Knowing how to spice up clam chowder is key for bringing out the dish’s best flavors and textures.
From the classic bay leaf to lesser-known spices like juniper berries, there’s a wide variety of ingredients that can be used to make chowders with depth of flavor—and this collection of my top 15 spices for clam chowder has them all!
This guide will provide you with everything you need to know about making better-than-ever soups and stews using these aromatic seasonings.
Paprika is a spice that can have a mild, sweet taste or be very hot depending on the type you choose.
The most common paprikas you’ll find at the store are mild and sweet.
I personally love adding paprika to my clam chowder, as it brings out all the other flavors nicely.
A good amount of paprika would be 1/8 teaspoon in one serving — this will give your dish just enough taste without overpowering anything else!
2. Old Bay Seasoning
Old Bay Seasoning has a savory, cajun-style flavor.
It’s mostly paprika with notes of celery salt and black pepper, giving it a slight kick.
There are also hints of mustard and nutmeg to round out the blend.
To me, it has an almost seafood-like taste!
The best way to figure out how much you should add to your clam chowder is experimentation!
Start with just 1/2 teaspoon of Old Bay per serving; you can always adjust as needed.
As long as you keep tasting until the flavor is just right for your palate, there really isn’t any wrong amount when it comes to seasoning food!
3. Cayenne Pepper
As someone who enjoys cooking, cayenne pepper is one of my favorite spices to use!
It has a unique taste and it’s incredibly convenient to add a dash of heat.
The primary flavor of cayenne is defined by its hot and fiery effect on the taste buds.
Despite this intense burst of heat, cayenne still retains a fairly mild aroma which makes it an ideal choice for many recipes.
When used correctly, it can add just the right kick to your meal – spicy but not overwhelming – which is why I always recommend adding small amounts while cooking.
If you’re doing clam chowder specifically, I would suggest adding ¼ teaspoon or less in order to achieve the perfect balance between flavors.
4. Red Pepper Flakes
I can tell you from experience, that generic red pepper flakes don’t have too much of a flavor – there is a slightly sharp and earthy element to it with a fair amount of spicy kick.
It totally depends on the dish or your personal preference as to how much you want to add in.
For something like clam chowder, I would start off by adding only a small pinch and seeing if it helps bring out more flavor, then work your way up until it tastes just right!
I personally love the flavor of rosemary!
It’s incredibly aromatic, with a strong lemony-pine taste while also having hints of minty and sage-like flavors as well.
People often describe it as pungent but I find that it has a bright, citrusy flavor when added to dishes.
Since rosemary can overpower certain dishes, sometimes less is more!
When I’m making my favorite clam chowder recipe, I usually add about 1 teaspoon for every quart of water used in the soup base.
This helps get enough flavor without overpowering the other ingredients in the recipe.
I find that dill has a bright, sweet flavor—it’s like anise, parsley, and celery all rolled into one.
Dried dill seed is even more pungent; it has a more intense yet still notable sweetness to it.
In the United States, we mainly associate its flavor with dill pickles!
When adding dill to dishes such as clam chowder or omelets, I tend to use 1/2 teaspoon of dried loose dill leaves per cup of soup or two egg-based dishes.
For fresh leaves, I will double the amount (1 teaspoon).
The intense flavor can easily overpower any dish so don’t be afraid to start with just a small sprinkle and add more as needed.
From my own experience, leeks have an oniony flavor that is slightly sweet.
They add depth and richness to soups like clam chowder and can also be used in other dishes such as pastas or stir fry.
I recommend adding ½ cup of finely diced leeks to your clam chowder for a flavor boost without being too overpowering.
Use fresh if possible, but you could also substitute with frozen if necessary – just make sure to thaw them before using.
Thyme has a generally sharp and almost minty taste.
It is both earthy, with floral hints of oregano, as well as being a little bit sweet and peppery at the same time.
It’s very distinctive so you’ll know when it’s present in any dish!
