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Chicken breast is a healthy way to add more protein to your meal prep, but let’s face it — eating plain chicken breast, day in and day out, can get old really fast. So how can you avoid the bland trap? It’s simple: Add spices.
“From a health perspective, spices are the perfect way to add crave-worthy flavor to food without adding unwanted calories and extras like sugar and sodium,” says Christina Meyer-Jax, MS, RD. “They also help bring the uniqueness of regional cuisine to life.”
Need some inspiration to spice up your baked chicken recipe? We rounded up the tastiest spice blends from around the world — and we bet there are at least a few you haven’t tried yet.
Ras el Hanout
Ras el hanout is an aromatic blend of spices — typically 30 spices or more — that can amp up the flavor on any meat. No two blends are exactly alike, but this Moroccan spice blend usually includes some combination of cardamom, nutmeg, anise, mace, cinnamon, ginger, and heathy turmeric. The result is a unique flavor that’ll keep your taste buds guessing.
Pronounced “bare-bare-ee,” this Ethiopian spice blend will add some heat to your chicken with spices like garlic, cardamom, coriander, fenugreek, and red pepper. Just keep in mind the spices added to berbere are typically toasted before they’re ground, which means they won’t stand up as well to high temps or long cooking times with direct heat — so add this spice near the end of the cooking process to ensure the best flavor.
The actual makeup of this North African spice blend varies from country to country, but it usually features hot chili peppers, garlic, cumin, coriander, caraway, and mint. Though it’s often sold as a paste, you can also find powdered harissa to add to your chicken for a slow-burn spice.
Arabic for “thyme,” za’atar is a fragrant Middle Eastern spice blend that adds a tangy flavor to your chicken. The exact blend depends on the region, but za’atar is typically made with a blend of toasted sesame seeds, dried thyme, dried marjoram, and sumac (which has a lemony flavor). It’s also available blended with olive oil as a marinade.
This spice blend is a staple in Indian cuisine and adds a fragrant flavor thanks to coriander, cumin, cardamom, cloves, black pepper, cinnamon, and nutmeg. Variations of garam masala also include turmeric, saffron, fennel seeds, fenu greek, and ginger for a truly unique flavor you’ll crave on your meal prep chicken. “It works beautifully with chicken by adding a complexity that is needed for such a lean protein,” Meyer-Jax says.
Chinese Five Spice
Chinese five spice — a blend of cinnamon, cloves, fennel, star anise, and Szechuan peppercorn — combines sweet, salty, sour, bitter, and spicy flavor into one super-versatile spice blend. Though five spice powder can be used on almost anything, it’s particularly pungent on meats, making it perfect for your weekly meal prep chicken.
Shichimi togarashi is a Japanese spice blend, also known as seven spice powder. While Chinese five spice has sweet notes, shichimi togarashi is decidedly spicy — coarse ground red chili pepper is combined with ground sansho pepper, roasted orange peel, sesame seed, hemp seed, poppy seed, ginger, and dried seaweed to give your chicken an umami flavor with plenty of heat.
Add flavor to Mediterranean-inspired dishes with this seasoning that combines salt with a hefty helping of spices like garlic powder, basil, oregano, cinnamon, black pepper, parsley, rosemary, and dill. “I love adding Greek seasoning to sautéed, grilled, or baked chicken,” says Emily Tills, RDN, CDN. “It has a great essence of lemon, while also playing off the pepper and garlic. It intensifies the smoky flavor on grilled chicken, too.”
The exact formula for Old Bay is a closely guarded secret, but we do know some of its salty-and-savory flavor comes from celery salt, red pepper, black pepper, and paprika. And while Old Bay is typically known for adding flavor to seafood dishes, this Maryland-born spice can can add some kick to your chicken, too — and it can even spice up a side of steamed veggies.
This Jamaican spice blend — named after a style of cooking — can include a variety of spices, like allspice, nutmeg, onion, ginger, garlic, cinnamon, thyme, cloves, and more. Use it as a dry rub to give your chicken dishes a sweet-and-spicy kick.