Paella is probably the best-known dish from Spain. It is from the province of Valencia and the Valencians take the idea of a true paella very seriously. Only a select set of seasonings may be used in the so-called authentic versions. That said, the dish is popular all over the world and made with a wide range of spices including ones not found in traditional recipes.
Some of the most popular spices for paella in Spain and elsewhere are:
Saffron is the stamen of the crocus flower and is the most expensive spice in the world. The cost comes from the amount of time and labor required to harvest the saffron. It is without question the most important spice in paella.
Saffron brings a unique nuttiness to the dish along with the characteristic brilliant yellow color that we associate with paella. It should go without saying that a paella without saffron won’t be a truly traditional paella. To get the best results, you will need high-quality saffron. Spanish saffron works well but Persian saffron will get you better results, albeit at a higher price.
Because of the difficulty of obtaining quality saffron and its cost, you may not always have it in your kitchen. A more commonplace and affordable option is turmeric, which will provide a bright yellow color but without the saffron flavor. The turmeric spice comes from a rhizome in the ginger family. Turmeric has a slight bitter pepperiness that is similar to the flavor of ginger.
Smoked or sweet paprika
Along with saffron, paprika is another essential paella spice. The two main paprika options are the smoked and sweet varieties. Different recipes will call for one or the other, so choose whichever you like best.
The mild heat and citrus notes of black pepper are essential to many European recipes and paella is no exception. Use quality black pepper to give your paella a little complexity as well as a subtle spark. For the best flavor, use freshly ground pepper instead of pre-ground pepper.
Paella doesn’t have to be spicy, but many versions do have a little heat. Of course, you can add as much cayenne pepper as you want to your paella if you like it fiery hot.
An ingredient found in many traditional Spanish paella recipes, rosemary is good for giving paella a pungent, sweet pine flavor. If you want to use rosemary traditionally, you will need the fresh herb. Dried rosemary is considered to be too strong for paella.
Garlic is essential in many savory dishes from the Mediterranean region and Spanish paella is no exception. Garlic is used in the main paella varieties including seafood paella. Its earthiness and umami profile greatly intensify the flavor of the sofrito used to make paella.
Paella purists will be quick to tell you that no authentic Spanish paella contains chorizo. If you want a traditional version of the dish, you will not want to use chorizo; however, you may want to use the spices it contains. The highly spiced chorizo sausage should be looked at as a collection of seasonings rather than an ingredient in its own right.