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How Fall Spices Inspire Holiday Joy

Fall spices are the combination of seasonings that many associate with cooking and baking once the fall season arrives in the United States. 

Many fall spices are not particularly leafy, flowery or herby: cinnamon is bark, ginger is root, cloves are a dried bud, nutmeg and mace are ground from hard seeds, rosemary is basically a pine needle. 

Fall spices tend to be earthy, woodsy, heavily scented, and pungent.

For me, fall spices conjure up certain memories and a time of year that I associate with hot apple cider or a rich eggnog enjoyed after a walk on fallen leaves; a hot meal with family then sitting around a fire; cutting out ornaments from cinnamon dough and hanging them on the mantel; spicy ginger cookies that a good friend makes for me almost every time we get to see each other.

Sigh. For me, the joy of autumn is definitely in the deep, woody, fireside aroma of my first hot apple cider simmering on the stove.

With cinnamon sticks and lemon slices bobbing, cloves that settle to the bottom of the pot, and pinches of ginger, nutmeg, and cardamom if I have it on hand, I treat it almost like aromatherapy—a fall spice blend of potpourri that I can actually drink.

If I’m really missing the holidays, I start tinkering with my recipe in August.

While here in Texas cooler temperatures don’t really descend until late November, plenty of states get the chilly weather to enjoy savory recipes or fall treats starting in September.

While many seasonings that we call Christmas spices are used year round, we consider a warm, aromatic, woodsy seasonal flavor profile that accompanies recipes such as:

    • Gingersnap Cookies – ginger, cloves, allspice
    • Spice Cake – ginger, cloves, allspice, nutmeg, cinnamon
    • Apple Pie – apple pie spice, which includes 
    • Pumpkin Spice Lattes – nutmeg, ginger, cloves, allspice
    • Pumpkin Pie – allspice, cloves, nutmeg
    • Eggnog – nutmeg, allspice, cloves
    • Hot Apple Cider – cloves, cinnamon, nutmeg
    • Date Nut Bread or Banana Bread – cardamom, cinnamon
    • Sweet Potatoes – cinnamon, brown sugar
    • Mincemeat Pie – cloves
    • Ham – whole cloves
    • Pork Roast – rosemary, nutmeg
    • Stuffing –  sage, mace, rosem

And many other recipes. 

On their own, fall spices are very strong and tend to have a bitter flavor and bitter taste, so don’t go dipping your finger into some ground cinnamon for a taste. You’ll come up coughing and sputtering.

1. Allspice 

You can get allspice as the whole berry or as a ground spice. It actually comes from a tree called the allspice tree. The tree produces berries, which are called allspice.

I used to think allspice was a combination of spices, but it turns out it’s all its own flavor.

I prefer to use and buy ground allspice, because it is easier to deal with but grinding the whole berry does provide a fresher taste.

Allspice tastes like a mixture of flavors even though it is not actually a mix. It tastes like a mix between cloves, nutmeg, and cinnamon.

It is considered a fall spice because it is a common ingredient in gingerbread. When we think of gingerbread cookies or cake I tend to think of fall leading into winter, or a crisp path of trodden leaves, earthy and wistful.

It is also often used in Jamaican cooking for recipes such as jerk chicken. Also, it is a popular spice in a lot of fall soups such as butternut squash soup. 

We use it in our pumpkin cookies recipe and it is often used in cupcakes and frostings in the fall months. 

The unique flavor of this spice makes it one of our favorite fall flavors.

2. Cardamom

Cardamom is native to India but today is also grown in Guatemala. Cardamom comes from seed pods, which you can use the whole pod or you can grind it. 

Cardamom has a strong aroma that is a bit sweet. It has hints of smoky citrus and mint with a light maple syrup finish.

I hadn’t thought about cardamom much at all until I came across the Brown-Butter-Cardamom Banana Bread from Milk Street. They were right about adding it to flavorful quick breads to boost the flavor.

It’s a pretty expensive spice, so I figured it had such limited uses, I’d leave it out. 

But it really adds a complexity of flavor that I find appealing. It doesn’t go in every apple pie spice seasoning mix, but I find it enhances the flavor of cinnamon, cloves, and other fall spices. 


