Some of you know that I have authentic Nigerian, even Igbotic taste buds 😀 . I prefer meals that taste as close to the natural flavour of the ingredients as possible. For this reason, I am not huge on seasoning and spices. This is why you will only see these 10 spices and seasoning in my kitchen. And why you will never see seasoning like “Fried Rice Mix”, “Mixed Jollof Seasoning”, “Mixed Pepper Soup Spice” and all those seasoning with the word “mix” in their names.
Do garlic and ginger count as seasoning? Even if they are, they are not worth a mention in this list because I rarely use them in my cooking. I use garlic only when I am making Western meals that call for it and ginger, I only use for Zobo.
Let’s get to the list shall we? And I will give details of what I use them for too!
In the order by which they appear in the photo above:
Salt is the one seasoning that gives taste to our cooking. I add salt to everything I cook but only sparingly. I grew up in a family that did not eat a lot of salt. I got used to not eating much salt so much that even if a meal does not contain salt at all, I can eat it like that.
I do not add salt to raw meat: beef, chicken goat meat etc. I only add salt when the meat is done, see why by clicking here. Most times, I do not add salt to Egusi Soup because egusi when cooked, acquires a salty taste. And by the time you add stock fish, crayfish and stock cubes all of which contain salt, the Egusi Soup may already have enough salt for me and my family. It is very easy for Egusi Soup to become salty so bear this in mind when preparing this soup.
This is my favourite seasoning for any type of meat that I will use to cook stews. It gives the meat a nice natural seasoned flavour that does not overpower the meal you are cooking. Thyme works so well with the natural flavour of meat, enhancing it rather than competing with it. I do not add thyme to meat that I will use to cook Nigerian Soups.
3. Curry Powder
Nigerian Curry Powder is the seasoning that gives our Nigerian Beef/Chicken Stew that nice aroma that you can perceive from the gate 😀 . It also gives the stew a nice flavour. I call it Nigerian curry powder because this is not the hot and spicy Indian curry powder. It does not have any spiciness in it. In addition to giving your stews a nice taste, it is also the ingredient that gives Nigerian Fried Rice its yellow/lime green colour. Popular brands are Lion and Ducros.
And are you ready for this? If you are a beans hater, add a small amount of curry powder to your Beans Porridge and it may take the beans from urgh to awesome for you! I once used leftover Spaghetti Sauce (which contains curry powder) to prepare beans porridge for my kids and they loved it. I loved it too!
I call this one the small but mighty “secret” ingredient. If you do not add nutmeg to a Nigerian meal/snack that requires it, you will spend the rest of your waking moments wondering why that meal/snack did not taste like the one you had at a Nigerian party even when you are “sure” that you added everything.
Without nutmeg, your Nigerian Moi Moi, Nigerian Chin Chin and Nigerian Puff Puff will not have the classic taste. Yes! When some people ask me why their aforementioned meals and snacks do not taste “normal” and I tell them it is because they did not add nutmeg, they usually come back with a surprised reply in the lines of “Just nutmeg?” Yes just, but it makes a HUGE difference when you do not add it.
5. Black Pepper
I just love how black pepper transforms a meal especially meals that are soupy, contain yam and/or mushrooms. Black pepper has this scent that our habanero and cayenne pepper lacks.
If you do not have ehu (next on the list) you can use black pepper especially when preparing Nigerian pepper soups. Not that they taste the same but black pepper is better than nothing.
6. Ehu or Ehuru or Ariwo
Ehu (known as Calabash Nutmeg in English) is the single pepper soup seasoning that you need for your Nigerian pepper soup. Remember how I do not like the seasoning with a mix in their names? I’ve tried that so called pepper soup mix and what I prepared tasted nothing like pepper soup.
Ehu does not have a known alternative. If you are preparing pepper soup, use black pepper and parsley.
7. Stock Cubes
Stock Cubes (known as Bouillon Cubes in the States) are the Maggis, the Knorrs and the Roycos we use in our meals. I use chicken flavoured stock cubes when cooking chicken and use beef flavoured stock cubes when cooking with meat or fish.
Even though some companies that make these stock cubes claim that they no longer use MSG to make them, if you are allergic to MSG or you simply do not want to eat store-bought stock cubes, you can make your own stock cubes at home.
It goes without saying that onions enhance the natural flavour of meat and fish but mostly when the meat and fish will be used for stews. Add onions to Ofe Akwu, yummy! And in beans, rice, yam and stews recipes. Onions is a no-no for some very traditional meals such as Bitterleaf Soup and Ora Soup hence I do not add onions to meat that I will use for these soups. But onions are great in Okra Soup. When adding onions to Nigerian pepper soups, add it in chunks so you can remove them when done. That way, you do not have unsightly tiny pieces of onions in the pepper soup.
9. Ogiri Okpei
This is the Nigerian traditional stock cubes made by fermenting locust beans. The unfermented version known as Iru can be used in the same way. Add it to Egusi Soup, Okra Soup and the unfermented version is used in Efo Riro.
10. Habanero Pepper
This is the baba of spiciness in Nigerian meals. It is fresh and spicy with a nice aroma. There are the red and yellow ones. The red ones can be added to any meal but the yellow ones are best used in Nigerian soups due to its unique flavour. You can also use Scotch Bonnet Peppers, they are so similar I do not even try to explain the difference.
11. Bonus seasoning: Ogiri Igbo
This pungent, pasty traditional seasoning is used for the very traditional meals. Add it to Bitterleaf Soup, Ora Soup and Abacha and an Igbo man will love you to the moon and back. 😉
I added it as a bonus ingredient because though I do not use it as I should, I have it in my kitchen. And anytime someone elderly comes to visit, I do not need to be told to go and dig it up from the bottom of my freezer. 😉
That’s my list! Now I’m curious, which spices and seasoning can one find in your kitchen? Which ones do you swear by and what do you use them for? Do you have any “secret” ingredients for some Nigerian meals? Are you a “Maggi Nyelu m Aka” – Oh help me Seasoning? Please spill all below.