Spices are the building blocks of cooking. The right combination of spices can make a meal go from good to great.
To help you add more flavor to your food, we’ve compiled a list of the essential spices everyone should have in their kitchen. This list of pantry spices will allow you to cook all sorts of dishes from different cultures around the world and show off your culinary prowess.
Your Go-To List of Pantry Spices
The next time you stock up on groceries, make sure you put these spices at the top of your list:
1. Sea salt
Sea salt is one of the most useful spices to have in your pantry. It’s much better for you than table salt and has many uses in cooking. Sea salt tends to be more expensive than table salt, but many people prefer its flavor and health benefits.
You can use sea salt in many dishes where you’d normally use table salt. You can season vegetables with it before roasting them, or sprinkle some over steamed broccoli. Just be careful not to overdo it with this salty stuff—it packs more punch than regular table-grade sodium chloride! Learn about different types of salt and when to use them.
2. Black pepper
Black pepper is the most commonly used peppercorn. Ground pepper is made by crushing dried peppercorns. Black peppercorns are picked when they are not quite ripe, which gives them their characteristic taste and dark color. Black pepper has a bite to it and is perfect with steak, as well as other red meats and some more robust fish dishes.
Paprika can range from mild to hot, but most brands available in the United States are of the mild variety. The primary flavor of paprika is ripe red bell pepper with a bright, slightly fruity taste. In its raw state, it contains zero heat and is only mildly flavored, but when it’s roasted, it becomes sweeter and more robust. This is definitely one of the most important spices to have in your pantry.
Cinnamon’s sweet and warm flavor makes it a popular ingredient in both sweet (such as apple pie, cinnamon rolls) and savory dishes (like curry). Cinnamon’s culinary uses are endless! Aside from adding flavor to your food, cinnamon also has many health benefits.
Cumin is a spice that’s used in many cuisines, including Mexican, South Asian, and North African. It has an earthy flavor that adds depth to just about any dish. Use cumin to make curry powder by combining it with other spices like coriander, turmeric, and black pepper. Another way to use cumin is in marinades or spice rubs for meat or vegetables. Add cumin to chili and hummus for extra flavor.
6. Garlic powder
No list of pantry spices is complete without garlic powder. Garlic powder is an essential seasoning for sauces, soups, stews, and marinades. A little garlic powder goes a long way in bringing out the bold flavor of your favorite dishes. It’s delicious in homemade salad dressings and marinades, too! You can also use it to season roasted vegetables, rice, or grains. For a unique twist, add some garlic powder to your popcorn!
7. Bay leaf
Bay leaf is typically dried and used as a spice in cooking. Fresh bay leaves are mild, only developing their full flavor several weeks after picking and drying.
Turmeric is a bright yellow spice found in the ginger family. It’s best known as an ingredient in Indian food—but it also exists in Middle Eastern, American, Jamaican, Ethiopian, and Moroccan cooking. Typically, turmeric is sold ground into a powder that looks like paprika or cayenne pepper. Like many spices, it’s sold in the spice aisle of your local grocery store. Definitely be sure turmeric is on your list of pantry spices.
The culinary uses of ginger are as varied as the regions it comes from. It’s also known for its calming effects on upset stomachs (ginger tea works wonders) and as a general way to make yourself feel better when you’re sick. You can buy ginger fresh or as a powdered spice.
This aromatic herb is a staple in Italian dishes. It goes well with other herbs like thyme, basil, parsley, and garlic! Some recommend using this herb in tomato-based dishes like marinara sauce or pizza as the flavor will come out more clearly. Be sure to include oregano on your next shopping list of pantry spices.
Dill weed is a perfect, unobtrusive spice that adds flavor to fish and potatoes. Dried dill weed isn’t nearly as flavorful as fresh but can be purchased in the spice section at most grocery stores. Dill seeds are also sometimes sold in supermarkets; they add an earthy kick to potato salad or bean dishes.
12. Red chili flakes
A staple at every pizza place, these are made from dried, crushed red pepper pods and offer a hot kick to any dish. Fun fact: they’re called “red pepper flakes” or “pepper flakes,” but most people know them as chili flakes. They can be used as a condiment or added to spice blends. When in doubt about how much to add to your meal before you eat it, simply taste test it first. If you like more heat, then add more!
Sumac is a lemony-tart spice that comes from the sumac shrub. It’s popular in middle eastern and Mediterranean cooking. This is one of the more unique spices to have in your pantry to add some variety. Sumac goes well with fish, chicken, or lamb dishes. You can also use it to add a bright note to grain or bean dishes such as tabouleh, bulgur salad, hummus, or falafel. Sumac is also a key ingredient in the spice blend za’atar.
Use These Spices to Kick Up the Flavor
Spices are great to have around because they’re a simple, affordable way to add flavor to your dishes. A well-stocked spice rack is the cornerstone of a ready-to-cook pantry, and this list of pantry spices will ensure you’re fully prepared. Whether you want some extra heat in your mac and cheese or want to add depth of flavor by sprinkling crushed cumin seeds on top of your morning oatmeal, these spices to have in your pantry will unlock all kinds of possibilities. Armed with these basics, now you’re ready to cook a range of diverse, tasty meals! You can also try these 10 cooking hacks to save time in the kitchen.
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