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What Is Italian Seasoning?

Italian seasoning is often used in pasta dishes.
Italian seasoning herb mix is used to capture the flavor of that country's cuisine.
Garlic powder is common in Italian cooking.
Parsley is popular in Italian seasonings.
Chicken cacciatore is flavored with oregano, garlic, and basil.
Along with tomatoes and mozzarella, freshly picked basil is used to make insalata caprese.
Oregano is a common Italian seasoning.
Oregano and fresh herbs add flavor to chicken Marsala and other Italian entrees.
Dried marjoram, which is often included in Italian seasoning.
Red pepper flakes can be part of Italian seasoning.
Croutons may be flavored with Italian seasoning.
Basil is a common element of Italian seasoning.
Italian seasoning may include cilantro.
Article Details
  • Originally Written By: Sara Schmidt
  • Revised By: C. Mitchell
  • Edited By: Andrew Jones
  • Last Modified Date: 04 December 2014
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Italian seasoning is a spice mixture popular in many parts of the world that attempts to capture some of the most common flavors of Italian cooking. It is typically sold as a dried herb mix. It can contain a wide range of ingredients, but rosemary, oregano, thyme, and marjoram are usually some of the most common. As its name suggests, cooks use it most often in Italian cooking, but many people also consider it to be something of a kitchen “staple” that can add a quick flavor boost to many different meals.

Basic Concept

Italian food is very popular all over the world, and cooks in many countries wish that they could imitate the fresh flavors of the pizzas, pastas, and hearty meat stews made in authentic Italian kitchens. The main idea behind Italian seasoning is to capture some of the boldest flavors of this style of cooking. Smelling the mix is often said to bring back memories of pizzerias or trattorias, simple Italian restaurants.

Pre-packaged “Italian seasoning” is widely believed to be an American innovation, though its popularity extends to most of Western Europe, and is usually also available in places like Australia, New Zealand, and South Africa. At the same time, it is often all but impossible to find in any true Italian markets.

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Primary Ingredients

There is no universal recipe setting out what should or should not be included in the mix. Most manufacturers start out with a basic blend of herbs that are popular in Italian cooking, but often also add different tastes to make their creation more distinctive. Savory, parsley, garlic powder, and sage are popular additions. Red pepper flakes can also be included for heat; cilantro and coriander might be added for color, as well. People who are picky about what their seasoning contains often have to look carefully at ingredient labels, as the “Italian” designation usually says more about how the seasoning should be used than what it contains.

Main Uses

As far as spices go, Italian seasoning is quite versatile. Many pasta recipes call for it, and it is a common addition to broth-based soups and spaghetti sauces. Cooks may sprinkle it on top of pizza crust or use it to liven up baked meat dishes, particularly poultry. U.S. cooks frequently blend the mixture with butter and Parmesan cheese to make a spread for crackers or toast.

The seasoning is also quite popular with vegetables, particularly roasted potatoes, zucchini, and eggplant. When blended with olive oil, the spices make an excellent coating or batter that can seal in flavors during baking.

Criticism

Culinary experts are often skeptical of this sort of seasoning, pointing out that few if any “authentic” Italian cooks would actually use herbs sold in mixes or blends. Traditional recipes may call for one or two herbs, but rarely five or six at once. Most Italian cooks use fresh ingredients, too, and will employ dried herbs only in situations of dire necessity.

These claims have done relatively little to dampen the spice’s popularity. Many stores will even stock more than one variety or brand. The name “Italian seasoning” can sometimes also be found on other related products, like bread crumbs, marinades, and croutons that embrace a range of savory, Italian-esque flavors.

Tips for Home Blending

Cooks who either don’t have Italian spices on hand or don’t want to buy them can often create their own mixture at home that will rival anything found in a store. A basic blend begins with about 2 tablespoons (25 grams) each of dried basil, rosemary, oregano, thyme, and marjoram, though additions or substitutions can always be made to suit individual tastes.

People with access to fresh herbs might also want to try making the seasoning without resorting to dried ingredients. Dried herbs tend to have a more concentrated flavor, but rarely beat fresh ingredients when it comes to overall taste and texture. It is usually a good idea to chop fresh leaves very finely before blending. Depending on the recipe being made, cooks may need to use more fresh herbs than they would dried herbs, if only to be sure that the taste comes across as strongly as is needed.

