Looking for the best spices to put in mac and cheese?
Using a combination of spices can make your mac and cheese dish absolutely out of this world in terms of taste.
Most people only use one or two spicess such as black pepper, salt and possibly paprika.
There are so many other blends that you can use like cajun spice, Tex-Mex spice mixture, herbes de Provence and many more.
Below are 23 of the very best spices, herbs, and more to spice up your mac and cheese.
What Spices to Put in Mac and Cheese: 23 Best Spices
You can add a variety of spices to mac and cheese to make it your own. From cinnamon, nutmeg and cayenne to rosemary and thyme, you can experiment to make it your own. Experimenting with the flavors of spices is a great way to make your mac and cheese more interesting.
Looking for more ideas? Keep reading!
We’re not sure who decided to put basil in mac and cheese, but we’re so glad they did.
If you think about it, it makes sense that these two foods would taste great together: both are savory, but have a bit of sweet flavor mixed in.
Mac and Cheese is creamy and mild, while basil has a crisp, grassy taste that brings out the tanginess of the cheese.
Basil will make your mac and cheese taste even more like the comfort food you love!
If you’re new to cooking with basil, there are plenty of herbs and spices that go well with it.
- Try adding ground cumin (1/2 teaspoon per pound of pasta) and dried oregano (1/2 teaspoon per pound) when you add the basil (1 teaspoon per pound).
- You can also add some heat with chili powder (1/4 teaspoon per pound) or crushed red pepper flakes (1/4 teaspoon per pound).
Ready to try some basil-and-mac recipes? Here’s two of our favorites:
- Tomato-Basil Stovetop Mac and Cheese
- Macaroni cheese with basil and garlic
- Tomato Basil Macaroni and Cheese
Mac and cheese goes well with oregano.
It might not be the first thing that comes to your mind when you think about macaroni, but you should definitely give it a shot.
The fragrance of this herb makes it a great addition to anything cheesy.
To use oregano in your cooking, try adding it to other herbs or spices in the following combinations:
- Oregano and basil
- Oregano and thyme
- Oregano, basil, and thyme
- Oregano and coriander seed
- Oregano, coriander seed, and cumin seed
Here are some great recipes that combine both of these foods:
3. White pepper
Whether you eat them together or not, mac and cheese and white pepper go great together.
White pepper has a bold flavor that is hot but not as spicy as black pepper.
It can be used to enhance the flavor of both sweet and savory dishes.
When looking for a spicy kick, white pepper can be used in combination with other herbs and spices that have similarly bold flavors: chili powder, paprika, cumin, coriander, or turmeric.
If you’re looking to balance out the spiciness of white pepper with some sweetness, try using it in combination with ginger, cinnamon, allspice, or cardamom.
Here are some recipes where those two foods are both included:
- Macaroni and Cheese with White Pepper
- Stovetop Mac & Cheese With Garlic Powder & White Pepper
- Perfect Southern Baked Macaroni and Cheese
4. Cayenne powder
One of the best things about mac and cheese is that it’s so versatile.
You can make it from scratch, and you have a ton of options for what goes into the sauce.
And you can use pretty much any herb or spice to give it a unique flavor.
A great option?
If you’re looking for other spices or herbs to pair with cayenne powder, we recommend paprika, cumin, chili powder, oregano, garlic powder, onion powder, mustard powder, salt, pepper, and/or parsley.
While these are all good flavors to incorporate in your mac and cheese sauce, we also want to share with you why cayenne pepper is one of our top choices:
- It adds just the right amount of kick. It’s by no means overwhelming, but it adds a little bit of heat that will leave you wanting more.
- Did you know that cayenne pepper is good for you? Its active ingredient capsaicin has been shown to help boost circulation and lower blood pressure.
So there’s no need to worry about how much cayenne pepper you’re sprinkling on your cheesy masterpiece—it’s actually better if you use more!
Here are some links to some recipes where these are both included:
5. Chopped jalapeño
Mac and cheese is the ultimate comfort food, but sometimes it needs a little extra something.
The heat and spice of chopped jalapeños perfectly complement the smooth, creamy texture of mac and cheese—plus they add a little bit of color to your dish.
To bring out the best in your mac and cheese with chopped jalapeños, try pairing them with other spices such as dill, oregano, garlic powder, or paprika. Be careful not to over-do it: you don’t want just spice!