It is often used in Indian cooking. It is a great spice to put in a fall tea recipe. It is often used in hot cider and eggnog. 

It also mixes well with chocolate. If you are making a fall drink consider adding this to your next hot chocolate.

3. Cinnamon

Cinnamon comes from the bark of a tree. The inner bark of a cinnamon tree is stripped away from the tree. It is dried or cured and then rolled into cinnamon sticks.

You can buy cinnamon sticks from the store or you can buy ground cinnamon. 

It is a common spice and pretty easy to find at any grocery store.

The flavor of cinnamon is pretty easy to identify—a bit sweet with a woodsy finish.

You can compare the flavor to cloves but it isn’t quite as pungent. 

You can use cinnamon in many sweet dishes ranging from cinnamon buttercream frosting to apple butter. With cinnamon there are no limits.

4. Cloves

Cloves come from an area of Indonesia that was deemed Spice Islands. They are flower buds from a tree and are reddish brown in color.

Cloves are an aromatic spice that have a sweet and woody taste to them. The smell of cloves often reminds us of the holidays. 

I have even heard people say that cloves smell like Christmas. This is definitely one of those seasonal spices that gets a lot of use during the holidays.

Cloves are famously used in pumpkin pie, eggnog and holiday hams. If a fall dessert calls for cinnamon the odds are high that it will also call for cloves.

5. Ginger

Ginger is considered an ancient spice. It is believed that Ginger originated from Asia and was eventually imported into Europe. Its popularity spread from there.

Ginger tastes a bit peppery and has a bit of a spicy bite to it. Don’t confuse this with the heat of a pepper but more like the heat of horseradish, peppercorns or radish (which is also a root).

Fresh ginger is one of my personal favorites in stir fry. It’s the perfect addition to Asian dishes. I find it versatile with other warm spices in hot drinks and reminds me of apple picking. I tend to keep all forms in my house: Fresh in my vegetable drawer (or slices in the freezer) paste in the fridge door, ground ginger in the cabinet. Can you tell that I love ginger?

Ginger is used in sweet and savory dishes. This makes it a highly versatile fall spice. 

Ginger is used in a lot of Asian dishes and curries. It is famously used in hot tea and cookies. It is a fantastic spice for baking breads as well.

If you find yourself with too much ginger, you can freeze ginger.

6. Mace

Mace is sometimes confused with nutmeg and for good reason. However, it is important to note that they are actually two different things.

Mace is created from the outer coating of the nutmeg seed or kernel. The outer red coating of the nutmeg kernel is removed and dried. That is how mace is created.

Most often you will find mace for sale in the powder form. It is possible to find blades of mace for sale but it is quite rare.

Mace tastes a lot like nutmeg but is milder in flavor. 

Imagine a flavor that is a woody, smoky mix between cinnamon and black pepper. That is how I would best describe the flavor of mace. 

Mace is commonly used in Indian dishes such as curries and stews. It is generally used in savory dishes.

I have personally come to sprinkling a bit of mace on my specialty coffees. It only takes a pinch to add a unique fall flavor.

7. Nutmeg

Nutmeg comes from the seed pits of the fruit of the tree. 

The seed is removed and sun dried for about a week. At that point it is either sold whole or ground up and sold as a powder.

Nutmeg is a bit sweet in taste and nutty flavor. It is a strong spice and could be considered spicy if you are sensitive to spicy flavor. 

Nutmeg is a famous fall spice because it is often used in pumpkin pie. It is often used in eggnog and fall coffee blends. Nutmeg is also popular in Greek and Italian recipes like pastitsio or pasta sauce. 

We have a few ideas for what to substitute for nutmeg in case you don’t have any in your pantry.

8. Pumpkin pie spice

Pumpkin pie spice doesn’t actually contain any pumpkin. That is a common and understandable misconception.

It is called pumpkin pie spice because it is a spice blend that is used primarily in the fall. 

Pumpkin pie spice is made from cinnamon, ginger, nutmeg and all spice. 

