So you want to know which spices you should keep on hand at all times? Here's a quick reference guide to help you fill your spice cabinet or Spiceologist Block™ with the essential spices to always have on hand.
Basil - use in soups, stews & chilis
Basil is a staple in Italian cuisine, often being found in tomato-based sauces, soups and stews. It pairs incredibly well with tomatoes, cheese, breads and oils. Basil is a fragrant herb with a slightly peppery taste and hints of mint, clove and licorice, sometimes being compared to a curry taste. Dried basil leaves can even be steeped in hot water as a medicinal tea.
Cinnamon - essential baking spice
Cinnamon is a pantry essential if you’re a baker! Its distinctive flavor is complex, being both sweet and delicate while also being quite warming. But this spice isn’t just for cinnamon rolls, snickerdoodles and pumpkin pie! You’ll find it in plenty of meat braises, rubs, and marinades, stews, curries, stir-fries, and in hearty winter vegetable dishes. And if you weren’t already thinking this is a wonder spice, it also boasts incredible health benefits, such as regulating blood sugar, supporting heart health, and containing potent antioxidants.
Chili powder - spice up chicken, chili or pasta
You might immediately think “spicy” since chili is in the name, but chili powder tends to be quite mild, with a rich, earthy flavor that is complex with fruity undertones. It’s, of course, the star spice in chilis, but also makes an excellent rub for chicken, pork and beef. Mexican recipes often feature chili powder and it can be used to bring a warm flavor and depth to stews, sauces, and even chocolate desserts. Chili powder is actually a blend of different spices, generally using ancho chile powder as the base, mixed with cumin, cayenne, oregano, garlic, salt, chipotle, and more.
Crushed red pepper flakes - sprinkle on pizza, stews & soups
Crushed red pepper, often called chili flakes, are a mix of dried red pepper flesh and seeds that are often found sitting atop a checkered tablecloth at your local pizzeria. They’ll add a medium amount of heat that’s balanced by an earthy flavor. Because they’re not overpowering, chili flakes highlight the other flavors in a dish and pair exceptionally well with garlic, onion, thyme, basil and oregano. Sprinkle them on pizza, add to chili, spice up your veggies, or use them to infuse olive oil.
Cumin - toast whole seeds or use ground in savory dishes
Cumin has a warm, earthy flavor with nutty notes and hints of pepper. Mexican, Middle Eastern, and Indian cuisines feature this spice prominently in things like chili, stews, sauces, curries, and dry rubs. Cumin seeds hold their flavor and aroma much longer than ground cumin with more flavor being brought out when they're added to hot oil or lightly toasted in a dry pan before being ground into cumin powder. If you love cumin, you've got to try this!
Garlic - add to almost anything savory
Garlic can be used in just about anything savory and is used all the time in everyday cooking! It’s popular in all of the major food cultures and cuisines of the world. Its pungent flavor is used in everything from meat rubs and marinades to stews to sauces to pickles and so much more. Dried granulated garlic or garlic powder can be used in place of fresh garlic and should always be kept on hand in your kitchen. Just remember, if you’re substituting granulated garlic for garlic powder or vice versa, the amount of granulated garlic to be used will be twice the amount called for in garlic powder and garlic powder will be half the amount called for of granulated garlic.
Ginger - used in Asian dishes or baked goods
This zingy root is spicy, warm, and has a little bite, though ground ginger isn’t as strong as fresh ginger. Ginger is used in both sweet dishes, like gingersnap cookies, and savory dishes like spice rubs and marinades. It’s also used to treat nausea and digestive complaints and will often be found in teas and drinks for this reason (and because it’s delicious).
Nutmeg - grate whole seeds into baked goods & bechamel sauce
Nutmeg is a warm and aromatic spice found in many sweet dishes like custards and cookies. This spice is also used in savory dishes to enhance flavors of sausages, lasagnas, and other spicy fares. Whole nutmeg has a stronger flavor that lasts indefinitely, unlike ground nutmeg that loses its flavor quickly. Use a spice grinder or microplane to grate from the seed just the amount you need in a recipe for the ultimate flavor.
Oregano - sprinkle on salads, pasta or soups
Oregano is most commonly found in Italian dishes like pasta, pizza sauces, meats, and salads, though you'll also find it in other Mediterranean fare and Mexican cuisine. Oregano has a punchy flavor that most often complements savory dishes, but nonetheless is a staple in every kitchen.
Pepper - freshly grind for optimal flavor
Black peppercorns make for an all-purpose pepper with their characteristic aroma and pleasantly biting peppery taste that brings both heat and depth. Freshly ground peppercorns will bring the greatest flavor to enhance your dishes. Grind fresh in your pepper mill or use the whole peppercorns for meat rubs, soups, brines, salad dressings, and more!
What's your favorite spice to cook with?