Pizza is an almost universally beloved food. It appeals to people with sophisticated palates as well as to those with simpler tastes. Whether you want to master the traditional flavor profile or experiment with something new, you need to familiarize yourself with the best spices for pizza.
Oregano is a member of the mint family that is a staple in most cooks’ spice cabinets. Its status as an herbal essential is due to more than just its role in Italian cooking. It offers a savory, pungent camphoraceous flavor that is earthy and minty at the same time and that is extremely versatile.
This herb goes well with other savory spices such as the ones that are typically used on pizza, as well as the most popular toppings for pizza such as pepperoni and spinach. Oregano will be the primary flavor in most pizza sauce recipes, so much so that it could be considered the pizza herb.
Like oregano, basil is a member of the mint family that is heavily used in Italian cooking. Basil can work in almost any recipe that also uses oregano. Both herbs complement each other as well as the savory ingredients used in pizza.
Basil brings a sweeter herbal note than oregano. Fresh basil is minty and herbaceous with licorice notes; dried basil is similar to dried mint and thyme. Basil can show up both in the tomato sauce that is used on many pizzas and as a topping. When basil is used as a topping, it is common to use fresh leaves.
Rosemary is yet another mint relative that is heavily used in Italy. While rosemary is not as commonly associated with pizza as are basil and oregano, it works with all of the flavors that you might find in a typical pie. Rosemary is usually used in the sauce rather than as a topping, though it may also show up in some versions of Italian sausage that are used on pizza.
Garlic is arguably one of the world’s top five spices and can be used as a topping for pizza, especially if it roasted; however, it is more common for it to be used to flavor the sauce. This intensely aromatic spice brings a savory and earthy sulfurous note to a pizza and melds well with all the common meat toppings as well as the vegetables.
While the standard cheese used on a pizza is mozzarella, parmesan is often added for flavor. Parmesan is noted for being a great source of the meaty, savory umami note as well as being somewhat salty. In addition, its flavor can be described as rich as well as nutty and earthy; its texture is dry and granular so that it tends to crumble to a powder when grated. It can enhance the flavor of meat toppings like sausage and pepperoni or act as a stand-in for them on a cheese or vegetarian pizza.
Crushed red pepper (red pepper flakes)
Red pepper flakes add a little heat to the standard pizza, which is important given that it is traditionally a very mild dish. As with virtually all other savory foods, the heat from chili peppers serves as the perfect complement to the cheese, meats, and vegetables on a pizza. The dairy component from the cheese (as well as the fats from pepperoni or sausage) can help to break down the capsaicin and keep it from being excessively hot.