You can buy this fall spice or you can make your own. When we make it ourselves we love to toast it. Toasting it really brings out the flavors and make it pop.

This fall spice is used in breads, cakes and coffees. Have you ever had a Pumpkin Spice Latte? 

Pumpkin pie spice is one of those flavors of fall that help us set the mood for all of the holiday spirit that is about to come. I get a bit giddy every time that I think about this time of year.

9. Rosemary

Rosemary is an herb that is grown as a bush. The bush resembles a pine tree. It stemmed from the Mediterranean but is now grown worldwide.

Rosemary has a bright flavor with hints of many other flavors which include citrus specifically lemony. It has a slightly woody and peppery flavor along with hints of sage. 

Rosemary is used often with chicken and other poultry such as turkey. It is famous for flavoring Thanksgiving turkeys.

It is also a fantastic garnish for fall cocktails.

10. Sage

Sage is a shrub bush that originates from the Mediterranean as well. While on the shrub, it looks velvety and is light green or grey green in color. 

This is an herb that you can easily grow at home. They will actually bloom if you grow them long enough and allow them to do so.

Sage tastes earthy with hints of pine and citrus. It is a bit bitter but pairs well with rosemary and savory. 

Sage is best used in savory recipes. Run out of sage? Here’s our list of sage substitutes. 

Sage is used in a lot of fall cooking. It is commonly used in stuffings and to flavor turkeys during the holidays.

11. Savory

Savory is a spice that has a long history that goes all the way back to the Roman Empire. Ancient Greeks called it a love spice. 

It has a strong flavor to it and a little bit can go a long way. It is one of the ingredients used to create Herbes de Provence. 

When using savory, consider using it as a finishing touch to a recipe and sprinkle a tiny bit on top of soup or meat dishes. 

Savory is excellent in stuffing and in beans. Consider adding a dash of savory to your, well, savory dishes like a roast or soup.

12. Star anise

Star anise is often confused with anise but they are actually different. Star anise comes from China and is a star shaped pod that has eight points to it, hence the name. 

The seeds are at the end of the star points. You can either remove the seeds from the star and use them or you can cook with the whole spice.

To further confuse things, star anise and anise seed do taste quite similar. Both have a unique flavor to them. It has a sweet flavor and is used in a lot of sweet and sweet-savory dishes such as jams. 

It pairs well with nutmeg and ginger and can offer a unique flavor to a meat dish. Consider using it when baking your next turkey.

13. Vanilla

While vanilla is used year round, we really can’t leave it out of this list of fall spices. 

Vanilla is warm, fragrant, and if you are a fan of vanilla in general, you know that the smell alone can make a house feel like home. 

Taken from scraped vanilla beans, those crochet hooks of the natural world, there’s vanilla extract or vanilla bean paste (a concentrated flavor usually sold sweetened) or an extract. 

The most inexpensive version of vanilla is imitation, and right now, with authentic vanilla prices so high, it’s a perfectly good substitute for baked goods and potpourris.

The bottom line

Fall is my jam. 

Speaking of jam (sort of)here are 11 Cranberry Sides I make year round that use varying fall spices.  

In a nut(meg)shell, it turns out that I have a tendency to associate fall spices with holiday seasons. 

When I cook with fall spices in June, I’m usually cooking to either inspire a recipe for the winter season, or to conjure up the comforting holiday memories that these different spices inspire.

Hope you enjoy our Fall Spice Blend.

Do you make your own harvest spice blend in your kitchen? Let us know what you include!

Fall Spice Blend

Fall Spice Blend

Yield: 3/4 cup
Prep Time: 2 minutes
Cook Time: 2 minutes
Total Time: 4 minutes

Create your own homemade fall spice blend to enhance your fall cooking and baking. 

Ingredients

  • 6 T ground cinnamon
  • 6 T ground nutmeg
  • 1 T ground ginger
  • 2 t ground allspice
  • 1 t ground cloves
  • Optional: 1 t ground cardamom
  • Optional: 1 t ground mace

Instructions

  1. Mix all of the ingredients together.
  2. Store in an airtight container. 
  3. Use in your fall baking.

Did you make this recipe?

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