I cooked up some good-quality minced beef yesterday with salt, onion, and breadcrumbs. (I wrapped it around hardboiled eggs and baked it.) I didn't use any pepper because I have allergies, and I didn't like the way it came out - it was bland and had a faint meaty "off" taste even though I knew it was fresh enough.

I don't insist on it being hot and spicy, but what could I use to give it flavour? What is a good replacement that will flavor meat the way pepper would? Or at the very least, what spice or combination of spices would cover up the faint off taste? I know that medieval cooks used to use spices to cover "off" flavours in meat, but I think they were ones we use in sweet dishes now.

Tomato is not an option for me sadly but onion and garlic are fine.

I hope you can help, I'm finding this really intriguing. I'm learning a lot about what pepper does just by going without.

  • 1
    Mustard, horseradish, wasabi, and ginger are all standard things to combine with beef in at least some cultures. Mar 22, 2012 at 12:05
  • Grains of Paradise might be an option.
    – baka
    Mar 22, 2012 at 14:50

5 Answers 5


Ground allspice berries and rosemary can add that piquant taste that you may otherwise be missing from the pepper.


Just to be clear, you're talking about black peppercorns (Piper nigrum) not chili peppers, correct?

If so, are you also allergic to pink "pepper" (Schinus molle or Schinus terebinthifolius)? If not, those would probably be your closest substitutes.

Depending again on what exactly you're allergic to, piperine (the primary "hot" alkaloid in black pepper) may be an option, though that won't have any of the flavor complexity of black pepper—mainly just the heat. Of course, if you want heat, chili peppers will work for that too (and add flavor besides heat).

You can also buy pepper extract or pepper essential oil; assuming you can find food-grade, you might want to inquire with your doctor if those are safe (I don't know).

  • 1
    Thank you, I think I will be able to have black pepper in a few years, but not the nightshade family which includes chillies. So at the moment I only have mustard, ginger and wasabi.
    – Nomato
    Mar 22, 2012 at 19:38
  • 1
    @Nomato Black pepper isn't part of the nightshade family (or even that closely related). I'm not a health expert—and this isn't a health site—but you're allergic to both? Just want to make sure that's the case, and its not just the similar names causing confusion.
    – derobert
    Mar 22, 2012 at 20:53
  • I wouldn't say that pink pepper is a close substitute. It is a very tasty spice in its own right, but its flavor is very different from black pepper. Still, experimenting with it to get a good (even though different) spicy taste is a good idea.
    – rumtscho
    Mar 23, 2012 at 15:49

Since you mentioned it tasted 'bland', I think you just didn't add enough salt. To give it a bit extra flavour, you could mix in some nutmeg.

As for herbs, you could use finely chopped parsley or cilantro.

  • 1
    No it was salty enough but I wonder if perhaps the meat should have been a bit more fatty? They say fat carries the flavour.....
    – Nomato
    Mar 22, 2012 at 19:40
  • Ha, that could be a factor as well. But I'd think fat helps more to keep the meat together (we often use pork for that what you made) than to add flavour.
    – Mien
    Mar 22, 2012 at 20:30

Thesse are some options you use:

1- As for me I prefer to add Garlic and Lemon juice (the quantity should be proportional to the beef quantity), and let them be cooked with the beef, they add a special taste.

2- try to add fresh peppers (green, yellow, and red pepper slices) they add a strong flavour.

3- try to make mushroom sauce, or onion sauce to be delivered next to the beef upon serving, this helps too.

  • I think lemon juice would be good thank you Zeina (allergic to mushrooms and peppers though).
    – Nomato
    Mar 22, 2012 at 19:42

Cumin, Paprika, Chili Powder are all seasonings that work well with ground beef.

You may also enjoy a bit of red wine, soy sauce or even working in some barbecue sauce before, during and/or after cooking. You may also try sweating (or caramelizing) some yellow onion (with or without garlic) and then cooking the beef with the onions and serving them together.

Rather than a hard boiled egg, mix an uncooked egg into the ground beef before cooking.

There are a variety of ways to incorporate bacon that would add great flavor to the beef as well. (If bacon is not in your diet, I apologize)

  • I don't have bacon but we have this "chicken bacon" here and I could use that. I guess I would use the cumin along with onion and garlic? Just mixed in raw? Thank you Cos Callis :)
    – Nomato
    Mar 22, 2012 at 19:44
  • You could either apply the cumin directly to the ground beef or use it to season the onions & garlic and apply that to the ground beef. While there will likely be subtle differences, either way will get you a savory result.
    – Cos Callis
    Mar 23, 2012 at 20:58

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