Preserving Freshness

Fresh herb blends will usually last for a few days if sealed in an airtight container, and refrigeration can help extend their life. Dried versions, on the other hand, can often last for up to a year or more, but should be carefully sealed and kept out of direct sunlight. A good way for cooks test dried herbs to see if they’re still good is to crush a small pinch between the fingers, then check for color and smell. A blend that remains pungent and still has some green to it is usually still good; one that is tan or brown and doesn’t smell like much has probably passed its prime. There are not usually any health risks associated with using expired or dull spice mixes, but recipes usually won’t turn out as well.

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Discuss this Article

sunshined
Post 10

I use dried Italian seasoning for a lot of things. We love Italian food so this gets used for spaghetti, lasagna and pizza. I even like to use Italian seasoning on chicken for some extra kick. Some herbs and spices sit in my cupboard and rarely get used. I never have to worry about the Italian seasoning losing its taste as it doesn't take me very long to use up a jar of this blend.

julies
Post 9

I pretty much had to teach myself how to cook, and once I started cooking with herbs, I found that my dishes tasted so much better. I think the spices you use are often the secret ingredient that really makes your dish stand out.

I do have a bottle of dry Italian seasoning herbs in my cupboard. When I am in a hurry and don't have much time, this is the next best thing to using fresh herbs. Using dried herbs like this is much better than using nothing at all.

John57
Post 8

@chivebasil-- I like to make up my own herb seasoning blends. I have many of the common herbs that are in an Italian seasoning blend growing in my garden.

I don't always plant the same herbs every year, but consider thyme, rosemary, basil and oregano staples in my garden. There are so many dishes you can add these spices too that will really enhance the flavor.

One or two herb plants goes a long ways and I will freeze the extra that I don't use so they don't go to waste. This way I have my herbs to use year round. I don't have a specific Italian seasoning recipe, because it just depends on what type of dish I am fixing.

andee
Post 7

@anon114374-- I find it interesting that you don't find herbs mixed together in Italy. In the United States you can find Italian seasoning just about anywhere they sell spices. I suppose it got its name because most of the spices used in this blend are very popular in Italian dishes.

I especially agree with your point that if you use the same Italian seasoning for every dish, they will all end up tasting pretty much the same. It is better to use only a few herbs in each specific dish so the unique flavor comes through.

jonrss
Post 6

I have a buddy that uses Italian herbs as part of his chili seasoning. It is pretty unusual I know, but it makes for some good chili. The flavor is hard to describe, distinct for sure, but also tasty in the way that you want a chili to be. I think those Italian herbs bring out something in the tomatoes.

chivebasil
Post 5
Has anyone ever tried making their own Italian seasoning from various dried herbs? I think there is a lot of potential with this idea. You could make the seasoning taste however you wanted it; heavier on the oregano or maybe add some crushed red pepper.
backdraft
Post 4

Italian seasoning is one of my favorite spice blends because it is so versatile. You can put it on any meat, any veggies, in almost any sauce and it tastes great even if the dish is not Italian inspired.

But I have learned from experience to invest the money in a quality seasoning blend. The cheap stuff tastes cheap and it can ruin a dish. Spend just a few bucks more and get something with real flavor.

anon278953
Post 3

You know that this stuff doesn't exist in Italy, don't you?

We don't put all the herbs together, ever! And especially not in butter and parmigiano!

By the way: Alfredo pasta doesn't exist, either. And we don't speak like Super Mario. Just to be clear.

anon145358
Post 2

I thoroughly agree with the above comment. Made Italian meatballs and used Italian seasoning and found them terrible. The combination does not work as far as I am concerned!

anon114374
Post 1

I am Italian, have worked as a cook, come from a family in which pretty much everyone knows how to cook. And honestly, there is no such thing as "Italian Seasoning". Those mixed herbs that go under such name are usually used individually, or paired up, but there is no proper Italian recipe where one would use them all. And personally, I find the combination of them all just horrible to taste.

Noteworthy, it is impossible to find mixed herbs or ready-to-use seasoning in Italy.

My advice is, buy two or three and start using those. Whenever possible, buy and use fresh herbs (basil, rosemary, sage, bay leaf, mint are the most common). Also, remember that simpler is better: herbs should enhance the flavour of the main ingredient, not cover it. And using "Italian Seasoning" will just make every recipe taste the same, killing their individuality.

Trust me, your palate will appreciate a sparer use of herbs.

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