Ten Fundamental Spices for Your Kitchen

Ten Fundamental Spices for Your Kitchen

Photo via Zsuzsanna Kilian

If you walk into the spice section of your local supermarket, it’s easy to get overwhelmed by the variety of spices that are available there. The sheer numbers can be intimidating, not to mention the price may put many of them out of reach. Here’s a handy guide to get the best flavor for your spicy dollars:

Black Peppercorns – Buy whole peppercorns and acquire a good peppermill. Fresh ground pepper is better than ground pepper from a can any day! Whole peppercorns can also be used in soups and stews (just make sure to take them out at serving time). Cracked peppercorns make excellent seasoning for steaks and other grilled items.

Cinnamon – Ground cinnamon can be used in both baking sweet dishes and for savory dishes. Often Mediterranean dishes call for the use of cinnamon in main dish meals. A dash of cinnamon can spice up oatmeal or batter for French toast.

Chili Powder – There are numbers of good chili powders available. Choose one based on the amount of heat that you want in your dish. Chili powder is also used to spice up Mexican and African dishes. It adds flavor to desserts like brownies or hot chocolate.

Cumin – Used in a number of Indian and Mexican dishes, cumin is quite strong. Use only a little bit until you are sure that they dish requires additional spice. Cumin brings out the sweetness of foods. It is also included as an ingredient in curry powder.

Ginger – This is obtained in either root or powdered form. Ginger grated or cut from the root is milder than ginger in powdered form. Either can be used in baking to add a warm, spicy flavor to cookies or cake. It is also used in Indian and Asian dishes for the spicy bite!

Rosemary – Rosemary has a cool, woody flavor but a warm, peppery smell. It is frequently used when roasting chicken and lamb as a rub over the surface of the meat. It’s also a great flavoring for eggs and vegetable dishes.

Basil – There are multiple varieties of basil available, both dried and fresh. Basil is used in Italian cooking as both flavoring and garnish. It is also used in French cooking as part of Herbs de Provence. Use fresh basil to make your own fresh pesto!

Bay Leaves – These dried leaves add flavor to soups or stews. The steaming or boiling of the liquid releases the flavor. It’s an herby, sweet flavor, a bit like grass. Make sure to remove them before serving since they will be bitter and chewy.

Red Pepper Flakes – These dried pieces of chilies are familiar to people from being on the table at pizza and Italian restaurants. They can be added to a number of Mediterranean and Mexican dishes for their subtle spice. They give a little heat to every dish without being overwhelming.

Chinese Five Spice Powder – This one is a little more exotic but totally worth it! This spice blend combines the five basic flavors of Chinese cooking – sweet, sour, bitter, salty and savory. It works as a rub for chicken, duck and pork. It’s also good for stewing vegetables and a variety of meats.

What spices do you cook with regularly? Let me in on your spice secrets!


  1. says

    Good list, but without garlic my kitchen would be empty. It is usually the first thing I reach for and I use fresh cloves as well as powder.

    I would also add nutmeg, but that could be because it is Autumn and I just love nutmeg and cinnamon in the cold winter months.

    visiting from You’re Gonna Love It

  2. says

    Nice list. I will have to check out the Chinese 5 Spice Powder.
    I use many of the same spices, although I usually use coarse ground pepper (pre ground) rather than grinding my own. Either way gives SO much more flavor than the fine powdered stuff you buy.
    I also use a lot of paprika, as well as onion powder. My husband likes onion, but sometimes gets picky about the texture, so powdered helps a lot. Also, then you can sprinkle it on bread or put it in bread crumbs when making baked breaded chicken.
    Although it’s not a spice, another thing I use for seasoning many soups and spices just right is hot sauce — either Tapatio or Sriracha.

  3. says

    We actually just got rid of our spice rack to save room and try to downsize! This is really helpful. I don’t have bay leaves or the Chinese powder, but have seen a lot of recipes with them! Guess I need to pick some up :) I feel like I put cumin and chili powder on EVERYTHING! :) Thanks for a great list! I found you via the Freedom Fridays link party.

  4. says

    I agree with a previous comment: I have to have garlic in my spice cabinet. Granules are my favorite type. I also always keep parsley flakes and paprika in my stash. Combining these 3 with sea salt and pepper makes a fabulous all-purpose seasoning for chicken.
    I haven’t added Chinese Five Spice to my collection though. I’ll check that out. Spices and seasonings get used daily in my kitchen, and I’m always happy to try new ones.
    Thank you for sharing your great list with us at Wake Up Wednesday! Pinning & tweeting.

  5. says

    Hi Robyn
    Oh my gosh- you read my mind! I am staring at my spices and wondering how old some of the spices? I was going to ask you to link this to Friday Favorites, but then I was wondering if you would consider this for a guest post over at http://notatrophywife.com I would include the picture of my spice rack and then lead into this post. Let me know! laura


Leave a Reply

Your email address will not be published. Required fields are marked *

You may use these HTML tags and attributes: <a href="" title=""> <abbr title=""> <acronym title=""> <b> <blockquote cite=""> <cite> <code> <del datetime=""> <em> <i> <q cite=""> <strike> <strong>

CommentLuv badge