Spice Substitutions Guide

A selection of spices

 David Malan/Getty Images

It's happened to everyone at least once. You get everything together to make the most delicious meal or dessert of your life only to find that you've run out of one of the spices. Instead of making a quick dash to the store, use one of these substitutions in a pinch. Although the flavor may not be exact, they'll be close enough to fool most people and delicious enough to delight.

Often, spice mixtures such as Pumpkin Spice can be pieced together with their constituent spices that you already have in your pantry. There is no need to buy yet another bottle to store when you already have spices that will lose their potency if you don't use them up. Fresh and dried spices can also be swapped for each other in some cases.

Another need for substitution arises when you have a food sensitivity to a certain spice. You want to maintain the flavor combinations of a recipe, but you need to eliminate the spice that upsets your system.

illustration that depicts examples of spice and spice mixture substitutions
Illustration: Maritsa Patrinos. © The Spruce, 2019 

Spice and Spice Mixture Substitution Chart

The substitutions below can be used in equal amounts to the spices being substituted unless otherwise noted. For complex mixtures, you may have to make more than you will need for the recipe, in order to get the proportions right.

  • Allspice: equal parts cinnamon, cloves, and nutmeg
  • Aniseed: fennel seed, or crushed star anise (1 whole star anise per ½ tsp aniseed) if you are out 
  • Apple Pie Spice: 1/2 tsp ground cinnamon plus 1/4 tsp ground nutmeg plus 1/8 tsp ground cardamom plus 1/8 tsp ground allspice
  • Cajun Spice: equal parts white pepper, black pepper, garlic powder, onion powder, cayenne pepper, and paprika
  • Cardamom: equal parts ground cloves and cinnamon
  • Chives: green onion or leek
  • Cinnamon: allspice or nutmeg
  • Cloves: allspice or nutmeg
  • Coriander, ground: caraway seed or cumin
  • Cumin: caraway seeds (½ tsp ground caraway per tsp cumin)
  • Fennel: aniseed or caraway seeds
  • Garlic, fresh: ⅛ tsp garlic powder or ½ tsp granulated garlic per clove of fresh garlic
  • Ginger, fresh: ¼ tsp ground ginger per teaspoon fresh grated ginger
  • Mace: cinnamon, nutmeg, allspice, or pumpkin pie spice
  • Mustard Seeds: wasabi powder or horseradish powder
  • Nutmeg: cinnamon, ginger, or mace
  • Poultry Seasoning: sage plus a dash of thyme, marjoram, and black pepper
  • Pumpkin Pie Spice: 1/2 tsp ground cinnamon plus 1/4 tsp ground ginger plus 1/8 tsp ground nutmeg plus 1/8 tsp ground cloves
  • Saffron: turmeric (for color)
  • Sage: poultry seasoning
  • Vanilla: 1 tsp vanilla extract per inch of vanilla bean

When you make a substitution, be sure to taste as you go to see if it is packing the same punch as the original spice. It can be tricky, especially if you are using older spices from the back of your spice cabinet that may have lost potency. You may need to use more or less of a substitute, or adjust the other spices in the dish to balance it. If you are unwilling to take the risk, you may just have to make that trip to the market to get the spice originally listed in the recipe.