I don’t know why but somehow there’s this myth that German cuisine is very bland and boring. A lot of times people think German cuisine consists solely of heavy meat dishes. But this couldn’t be farther from the truth.
In fact, Germany was rather poor and meat consumption was very limited until the recent 50 years or so. I think there are a lot more vegetarian Southern German dishes than there are meat dishes. Most home-cooked dishes just barely resemble what is served in restaurants.
And, Germany is by far Europe’s largest importer of spices and herbs. About 20 % of the EU’s spice imports go to Germany. Of course, some of it is also exported to other European countries but German people really do spice their food quite heavily.
The demand for spices in Germany is steadily growing. Spices are not only consumed because they taste great but also because of their health benefits. Germany is one of the few industrialized countries where alternative medicine is still widely practiced and accepted. Doctors still prescribe alternative medicine and health insurance still pays for them.
Why modern medicine isn’t always the best
As a kid, my parents used to give me homeopathic medicine and herbal teas rather than drugs to cure colds and the flu. Even though homeopathy is considered a pseudoscience nowadays, I think it is still much better to eat sugar pills without a real physiological effect than a lot of modern-day drugs.
Nowadays, we have all these modern drugs and advancements in medicine but people are the sickest they’ve ever been. And if you think about it: What do these drugs really do? They might fix your symptoms in the short run but these are often not the underlying problem. However, there is no money to be made by telling people to change their lifestyles.
Ok, let’s get back on track. If you want to make a lot of money by exporting spices to Europe then Germany is your country. It’s by far the largest market and constantly growing because spices and herbs are not only valued for their flavor but also for their health benefits.
The favorite spices of the Germans
So here they are – the most popular spices in Germany:
- Paprika & Chilli
- Caraway seeds
- Nutmeg and Mace
- Maggi seasoning sauce
- Curry powder
It’s no surprise that pepper is the most popular seasoning. I guess that’s the same for nearly every Western country. Besides pepper, by a wide margin, the second most popular spice of the Germans is paprika.
It’s the Hungarians who first introduced the Austrians to paprika. Nowadays, it’s an all-purpose seasoning in German cuisine. I use it far less than most Germans but it is traditional in goulash and with roast chicken. There are two varieties: Sweet paprika and spicy paprika with the first one obviously being the more popular choice.
It might sound shocking to you but ginger is the third most popular spice in Germany. It’s a very popular seasoning for cookies and sweets. It’s traditional to add ginger to chicken soup and fish dishes and it can be used as a bread seasoning. Germans are also crazy about ginger tea.
These are my favorite spices
The next three spices on the list are the ones I adore the most: Caraway seeds, cinnamon, and nutmeg. Caraway seeds improve the digestibility of food and are therefore added to bread and cabbage. Cinnamon is popular in sweet dishes but can also be used to enhance the flavor of soups and broths.
And nutmeg is the one spice I don’t want to live without. Nutmeg adds warmth to dishes. It can be used in almost any dish. In Germany, people add it to potatoes, spätzle, broth, dumplings, and meatballs. Creamed spinach without nutmeg is a no-go for me. Nutmeg is the taste of home. German people eat two times as much nutmeg as their European neighbors.
If you go further down the list you can see that the Maggi seasoning sauce is still very popular in Germany. It’s usually sufficient to just add a small quantity of it to a dish to enhance its flavor. Maggi seasoning sauce is very similar in taste to the popular German herb lovage. It, of course, has the bonus of added MSG to make the food taste more savory.
I know that a lot of people think very negatively about the Maggi seasoning sauce. After all, it’s produced by Nestlé and not a natural product. But I think there’s nothing wrong with it. I always have a bottle on hand and like to add a few drops now and then if the food needs some extra kick.
Vanilla is popular in Germany but not as popular as in the anglophone world
Vanilla is used almost exclusively in sweet dishes in Germany. I like it a lot but not as much as some British and American people seem to do. Almost all English language cake and dessert recipes list vanilla extract as an ingredient. I honestly can’t figure out why you would add such an expensive ingredient into every generic recipe?
When there’s vanilla in a German recipe, it’s usually the star of the show. Just think of vanilla pudding, vanilla sauce, and vanilla cookies. And German cooks generally prefer fresh vanilla beans over vanilla extract or powder.
It’s the same as with yeast. The fresh stuff is just so much more pleasing to work with. I feel connected to the product when it is fresh. I can see the vanilla bean and value it as an ingredient. Vanilla extract or powder is just so lifeless, so uninspiring.
What is German curry powder?
German curry powder is similar to its British and American counterparts. Currywurst is one of the most famous German dishes even though I’m not a big fan of it. A lot of people insist that the sauce isn’t ketchup with curry powder. But honestly, that’s what it tastes like. Sellers often add a few other seasonings to make it taste more exotic. And there’s nothing wrong with it. I like ketchup. It’s just that I prefer sausages with mustard.
It’s also notable that Germans cook their own interpretations of curry. Curry-like dishes have existed in Germany for a long time under the name “Geschnetzeltes” which refers to thinly sliced meat that is quickly stir-fried and then served in a cream sauce. The addition of curry powder turns Geschnetzeltes into German curry.
It might taste very different from an Indian curry but I still think it tastes very good. Especially if you add something sweet to it like pineapple and also some vegetables. In Germany, it’s common to serve curries with rice but I think they are the bomb with bread dumplings to soak up the gravy.
In the end, it’s important that you use the spices that you like in your cooking. Does anyone care if there are no caraway seeds in your sauerkraut? No. If you always follow my recipes to the T you might be disappointed because I have a different taste than you. This blog serves merely as an inspiration for anyone looking up German food. And that is my intention.