What Are Good Spices For Rice?

Rice is a great side dish and easy to cook, but on its own, it tends to be somewhat plain. One of the benefits of that plainness is that it can serve as an excellent blank canvas for other stronger flavors. The herbs and spices below are among the best to give your rice a little flavor and make it an even more enjoyable side dish for your favorite foods.

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Cumin brings an earthy nuttiness to savory dishes, and it can do the same for rice. When using it to flavor rice, it is a good idea to keep the seeds whole, even though ground cumin can also work. With the whole seeds, you get a peppery note along with cumin’s earthy and nutty qualities. Rice seasoned with cumin is a versatile side dish, but it works especially well with dishes from India or the Middle East.

Bay leaf

Bay leaves may not be the first seasoning that comes to mind when you think about flavors you might want to add to rice; however, it can be a tasty addition. Its woodsy, savory qualities shine when it is used as an accompaniment for dishes from India.


Cardamom is another flavor that is known to work well with rice. Cardamom’s complex flavor, which includes notes of pine and citrus with a floral touch, is a great addition to rice. When adding it to your rice, remember that fresh cardamom is a pungent spice that can easily over-flavor a dish. It is a good idea to leave the seeds in the pods to keep the flavor relatively mild. Cardamom can also be used in sweet rice dishes like Indian rice pudding.

Cinnamon, cumin, and cardamom

One of the traditional ways that basmati rice is cooked in India involves flavoring it with cinnamon, cumin, and cardamom. In this preparation, the spices are fried in oil, and then the rice and water added to the pot with the fragrant oil.


Saffron is arguably the most popular spice for rice. Not only does it give the rice saffron’s subtle floral notes, but it also brings a bright yellow color to it as well. Saffron can be used with any kind of rice, but it is most often added to basmati rice.

When making saffron rice, the saffron is steeped in water, and then the liquid is used for cooking the rice. The steeping is sometimes referred to as blooming the saffron. Saffron is used in rice dishes worldwide, including in Indian and European dishes.

Five spice powder

Five-spice powder is most often associated with Chinese meat dishes, especially those that feature pork; however, it also works well with rice. Among its spices (which typically number more than five) are star anise, Szechuan peppercorns, and fennel. It brings an aromatic, warm flavor that works especially well with brown rice. Rice cooked with five-spice powder is a great side dish for Chinese dishes.


Garlic is a versatile flavor that can work well in many foods that are not particularly flavorful on their own—think garlic bread, for example. Adding garlic to rice gives it a pungent note that makes the rice more savory. Garlic can be added in the form of garlic oil, or you can add garlic powder. Garlic-infused rice can accompany a range of foods, including European and Asian dishes.