Plus, how to use them.

By Gillie Houston
April 26, 2019
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It’s no secret that spices and seasonings are an absolutely essential aspect of any recipe, and without them our dishes would be left bland and lackluster, missing that extra burst of heat, sweetness, or depth of flavor. However, with a seemingly infinite variety of dried ingredients lining every grocery store spice aisle, it can feel overwhelming choosing just which spices to stock up on, and which to leave behind. 

Whether you’re just getting started cooking, or are working on cleaning out your overcrowded spice cabinet to get back to the essentials, there are a handful of spices, seasonings, and herbs to keep on hand for any dish you’ll make in the future. From dried herbs, to spice mixtures, to basic seasonings, these are the flavorful ingredients you should keep stocked in your pantry at all times. 

Kosher Salt 

The king of all seasonings, salt is a necessary ingredient in just about every recipe. But with so many varieties of salt available, it can be difficult to choose one kind to keep stocked at all time. Kosher salt is a super versatile coarse, flaky that works well in any dish that calls for the savory mineral. 

Black Peppercorns

The yin to salt’s yang, black pepper is the second most important seasoning to keep on hand at all times. While you could rely on pre-ground pepper, which will save you a little extra labor, there’s no beating the robust flavor of whole black peppercorns ground in a pepper mill

Dried Oregano

This dried herb has a pungent earthy, aromatic flavor that works well in a wide variety of cuisines, ranging from Italian to Mexican. Oregano is one of the rare herbs that is often preferred in its dried form over fresh, so this dehydrated ingredient is a fantastic addition to any pantry. 

Dried Rosemary

With a powerful peppery flavor and deep pine aroma, dried rosemary is a delicious addition to a range of dishes, from light Mediterranean salads to herb-laced baked goods. Be sure to use a light hand with this herb, as its sharp flavor can quickly overwhelm a dish. 

Dried Thyme

This everyday herb is known for its herbaceous, slightly minty flavor that works particularly well with meats like poultry, and in seafood dishes, like clam chowders and fish sauces. 

Red Pepper Flakes

This subtly spicy pantry addition is made from dried red chili peppers, adding a slight heat and depth of flavor to dishes ranging from hearty pasta sauces to Asian stir-frys. Available in both crushed and whole flake form, red pepper is a crucial ingredient for any spice lover to have on hand. 

Nutmeg

This sweet, nutty spice has hints of peppery heat that make it a wonderfully complex ingredient to cook with. A great addition to both sweet and savory dishes, nutmeg is best put to use in rich, warm dishes like soups, fall pies, and roasted winter vegetable recipes.  

Cayenne Pepper

This fairly spicy household ingredient made from finely ground chili pepper is hotter than red pepper flakes, but won’t burn your tongue off when used in moderation. Cayenne is obviously useful in any dish that calls for a hit of spice, but is also well paired with sugary ingredients like honey and maple syrup that can perfectly counter balance the heat of this ingredient. 

Chili Powder 

This spice blend, typically composed of a variety of ground chilis, garlic powder, paprika, oregano, and onion is a versatile mixture that can be used in a wide range of spice-infused dishes. Sprinkle it over roasted vegetables for a quick kick of heat, or mix it into sauces, soups, and chilis for added warmth. 

Cinnamon

Although cinnamon is most commonly thought of as a sweet ingredient, perfect for pastries, desserts, and other sugary dishes, this aromatic spice is also a great addition to savory recipes, balancing them out with subtle sweetness. Not to mention, it also has a number of health benefits we can get on board with. 

Cloves

With one of the most powerful flavors of any spice or seasoning, cloves are meant to be used in moderation. But when used correctly, this pungent, sweet-and-spicy ingredient can add a great depth of warmth and sweetness to any dish. 

Cumin

This warm, nutty, slightly bitter spice is popular around the world thanks to its rich flavor. Cumin is commonly used in spicy dishes, ranging from Indian curries to Mexican chili sauces. Available whole and ground, cumin is most flavorful when toasted in its whole form and ground right before use. However, pre-ground cumin will do the trick for everyday cooking. 

Curry Powder 

This popular, colorful spice blend is typically comprised of turmeric, coriander, cumin, and fenugreek. Recognizable by its bold mustard yellow tone, curry powder has a complex and earthy flavor that makes it a great addition to rich savory dishes. 

Garlic Powder

This ground powder made from dehydrated garlic is great to have around when your fresh garlic is in short supply, or a recipe would be overwhelmed by fresh garlic. With a concentrated flavor, this spice is slightly sweeter and more subtle than the fresh alternative. 

Paprika

This flavorful spice made from dried and finely ground sweet and chili peppers is a great way to add a range of spice levels to savory dishes. There are multiple types of paprika, ranging from sweet to hot, so make sure to choose a blend that is best aligned to your heat preferences. 

Allspice

This warm, fragrant spice, which tastes like a mixture of cinnamon, nutmeg, and cloves is actually not a blend of “all” spices, but rather the product of one dried and ground berry. This aromatic spice is commonly used in both sweet and savory dishes, and is a frequent addition to Jamaican jerk seasoning.