. It won’t be an exact match, but those added flavors may work in your favor, especially if you’re cooking an Indian recipe.

Chili Powder Substitutes

Chili Powder Spilled from a TeaspoonMichelle Lee Photography/Getty Images

  • Oregano, Cumin and Hot Sauce: You can make homemade chili powder by combining common spices, or you can make a simplified version with oregano, cumin and hot sauce. Plan on using about twice as much oregano as cumin, since it takes up more space in the measuring spoon, and add a dash of hot sauce to finish the combination.
  • Paprika and Cumin: If your favorite chili powder is heavy on the smoky spices, use paprika and cumin as your swap. It won’t be as spicy as most chili powders, but it will pack a ton of flavor.
  • Taco Seasoning: Taco seasoning shares many of the same ingredients as chili powder. It tends to contain more onion and garlic powder, though, giving it a bolder flavor profile.

Onion Powder Substitutes

Onion Powder Spilled from a TeaspoonMichelle Lee Photography/Getty Images

  • Grated Fresh Onions: Obviously, fresh onions are the best substitute for onion powder, which is made from dehydrated onions. You’ll need about one medium onion to replace a tablespoon of onion powder. Here’s how to chop onion without crying!
  • Garlic Powder: Garlic powder has a much stronger flavor than onion powder, but it will work in a pinch. Plan to use a quarter as much as the recipe calls for to prevent overdoing it.
  • Chopped Chives: If texture isn’t a concern, chopped chives will work well as an onion powder substitute. They have a very similar flavor profile to fresh onions while being slightly less pungent.
  • Asafetida: This Indian ingredient is an herb in the celery family, and it has an extremely pungent flavor. You won’t need much of it, but a pinch of this powdery spice adds an onion-like flavor to any dish.

Pumpkin Pie Spice Substitutes

Pumpkin Spice Blend Spilled from a TeaspoonMichelle Lee Photography/Getty Images

  • Homemade Pumpkin Pie Spice: Pumpkin pie spice is really easy to make at home! It’s a blend of ground spices you probably have in the pantry. Combine 4 teaspoons ground cinnamon, 2 teaspoons ground ginger, 1 teaspoon ground cloves and 1/2 teaspoon ground nutmeg to make about 2-1/2 tablespoons pumpkin pie spice.
  • Ground Allspice and Ground Ginger: If you don’t have all the spices you need to make your own pumpkin pie spice, try mixing together allspice and ground ginger. Allspice tastes like a blend of nutmeg, cloves and cinnamon, so it gets pretty close to the mix above. Adding ginger gives the mix the right level of spice.

Curry Powder Substitutes

Curry Powder Spilled from a TeaspoonMichelle Lee Photography/Getty Images

  • Cumin, Coriander and Turmeric: These three spices make up the bulk of most store-bought curry powder. None of these ingredients contain the heat found in most curry powder, though, so you might want to add a dash of chili powder to the mix if you have it.
  • Sambar Powder: If you can find it, this South Indian spice makes a great substitute for curry powder. It’s made with roasted dal (Chana dal, Urad dal and Toor dal), so it has a deeply savory flavor that you won’t find in curry powder. But the remaining ingredients include cumin, coriander and many other spices found in curry.
  • Garam Masala: We don’t love this substitute, since garam masala has more warming flavors and less spice compared to curry powder. It also doesn’t contain any turmeric, which gives curry its characteristic yellow color. That said, it has a similar enough flavor profile to use in a pinch. Just add it at the end of the cooking time instead of at the beginning, as you would curry powder.
  • Curry Paste: This is another substitute we don’t recommend as your go-to substitute, but it works as a last resort. Curry paste comes in many different varieties, from red to green, so it doesn’t have the golden yellow color of curry powder. It also contains extra ingredients, like ginger and lemongrass. Since it’s much more potent than curry powder, we recommend starting very small and adding more as needed.