If you’re looking for a recipe that uses both dill and jalapeños with your macaroni and cheese, check out these:
- Jalapeño Macaroni and Cheese
- Jalapeño Popper Mac & Cheese Bites
- Bacon Jalapeno Popper Macaroni and Cheese
6. Chili powder
Chili powder goes really well with mac and cheese.
But if you’re intimidated by experimenting in the kitchen, or have never tried chili powder before, it can be hard to know where to start!
We’ve got some tips and tricks that will help you make the most of this exciting combination:
- First of all, just a little bit of chili powder goes a long way. Consider starting with 1/4th of a teaspoon per cup of noodles, then add more as desired.
- Chili powder combines particularly well with these other spices: cumin, oregano, garlic powder, paprika, salt and pepper. Try adding about half a teaspoon each of these spices along with 1/4th of a teaspoon of chili powder for a simple yet flavorful addition to your macaroni.
Finally, here are some easy recipes where you can use your new knowledge to really get cooking:
Paprika and macaroni and cheese go amazingly well together, as long as you use it right.
To get the most out of paprika’s lovely, sweet smokiness, try mixing it with your traditional mac and cheese herbs and spices.
A little bay leaf goes a long way to enhance the flavor of both the pasta and the paprika; the same goes for marjoram.
Just be careful not to add too much rosemary—while it complements the paprika beautifully, you don’t want it to overpower the soft, creamy texture of your macaroni and cheese.
And if you’re looking for a great place to start using this spice/herb combination? Try out these recipes:
- The Best Baked Mac & Cheese Recipe Ever
- Home’s Mac and Cheese with Smoked Paprika
- Baked Mac and Cheese
This might sound strange, but stay with us.
Have you ever tried mac and cheese with marjoram?
No? You should!
Marjoram has that minty, honey-like flavor that is perfect for the rich, creamy texture of mac and cheese. So let’s talk about how to use it.
Marjoram goes great with other herbs like thyme, oregano, sage, and rosemary.
So feel free to swap marjoram into any recipes that call for those ingredients.
Just be careful not to add too much—marjoram is very strong stuff!
If you’re looking for some recipes to try out, we suggest starting with these:
- Savory Marjoram Mac n’ Cheese
- Mac and Cheese with Black Truffle & Fresh Marjoram
- Dairy-Free Mac and Cheese
9. Garlic Powder
Sometimes, two things are just meant to be together. Like mac and cheese, and garlic powder!
As with many herbs and spices, you don’t want to go overboard with garlic powder when you’re using it in your cooking.
A little goes a long way.
It’s best when used in combination with other herbs and spices like oregano, basil, or cayenne pepper.
If you’re looking for some ways to incorporate garlic powder into your next plate of mac and cheese, we’ve got you covered.
Check out these recipes:
- Baked Macaroni and Cheese with Garlic Powder
- Simple Mac and Cheese with Garlic Powder
- Roasted Garlic Mac and Cheese
One spice that particularly pairs well with macaroni and cheese is nutmeg.
Nutmeg is a fragrant spice that gives off a sweet yet earthy flavor.
This spice complements the creaminess of the cheese in macaroni and cheese while also adding an element of surprise due to its subtle kick.
The next time you’re preparing mac and cheese from a box or from scratch, try sprinkling some freshly ground nutmeg on top of your dish prior to serving it.
You’ll be pleasantly surprised by how much depth this simple addition lends your meal!
Additionally, nutmeg works well in combination with other herbs like parsley or thyme as well as spices like cayenne pepper or red pepper flakes.
If you’d like another way to incorporate nutmeg into your culinary creations, try making one of these recipes:
11. Black Pepper
There are so many things you can do with the classic black pepper in this recipe, but our favorite is using it to add some earthy smokiness to your mac.
Try sprinkling some paprika in there, too—it adds a nice warmth to the dish and brings out some sweetness from the cheese.
If you want to go in an entirely different direction, try adding a bit of cayenne pepper for a kick!
And if you’re feeling really adventurous, nutmeg can add a surprising depth of flavor to your macaroni and cheese—just a little goes a long way!
Here are some recipes that use these ingredients:
- Cacio e Pepe Macaroni and Cheese
- Dairy Free Mac and Cheese with Black Pepper & Broccoli
- Vegan Black Pepper Mac and Cheese with Potato Carrot Cheese Sauce
12. Crushed Red Pepper Flakes
Mac and cheese is an all-American classic. And what would make this dish even better? Crushed red pepper flakes!
Crushed red pepper flakes are known for their ability to turn up the heat, so it’s no surprise that they go well with a warm bowl of mac and cheese.
