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This blend of pickling spices creates the perfect combination of warm, citrusy, bright and slightly spicy notes to complement anything you want to pickle.
What is pickling spice?
Pickling spice is a blend of spices used to pickle fruits, vegetables and meats. According to PBS’s The History Kitchen, pickling is a technique that has been around for thousands of years as a method to preserve food.
The method includes combining whole seeds, berries and spices with a salt or sugar brine, which is an important part of the curing and pickling process.
When using pickling spice, you can either mix it together with the brine ingredients, which is common when making dishes like corned beef brisket. Or, you can wrap the spices in a piece of cheesecloth when making smaller more delicate recipes like pickled red onions.
The cheesecloth allows the whole berries and seeds to flavor the brine. You don’t want to eat the whole spices, because they’re rather hard. Instead, they are there to enhance the brine, similar to a tea bag.
When shopping for this mixture of spices, start in the Hispanic foods aisle of your grocery store. Oftentimes, you can find small bags of whole spices at lower prices.
- Whole Allspice Berries: Allspice is a dried berry that grows on the pimento tree. It is very popular in Jamaican cuisine. In fact, the wood from the tree is used to make jerk chicken. Allspice tastes warm and autumn-like.
- Cardamom Pods: Cardamom is part of the ginger family. The pods contain seeds that taste a little citrusy and minty.
- Whole Cloves: Cloves, which are actually dried flowers, provide that quintessential taste of fall.
- Coriander Seeds: Coriander seeds come from the same plant that produces cilantro leaves. However, these seeds do not taste soapy. They are more herbaceous and citrusy.
- Whole Peppercorns: Whole peppercorns provide a pungent bite without being too spicy. They come in a variety of colors like white, green and pink. Black peppercorns are the most common. White peppercorns are milder, green are more bright tasting and pink are more fruity.
- Yellow Mustard Seeds: These seeds when ground and mixed with other ingredients to create yellow mustard. They taste a little acidic, which is a perfect touch for pickles.
- Crushed Red Pepper Flakes: If you like to bring a little heat, used crushed red pepper flakes. Adjust the amount to your heat preference.
- Fennel Seeds: Fennel seeds taste a little like licorice or anise with a mild sweet flavor.
- Orange Zest: You can either use fresh orange zest or you can purchase orange peel in the spice section that is already dried.
- Cinnamon Sticks: Using cinnamon sticks instead of ground cinnamon allows more of the cinnamon’s natural oils to release into the brine.
- Bay Leaves: Bay leaves are very popular in cooking, especially in Spaghetti Sauce, Pork Adobo and Pot Roast. Their earthy, slightly minty flavor helps bring dishes together.
Substitutions: If you prefer dill pickles, you can also add dill seed or stir in fresh dill with your pickling cucumbers.
See the full recipe card below for servings and a full list of ingredients.
How to make homemade pickling spice
Once you have all of your ingredients, this is a really easy recipe that can be made in advance and stored for at least 6 months.
- STEP ONE: Start by crushing each cinnamon stick. Place them in a plastic bag and pound them with a meat mallet. Place those in a small bowl. Next, crush each bay leaf between your hands and add them to the bowl.
- STEP TWO: Place the remaining pickling spice ingredients in the bowl and stir to combine.
How to use homemade pickling spice
Once your pickling spice is blended together, you can use it to make homemade pickles. I add 2 tablespoons of the spice mixture with a few other ingredients like white vinegar and apple cider vinegar sugar and pickling cucumbers when I make my Bread and Butter Pickles.
You don’t have to limit yourself to cucumber pickles. Try making other pickled vegetables like red onions, beets, green beans or cauliflower.
Pickling spice is also used to make corned beef brisket and homemade pastrami. Mix it with water, brown sugar and curing salt and soak the meat in the brine for several days. Then, season it with Homemade Pastrami Rub and smoke the meat until it’s tender.
The pickling spice blend should be stored in an airtight container like a glass jar in a cool, dark place like a pantry or your spice cabinet.
If you use fresh orange zest, it should last for 6 months. If you use dried orange zest, it can last for up to a year.
GCG Pro Pitmaster Tips
- Check the Hispanic foods aisle to save money on whole spices
- Start with the freshest spices you can find
- Wrap the spices in a cheesecloth when mixing them with more delicate vegetables
Frequently Asked Questions
No. Allspice is one of the many ingredients in pickling spice. Pickling spice includes a blend of whole berries, seeds and herbs to make a spice mixture used in curing meats and pickling vegetables.
Yes. Pickling spice is combined with water, sugar and curing salt to produce a brine to make corned beef.
If you store pickling spice in an airtight container in a cool dark place, like your pantry, it will last for 6-12 months. After that, you can still use it, but the spices won’t be as vibrant and flavorful.
Recipes that Use Pickling Spice
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Homemade Pickling Spice
- 2 tbsp whole allspice
- 2 tbsp cardamom pods
- 2 tbsp whole cloves
- 2 tbsp coriander seeds
- 1 tbsp red pepper flakes*
- 2 tsp cinnamon sticks, broken
- 3 bay leaves, crumbled
- 1 tsp orange zest
- In a small bowl, stir together all of the ingredients. Use right away to make pastrami brine or pickles or store in a jar for later.
Nutrition information is automatically calculated, so should only be used as an approximation.