Garlic Powder Substitutes

Garlic Powder Spilled from a TeaspoonMichelle Lee Photography/Getty Images

  • Garlic Salt: Garlic salt contains garlic powder, so it’s an ideal substitution. You’ll want to double the amount called for in the original recipe, but make sure to cut back on the salt to ensure the finished dish isn’t inedible!
  • Fresh Garlic: One garlic clove equals 1/8 teaspoon garlic powder, so you’ll need quite a few cloves depending on the recipe. Use a microplane to grate the fresh garlic into tiny pieces.
  • Asafetida: This Indian ingredient is one of our recommended substitutes for onion powder, and it works well for garlic, too. It’s very pungent, so start with a pinch and build from there.
  • Garlic Scapes: Garlic scapes grow from the bulbs of garlic plants and are harvested in the spring and early summer. They have a unique flavor that’s similar to a mix of garlic and scallions. Here are a few tips for cooking garlic scapes.

Mustard Powder Substitutes

Ground mustard powder Spilled from a TeaspoonMichelle Lee Photography/Getty Images

  • Mustard Seed: Grinding mustard seeds in a spice grinder or mortar and pestle creates mustard powder, so this is your best bet! A teaspoon of seeds should create about 3/4 teaspoon powder.
  • Prepared Mustard: There are many different varieties of mustard, so you’ll want to be choosy when picking the right flavor as a substitute for mustard powder. You’ll need about 1 tablespoon prepared mustard for every teaspoon of mustard powder. Prepared mustard is also wet, so it’s not a good choice when making dry spice blends.
  • Wasabi or Horseradish Powder: Most wasabi powder is actually horseradish powder, so either makes a good swap for mustard powder. They have the same nasal-clearing, pungent spiciness as mustard powder, although they’re not usually yellow. They’re generally hotter than mustard, so start small and build as needed.

Five Spice Powder Substitutes

Ground five spice Spilled from a TeaspoonMichelle Lee Photography/Getty Images

  • Allspice: Allspice tastes like a blend of nutmeg, cloves and cinnamon, so it gets pretty close to five spice’s sweet and earthy flavor profile.
  • Cinnamon, Fennel Seeds and Peppercorns: Five spice can be made with many various ingredients, but it’s usually a combination of star anise, fennel, cinnamon, Szechuan peppercorns and cloves. Combining cinnamon and fennel seeds with regular peppercorns will get you pretty close in a pinch.
  • Garam Masala and Star Anise: Garam masala keeps popping up on this list—it’s amazingly versatile! The combination of fennel, cinnamon and cloves in this spice blend makes it a good swap for five spice powder. Add a pinch of star anise to get it even closer to the original.

Harissa Powder Substitutes

Harissa Powder Spilled from a TeaspoonMichelle Lee Photography/Getty Images

  • Harissa Paste: This is the paste version of harissa powder, so it contains many of the same ingredients. It’s great for soup and stew recipes, but it wouldn’t be ideal for making a dry rub since it’s so wet.
  • Berbere: This Ethiopian spice blend has many of the same flavors as harissa powder, but it’s usually not as spicy. You’ll find it’s more complex than harissa, so it will definitely give the dish a unique spin when used as a substitute.
  • Chili Powder and Garlic Powder: Although it hails from a different continent, chili powder and harissa powder have many of the same ingredients. Chili powder won’t have the depth and garlicky, citrus-forward flavor, so we recommend adding extra garlic powder to the mix.
  • Paprika and Hot Sauce: In an absolute pinch, add smoky paprika a few dashes of hot sauce to your recipe. It’ll satisfy the basic flavor profile of harissa powder without being too complicated.

Fresh Herbs Substitutes

Fresh homegrown herbs and leaf vegetables on a stone counteristetiana/Getty Images

Does your recipe call for fresh basil but you only have dried? Never fear, it’s easy to make these substitutions! Dried spices pack more of a flavor punch than fresh herbs, so you won’t need to use as much. Swap in a teaspoon of dried herbs for every tablespoon of fresh ones called for in the recipe.

Lindsay D. Mattison
Lindsay is a professional chef, recipe developer, writer and developmental editor. After years of working in restaurant kitchens, she turned to writing to share her skills and experience with home cooks and food enthusiasts. She's passionate about using local, organic ingredients and teaching others how to incorporate seasonal food into their diet. Lindsay still cooks professionally for pop-up events, writes for several publications and is the co-author of two books about Ayurveda.