In fact, most recipes for mac and cheese include some type of paprika or chili powder, so crushed red pepper flakes are in good company.
This spice also has other uses for making your mac and cheese even more delicious.
Try sprinkling some on top of your finished product (or even adding it in during the cooking process) to add some extra zest to the dish.
Or consider using it as a substitute for paprika or chili powder when you’re already using those ingredients in your recipe.
If you’re looking for great recipes to try out, we suggest looking at these:
13. Dry Mustard
Dry mustard, that pungent, pleasantly bitter spice found in so many of our favorite dishes, is a great addition to mac and cheese.
It has such a strong flavor that it can stand up to the richness of the cheese, making for a more dynamic dish.
If you’re looking for a few tips on how to use dry mustard in combination with other herbs and spices, we recommend checking out some traditional recipes like deviled eggs or potato salad.
You can also try adding it to the breading when breading chicken, or into your next mac and cheese dish!
If you’d like to try using dry mustard with mac and cheese in a recipe, check out these:
14. Onion Powder
The combination of onion powder and mac and cheese is a classic for a reason!
First, let’s talk about why these two go so well together.
The most obvious characteristic of onion powder is that it makes whatever you add it to taste more like onion—but not just any onion.
Think about the flavor of the onions that are cooked into delicious pasta sauces or soups—that’s what this spice does for your mac and cheese.
So if your mac and cheese has a little bit more cheese flavor than you’d like, adding some onion powder can bring out the other flavors in the dish to even them out.
But onion powder isn’t just good on its own!
Pair it with other spices to really take your mac and cheese to the next level.
Try adding a dash of cayenne pepper or black pepper to give your mac and cheese a little extra kick, or try using paprika or garlic powder if you want to really highlight the savory flavors inherent in all your favorite comfort foods.
If you’re looking for recipes with both mac and cheese and onion powder, check out these:
- Easy Homemade Mac & Cheese
- Secret Ingredient Macaroni and Cheese
- Baked Macaroni and Cheese with Onion Powder
15. Buffalo hot sauce
We love mac and cheese.
It’s just so cozy!
And you know what also goes great with mac and cheese? Buffalo hot sauce.
Maybe it’s not the most obvious combination, but trust us—it works.
First of all, you’ll want to choose a gentle-flavored cheese for your dish.
For example, if you’re using extra sharp white cheddar, try to pair it with something that will cut the sharpness, like mild pepper jack or havarti.
This will allow the warm, spicy flavor of buffalo hot sauce to shine through.
When it comes to adding other spices, keep it simple.
Toss in some salt and pepper for good measure, and maybe add a dash of paprika for a bit of extra kick. But don’t go overboard!
You don’t want to overwhelm the flavors of your cheese and buffalo hot sauce.
If you’re looking for some awesome recipes that use buffalo hot sauce in combination with mac and cheese, we recommend trying these out:
- Frank’s Classic Buffalo Chicken Mac N’ Cheese
- Buffalo Hot Sauce,Bacon & Jalapeno Mac and Cheese
- Buffalo Chicken Mac and Cheese
16. Celery Salt
One of the best spices you can pair with mac and cheese is celery salt.
Celery salt brings the cheesy, creamy dish to life with a sharpness that pairs perfectly with the dairy notes in the sauce.
You can also pair it with other spices to really bring out their flavors—we love to sprinkle a bit of celery salt over rosemary-flavored dishes.
To help get you started, here’s a few recipes featuring this perfect spice pairing:
We know what you’re thinking—curry and mac and cheese? Really?
But let us just say: the combination is a match made in heaven.
The richness of creamy cheese and the in-your-face flavor of curry is one of those pairings that makes your tastebuds explode with joy.
Also, curry is bright yellow, which pairs beautifully with the color of macaroni and cheese!
If you’re new to cooking with curry, don’t be afraid to experiment.
It goes well with just about anything, especially other spices like nutmeg and cumin.
Try adding a little bit at a time until the flavors are just right.
It might surprise you how much complexity a simple pinch of spice can add to your dish!
You can use this pairing in any recipe where both ingredients are called for, but we especially recommend trying out some of our favorite recipes:
Mac and cheese is a delicious comfort food, but it can also get a little boring if you don’t know how to spice it up.
That’s where cumin comes in.
Cumin is the perfect way to add an extra layer of flavor to your mac, without overwhelming the palate with too much spice.
