German cooking is not known for an abundance of spices or a varied range of flavor profiles; however, it is not without its complex flavors and pungent ingredients. The spices that do show up in German recipes tend to be truly popular with a long history of use. Here is a look at some of the most popular German spices:
Mustard is one of the common accompaniments to German sausages. The Germans use an assortment of different mustards with a wide variation in flavor profiles. German mustards have different heat levels but are typically moderately hot while also being much less acidic than American yellow mustard.
Dusseldorf mustard is one of the popular varieties and it is known for being spicy while Bavarian sweet mustard is known for being much milder and containing sweeteners like honey and applesauce. The Germans use it in everything from pot roast to dips for pretzels.
Best known for flavoring gin, juniper berries give a sharp pine flavor to foods as well. Their flavor and aroma can be described as having the taste of pine resin with a hint of lemon along with subtle bitterness. Juniper berries resemble peppercorns and you can use them whole or ground. They are popular with German cooks as a seasoning for gamey meats like venison and wild goose. They also get used when making pickles including sauerkraut.
Horseradish is another common German condiment. It belongs to the same family as the mustard plant and brings a pungent, mustard-like heat to dishes. It is sometimes served on its own but is often combined with either cream or mustard. Some parts of Germany use it as a mustard alternative. It is traditional to eat horseradish with the boiled beef dish known as tafelspitz.
While caraway seeds are not from Germany, they are widely used throughout German cuisine. They have a mild licorice flavor similar to that of anise or dill seeds. That flavor profile is versatile and shows up in everything from German cheeses to potato dishes and sauerkraut. Caraway seeds are essential for rye bread including German pumpernickel.
Popular all over the world, bay leaves are commonly used in slow-cooking dishes that are braised for long periods. They offer a savory woody flavor with a slight astringent bitterness with a subtle camphor note. They give stews and soups an earthy depth. Bay leaves are essential for traditional German dishes like rotkohl and the German pot roast known as sauerbraten. The leaves are added in powdered form or whole.
Made from dried and powdered red pepper and a relative newcomer to Germany’s cooking scene, paprika only became a popular spice there after World War II. Paprika is used to make dishes like paprikaschnitzel, which is a schnitzel variation served with a paprika sauce. The type of paprika used is usually the sweet Hungarian type, which gives a rich and fruity pepper flavor to dishes but without the heat you get from other chile pepper powders.
One of Germany’s iconic street foods is called currywurst. It consists of a grilled German sausage topped with curry ketchup. Invented in the mid-20th century, currywurst came about in the aftermath of World War 2 when its inventor — Herta Heuwer — was given curry powder, Worcestershire sauce, and ketchup by British soldiers in Berlin’s British sector. The three ingredients were combined to make curry ketchup, which she served over bratwurst.