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In order to choose the best pickling spice, you should consider how you want to use the spice, what kind of food you will be using it with, and what type of flavor you want to ultimately have. Pickling spice is traditionally used for pickling vegetables such as cucumbers, but can also be used to add flavor to other types of dishes. The practice of pickling itself can also be used to preserve many different types of foods beyond the traditional cucumbers, and each one might call for its own unique blend of spices. No matter how you use pickling spice, its main purpose is to add flavor to foods, so the type of flavor you ultimately want to have will be important in deciding which spice is right for you.
You might be looking for pickling spice because you want to tackle a homemade pickling project, or you may have just stumbled across it as part of a recipe for a stew or soup. If you are using it to pickle your own foods at home, it might be worth your while to mix up your own homemade batch of pickling spice. The ingredients can be combined and cinched into a pouch using a coffee filter or cheese cloth. If taking this extra step is more work than you want to do, then you should look for one of the pre-made mixes that are available in most grocery stores.
The ingredients used in pickling spice typically include a basic combination of spices and herbs, but this combination can vary. Look at the spices that are in the mix you are considering using and then think about what food you plan to add them to. The spice mix that sounds the best for cooking a beef stew might not be the same as the one that sounds the best for pickling carrots. Make sure you keep in mind the food you plan to use because it will often make a difference in which spice mix you will prefer.
Another factor to consider when you are picking out pickling spice is what overall flavor you want to have in the finished product. For a traditional dill pickle flavor, you need to make sure that there is dill in the mix that you use or that you add plenty of fresh dill to the pickling spices while you are using them. If you like a Mediterranean flavor, look for a spice mix that contains garlic, rosemary, and thyme. Many people also like to have a hot pickling flavor, so if that appeals to you, get a mix with hot pepper flakes in it.