You might not think that cumin would go well with mac, but it turns out that cumin and macaroni are actually natural partners once you know how to use them together.
Cumin is noticeably sweeter than other spices, which means it won’t clash with the creamy sweetness of your cheese sauce.
And because it’s so versatile, you can use cumin in combination with any other herbs and spices—like basil and oregano—to give your mac a truly unique flavor.
Don’t believe us?
Here are some mac-and-cheese recipes that feature cumin:
- 20-Minute Southwestern Mac & Cheese
- Middle Eastern Mac & Cheese With Za’atar Pesto
- Indian-Spiced Macaroni and Cheese
Allspice is actually made from a dried berry that tastes like cloves and cinnamon, but sweeter.
The flavor of this spice has an affinity for dairy foods like mac and cheese—it brings out the creamy texture of the dish and helps to mask any sharp flavors of the cheese itself.
If you want to experiment with other spices in combination with allspice, try using some fresh black pepper or thyme to add a little zing to your macaroni and cheese.
Or if you want to go bold, try adding in some paprika or cayenne to kick things up a notch!
Try this recipe if this sounds interesting.
Turmeric, when added to mac and cheese, enhances both the flavor and the nutritional value of the meal.
Turmeric adds a brightness that can help bring out the other flavors in your mac and cheese.
Try adding a pinch of turmeric to really make your herbs and spices pop—it is especially good with cayenne pepper, paprika, parsley, oregano, basil, garlic powder, onion powder, rosemary, thyme, chives, black pepper, cumin, cinnamon, coriander, cardamom, cloves and ginger.
For some recipes that include both macaroni and cheese AND turmeric check out these:
- Turmeric Macaroni and Cheese
- Creamy Yogurt Turmeric Mac & Cheese
- Healthy Mac ‘N Cheese with Broccoli and Turmeric
The best thing about mac and cheese is the way it can be spiced up in so many ways.
It’s a great palette for all types of flavor combinations. One of my favorites is sage.
Sage is a mild, subtle herb that works well with all sorts of other herbs and spices.
If you like to explore different flavors, you should definitely give this herb a try.
If you’re just starting out, try mixing it with cinnamon, nutmeg or paprika.
When it comes to recipes, I suggest that you start with a basic mac and cheese recipe and simply add some sage at the beginning of the cooking process.
When you’ve mastered this combination, you should move onto more complicated dishes such as:
- Butternut squash & sage macaroni cheese
- Mac & Cheese with Prosciutto Sage Breadcrumbs
- Mushroom, Sage Mac and Cheese
You probably already know that dill is a great seasoning for your mac and cheese.
It’s an herb that has a delicious savory flavor and aroma, so it can help round out the dish’s flavor profile and make it more complex.
But did you know that you can use dill in combination with other herbs and spices to make your mac and cheese even better?
Here are a few tips:
- Try adding some cumin to your next batch of mac and cheese—the spice will give it a nice kick, while the dill will complement it nicely by adding some savory notes.
- Another great way to add some extra flavor to your mac and cheese is to sprinkle on some cilantro. The dill will help balance out the herb’s green, grassy taste.
- If you like spicy food, try adding some chili powder! The dill will help balance out the spiciness by providing a nice cooling effect.
If you’re looking for some great recipes that use both dill and macaroni, here are a few suggestions:
- Havarti Macaroni and Cheese
- Mac ‘n Cheese with Dill, Chives + Mustard Breadcrumbs
- Havarti Dill & Bacon Mac & Cheese
Mac and cheese…and coriander?
It might sound like an unusual combination, but coriander is actually a perfect addition to mac and cheese.
Coriander has a citrusy, floral flavor that acts as a compliment to the creamy, buttery goodness of your favorite comfort food.
Plus, coriander pairs well with almost any other herb or spice, so you can really have fun experimenting with different flavors.
Add some fresh basil leaves and some black pepper for an Italian twist on your mac and cheese.
Or try adding a little cayenne pepper for a spicy kick.
The possibilities are truly endless!
And if you need some inspiration on how to put these two foods together, we’ve got you covered.
Here are just a few of our favorite recipes featuring mac and cheese and coriander:
6 Benefits of Putting Spices in Mac and Cheese
So you’ve decided to jazz up your mac and cheese.
We’re so glad you did!
Because let’s face it: even if you buy the ultra-premium, triple-stuffed, super bacon-y kind, it can taste like cardboard.
