I think most people buy their pickling spices already blended, and there's nothing wrong with doing that. Pickling spice blends are not just used for pickling recipes, such as cucumber dill pickles and pickled beets, pickled salmon & pickled herring and pickled eggs. The zesty spice blend is what gives corned beef it's unmistakeable flavor as well as other types of cured meats, like bacon. It livens up certain soups & stews, and various rice dishes and is a necessary component of a classic crab or shrimp boil.
If you make any of the aforementioned dishes in your home, you might enjoy creating custom pickling spice blends from scratch.
(I bet you had no idea pickling spice blends were so popular!)
Since you are in control of exactly what goes into your own special blend, you can choose to make it according to your own tastes. For example, you can add more dried red chile flakes and make it spicier. Maybe you want to omit the whole cloves entirely. You might choose to add herbs or spices some commercial pickling spice blends don't normally contain, like dried oregano or fennel seed, which can be especially nice in fish & seafood recipes.
Here are some ingredients you might find in pickling spice blends:
- whole allspice
- bay leaves
- caraway seeds
- celery seed
- crushed chile peppers
- cinnamon sticks
- whole cloves
- coriander seed
- dill seed
- fennel seeds
- fenugreek seeds
- ground ginger*
- juniper berries
- yellow mustard seed
- brown mustard seed
- ground nutmeg*
- dried oregano
- whole black peppercorns
- star anise
It's really very simple to make your own blends, and it can be quite a bit less expensive too. First you'll need a good source for your herbs & spices. In Seattle I like World Spice Merchants and Big John's PFI.
I know that World Spice Merchants has a wonderful mail order business, because I've used it (see photo above.) Not sure about Big John's PFI, but if you're in the area it's worth a drive just to check out their well-stocked store. Truth be told, both of these stores are fun to peruse and once you buy their fresh quality herbs & spices in bulk, I doubt you'll ever buy those expensive jars of spices and pickling spice blends in the grocery store again.
The following are suggestions, so feel free to improvise. I tend to make mine a little different every time with great results.
*Whole spices are preferred because ground spices, like ground ginger and ground nutmeg, can darken the pickling brine and cause it to become cloudy.
Note: the seeds in any of the above recipes may be toasted lightly first, then cracked with the side of a heavy knife before adding to the spice blend mix. This gives the pickling spice blend an even more complex flavor. Try it!