Macaroni and cheese is an American classic. A basic mac and cheese recipe with just a bit of salt and pepper is great on its own.
But, by knowing which spices to add to make and cheese to take it over the top, you’ll create an unforgettable dish that you’ll want to make over and over again.
The best spices for mac and cheese include garlic powder, onion powder, oregano, cayenne pepper, paprika, and even nutmeg. However, the spices you select will depend on the desired flavor of your dish.
Mediterranean and Italian herbs are some of the most common spices added to traditional mac and cheese. There is a huge selection of available spices that you can add to your macaroni and cheese recipe to make it taste terrific.
If you want to turn the heat up, cayenne pepper or red pepper flakes may be the way to go.
The recipe you use for your mac and cheese plus who you will be serving are two of the deciding factors when selecting the flavor profile.
We’ve considered this when compiling this list, so you can’t go wrong with any of these mac and cheese additions.
Best Mac and Cheese Seasoning
You can make a conventional mac and cheese – opting for flavorful savory herbs and seasonings, or you can make a spicy dish by adding different types of pepper.
If you are cooking for a large group and you do not know their preferences, you may not want to add anything too – especially if you will be feeding children.
So, what are the best mac and cheese seasonings to help your cheesy dish stand out?
Garlic and Onion Powder
While these are technically two spices, we believe garlic and onions go hand-in-hand. Garlic and onion powders can be added to almost any dish to give it a deeper flavor.
Both of these spices are inexpensive and easy to find. They are staples in most pantries, making them a perfect go-to for any dish – especially mac and cheese. If you want your next mac to have something a little “extra,” these two staples are the way to go.
Oregano is a popular Italian herb that adds a distinct taste to any recipe. Often combined with the other Mediterranean and Italian herbs like basil, marjoram, thyme, and garlic, oregano is versatile and flavorful.
The great thing about oregano is that it is not overpowering, so you can add a decent amount to your pasta. You can also combine it with other flavors, including salt, garlic and onion powders, oregano, basil, and paprika.
It’s easy to strike a flavorful balance with oregano, so you won’t have to worry about it standing out or competing with other herbs in your dish. If you like pasta sauce and pizza, chances are you like oregano, so don’t be afraid to be heavy-handed with it!
Basil and oregano are both members of the mint family, which explains why they work so well together.
Basil is frequently added to sauces like pasta sauce, pizza sauce, and yes – cheese sauce for macaroni. It can be especially complementary to your dish if you use mozzarella, provolone, or other soft Italian melting cheeses.
This common, inexpensive spice will add a touch of Italian flavor to your macaroni and cheese. It is very hard to add too much basil, so don’t worry about being heavy-handed when adding this seasoning to your pasta dish. It can even be used as a garnish when the pasta comes off the stove or out of the oven.
Marjoram is another herb from the mint family. It is considered an Italian herb just like oregano and basil, and Italian herbs pair beautifully with cheese.
Marjoram and oregano are very similar, but marjoram provides a bit of sweetness. The two herbs go well together in any dish.
This seasoning can be a little more difficult to find and you might not have it in your pantry already. It’s slightly more expensive than the others we have mentioned, but it is delicious and worth the price.
If you truly want to create an Italian-style mac and cheese, having the trifecta of oregano, basil, and marjoram will do the trick!
Paprika is a flavorful spice that adds a touch of color to any dish. If you want a smoky taste to your meal, you can add smoked paprika. That’d be a great option if you’re bringing your mac and cheese to a barbecue or cookout.
Paprika is especially good in homemade mac and cheese dishes when added directly to the cheese sauce. The small amount of red coloring makes the pasta look great, and the paprika complements the flavor of the cheese.
Just like oregano, paprika is not particularly strong and it mixes well with other spices. It’s also a great finisher. You can sprinkle a bit on top of a bubbly mac and cheese casserole for a pop of color that will make it impossible not to dig in.
If you want to spice things up, cayenne pepper is a great option. Adding this seasoning to your mac and cheese will bring some heat to the table.
Many people love spicy dishes, and mac and cheese is no exception. There is nothing better than a slightly spicy homemade baked macaroni and cheese. Cayenne pepper, some garlic powder, paprika, and a little bit of nutmeg will give you the perfect combination of flavors to impress your dinner guests.
If cayenne pepper is too hot for you or your guests’ liking, you can substitute red pepper flakes instead. You will still get the flavor and heat of the pepper, but crushed red pepper flakes are not as hot as cayenne pepper.
Heat works well with mac and cheese because it can often be such a rich dish. That little bit of spice helps to cut through the richness to create a more balanced flavor.
Another way to spice up your mac and cheese without going too far on the Scoville scale is by using regular chili powder. Chili powder is a mild seasoning made from ground chili peppers.
While cayenne peppers are a type of chili, the peppers used in commercial chili powder are nowhere near as hot.
Chili powder will add more subtle heat and a touch of smokiness to your mac and cheese, giving it a Tex-Mex feel instead of overpowering you with spice. You can take things further with the Tex-Mex theme by adding red and green bell peppers to your dish.
We like to refer to this spice as our “secret weapon” when it comes to savory comfort foods. When most people think of nutmeg, they think of the spice combination that goes into holiday foods like pumpkin pie, hot cocoa, apple cider, and other wintery recipes.
However, nutmeg is perfect for mac and cheese. We thought it was an insane idea the first time we read about nutmeg going into savory dishes like mashed potatoes and au gratin, but once we tried it, we understood the hype.
Nutmeg is widely available in all grocery stores and anywhere seasonings are sold, so you should be able to easily snag some for your macaroni and cheese.
Not only does it make your traditional mac and cheese more flavorful and decadent, but it is a great addition to spicy mac and cheese as well. No matter what other spices you include in your dish, you can add a dash of nutmeg to take it up a notch.
With nutmeg, a little goes a long way. Only add a tiny amount. Don’t go overboard, or you may overpower the whole dish. It’s also always better to use freshly-grated nutmeg, if possible.
Buy it whole, and grate it directly into your recipes as needed.
We’re including this spice last on our list because it might not be as easy to find. Plus, it’s typically a bit more expensive than other spices.
But, truffle salt is becoming more popular among “foodies,” and in the restaurant industry. If you can get your hands on some, it’s a great way to add more depth of flavor to your creamy mac and cheese.
Truffle salt combines black truffles and sea salt grains. The flavor is hard to describe unless you’ve ever tasted truffles, but it provides an earthy, savory flavor – almost similar to mushrooms.
Truffle mac and cheese has become exceedingly popular in expensive restaurants across the country. You might not be able to shave black truffles directly into your mac and cheese, but truffle salt is the next best thing if you want to take your dish up a notch.