Here are some of the benefits of adding spices to your mac and cheese:
1. It Makes It Taste Better
Mac and cheese is already a great dish, but adding spices can turn it into a truly memorable one.
Think about it: when was the last time you had mac and cheese that was mind-blowing? And what made that dish so special?
Wasn’t it the fact that someone took the time to throw in some extra flavor?
Spices can make all the difference between a ho-hum bowl of mac and cheese and an unforgettable experience.
2. It’s Easy
Adding spices isn’t hard! You literally just have to take them from their container (or from wherever you keep them) and put them on your mac and cheese.
We know that cooking is intimidating for some people, but this is a step anyone can do—even if they’re not trained chefs!
3. You Can Customize the Flavor
If you’re in the mood for something tangy, try adding a bit of paprika or cayenne pepper to your recipe.
If you want something cool and creamy, add a dash of nutmeg or cinnamon (and maybe some crushed walnuts).
You can even mix up two different kinds of spices to create a totally new flavor profile!
4. It Adds More Vitamins and Minerals
Let’s face it: a lot of times we eat mac and cheese because we’re short on time, and we forgot our lunch or we just didn’t feel like cooking or—let’s be honest—sometimes all we have time for are the drive-thru window and a microwave at work.
Adding spices gives your body that extra boost of vitamins it needs to keep you going strong. And who couldn’t use a little boost?
You’ve got places to go, people to see, stuff to do! So why not get a little extra nutrition out of every bite?
5. It Makes You Feel Like a Gourmet Chef
We’re willing to bet that most days, eating dinner feels like a chore.
But when you add some exotic spices—like cardamom or saffron—you’ll impress even yourself with how much you’ve upped your culinary game.
6. It Saves Time (and Money!)
Adding spices to your mac and cheese means you don’t have to make as many side dishes and desserts to pair with it (and we all know how expensive it is to feed kids).
How to Choose the Right Spices for Your Mac and Cheese
A little bit of spice can go a long way towards making your mac and cheese feel like a complete meal that you’re happy to curl up with for the rest of the day.
But which spice is right for you? How will you know that you’ve found your perfect mac and cheese partner?
We’ve compiled a few tips to help you find the right type of spice:
1. Consider Creaminess
How creamy is your mac?
Do you like a lot of sauce, or just a little bit?
If you can’t see the noodles easily through the sauce, you may want to opt for a lighter spice.
2. Consider Cheese Type
If you’re using a stronger cheese, like cheddar or a spicy pepper jack, you’ll want to use a more subtle spice (if any).
If your cheese is on the milder side, though, feel free to get creative!
A flavor combination with some kick will really make your dish stand out.
3. Consider Location
Where are you going to eat your mac and cheese?
If you’re eating it at home, and it’s cold outside, feel free to use heavier-handed spices.
But if you’re taking your dish on the go and it’s summertime, stick with something light that won’t weigh down your dish.
4. Are You Adding Protein?
If so, you probably want to choose a milder spice that won’t compete with the meaty flavor.
If not, have fun!
Be sure to experiment with different spice combinations until you find your perfect match.
5. Are They Fresh?
Spices can grow old and lose their flavor, so don’t be afraid to spring for some new ones if yours have been sitting in your cupboard for years!
If you’re going to add spice to something as classic as mac and cheese, it’s worth it to get something high-quality.
Be sure to check the expiration date on your spices (if there is one), and know that ground spices tend to last about four years.
Whole spices can last up to nine years, but again, if it’s been sitting in your kitchen for that long, it’s probably not going to pack much of a punch.
6. What Kind of Taste Do You Want to Add?
Are you looking for something peppery, or sweet, or tangy?
Maybe you have a favorite flavor that reminds you of special occasions spent with family.
Whatever it might be, think about how different spices might make your mac and cheese taste and choose from there.
7. How Do You Feel About Heat?
Do fiery flavors give you life, or are they too much for your taste buds?
Let this guide your decision—if you’re not a fan of spicy foods, don’t add something stiff and strong like paprika.
If you love that extra kick, however, paprika might be just what your bowl needs!
23 Best Spices to Put in Mac and Cheese
- White pepper
- Cayenne powder
- Chopped jalapeño
- Chili powder
- Garlic Powder
- Black Pepper
- Crushed red pepper flakes
- Dry Mustard
- Onion Powder
- Buffalo hot sauce
- Celery Salt
- Pick any of these spices or herbs to put in your dish.
- Prepare the rest of your meal.
- Enjoy your delicious dinner in less than 20 minutes!