For my clam chowder, I like to add 1 teaspoon of dried thyme leaves for every 4 servings.
If fresh thyme is available, you can swap that out for the dried version since fresh has more flavor than dried – just use 1 tablespoon instead.
As always, adjust it to your liking!
9. Bay Leaves
Bay leaves impart an almost minty flavor (somewhere between spearmint and menthol) when infused into a cooking liquid like water or broth, along with subtle hints of black pepper and Christmas tree pine.
I usually recommend adding 1-2 bay leaves per quart of soup/stew that you are making – particularly if using dried bay leaves – as these can become overly pungent after extended simmering times.
It’s best to take out the leaf or two before serving your dish so the diner doesn’t get too much bitter fleck in their spoonful!
10. Salt and Pepper
Salt and pepper are an essential combination that never fails to add flavor to your dishes.
Salt enhances the existing flavors in a dish while also adding a savory taste.
It can brighten the flavors, making them stand out more.
Meanwhile, pepper adds its own unique flavor of spiciness that can take any dish up a notch.
It has a pungent aroma and complex heat that lasts on your tongue after eating it.
When it comes to toppings for clam chowder, my advice would be to go light on the salt and pepper as there is already some tastiness imparted by other ingredients such as celery and potatoes.
I suggest adding just enough salt so that you can barely start tasting it but not too much.
11. Tabasco Sauce
I personally find that Tabasco sauce is a pretty simple flavor – it has a tanginess to it, and sometimes the slightest hint of sweetness along with the salty taste.
It also delivers good heat that’s not overwhelming at all.
When adding Tabasco sauce to your chowder, I recommend starting out slowly and increasing the amount as needed.
I usually begin by stirring in just half a teaspoon as this gives a subtle heat but doesn’t overpower the soup’s base flavors like garlic and onion or the smoked bacon pieces.
You can always add more if desired after tasting!
Fennel has a very mellow and slightly sweet taste.
A lot of people describe it similarly to the flavor of anise or licorice, depending on how it is prepared.
For example, when diced up and sauteed with onions as one of the first steps when making a soup or chowder like clam chowder – it becomes much sweeter and adds a lovely depth to the dish.
For this particular dish, I would suggest adding about one medium-sized fennel bulb (about 1 lb).
If you want more flavor in your chowder feel free to add two bulbs however this can be adjusted according to taste so make sure not to go overboard if you’re unsure!
Tarragon has a unique, wonderful taste that can’t be mistaken.
It has a bittersweet flavor with an herbal edge to it, often compared to the likes of licorice or fennel.
With its sweet aroma and distinctive flavor, tarragon is a staple in French cuisine.
When adding tarragon to clam chowder, I would start by adding 1/4 teaspoon per single serving.
Everyone’s tastes are different though so you may want to experiment with adding more until it reaches your desired level of sweetness and herbiness.
14. Celery Powder
Celery powder tastes just like celery, but slightly more concentrated.
Because it’s so intensely flavorful, you don’t need to add much to your dish – a pinch adds a savory flavor boost.
I personally love adding only a teaspoon of celery powder to my clam chowder – its earthy notes are not only delicious but also help balance out vegetable-based soups and stews nicely.
I love how versatile parsley is for cooking. It’s got a clean and peppery taste with a touch of earthiness, making it a great all-rounder in the kitchen.
In the case of clam chowder, I would suggest adding several sprigs (around 4 to 5) towards the end stages of preparation so its flavor stands out but isn’t overpowered by other ingredients in the soup.
15 Spices for Clam Chowder For Maximum Taste
- Old Bay Seasoning
- Cayenne Pepper
- Red Pepper Flakes
- Bay Leaves
- Salt and Pepper
- Tabasco Sauce
- Celery Powder
- Pick your favorite spices from this collection to add to your chowder recipe.
- Prepare the rest of your delicious meal.
- Serve in no time!