Proper seasoning is critical to successful recipes and a dash of spice can go a long way. This list of 5 essential spices and herbs to stock your pantry consists of dried ingredients I always have on hand. I use one of these every day, every time I cook. If you’re new to cooking, these 5 ingredients will do wonders to help you explore different cuisines.
Additionally, I did not include salt and pepper on this list. All home cooks should regularly use salt and pepper to taste. (Key word being taste! Always remember to taste along the way.) I personally use two kinds of salt: a fine sea salt and a coarse sea salt. This salt grinder (<-affiliate) is an inexpensive tool if you want to stock just one salt that can be multi purpose. Fresh ground black pepper is the complement. I was given this pepper grinder (<-affiliate) for Christmas one year and it’s possibly one of my favorite kitchen tools. The ceramic grinder has different settings for a very fine or very coarse grind and the freshness of peppercorns can’t be beat.
Finally, sourcing your spices can make all the difference! I like to buy my spices from a local spice shop or from the bulk bins at my local natural foods co-op so I can get what I need. Additionally, Frontier Co-Op has a great selection of essential spices and herbs and can be found at most grocery retailers.
5 Essential Spices and Herbs to Stock in Your Pantry
When I’m feeling too lazy to peel and mince garlic, or sometimes in addition to fresh garlic, I use garlic granules to add a warm, rich flavor. I prefer the granules over the powder as the powder sometimes clumps and sticks to the pan. The difference between the granules and powder is in the grind and in the usage. While I use fresh garlic almost every day, garlic granules help me adjust the flavor of a dish when it’s almost ready to be served. I almost always use a sprinkle in my pizza dough, mix it in sauce, or add it to homemade biscuits.
This essential spice is used in cuisines all over the world! Common in African, South Asian, and Latin American cooking, cumin has an earthy, nutty flavor with a bit of a warm tingle. It has a distinctive aroma and I definitely recommend taking a whiff! I use cumin to flavor black beans for chili and tacos. Cumin is an essential ingredient in taco seasoning, berbere, and curry powder. You can find it in both seed form, and ground. Seeds preserve flavor but ground is super convenient. I purchase fresh ground cumin from a local spice shop and the aromatics are off the charts! Cumin is one of the essential spices that adds a lot flavor without heat.
Red Pepper Flakes
Also known as crushed red pepper, these flakes are typically dried cayenne peppers that have been crushed instead of ground. However, depending on the brand, there may be other peppers such as jalapenos or serranos mixed in. As such, red pepper flakes can vary in the amount of heat they produce (measured on the Scoville scale). If you tend to be heat averse, I recommend starting with a small bit of red pepper flakes in your cooking, whether you’re making a soup or sprinkling on a pasta. I love having this around to sprinkle on avocado toast or to add a little heat to a dish.
This herb grows prolifically in gardens and is actually in the mint family (so it grows like a weed). There are a few different varieties which have slightly different taste profiles. But generally, people often associate oregano with spaghetti sauce and pizza. It can be slightly bitter, but also have some earthy sweetness. When I get fresh oregano, I usually hang a bundle to dry, then pick the leaves off and store them in a glass jar. To use home dried oregano, I crush a few leaves between my fingertips and sprinkle into my dish. I use oregano in this mushroom barley risotto and this kale and navy bean soup.
I’ve saved my favorite spice for last. And I truly think smoked paprika is a wonderful addition to your pantry. I use it in everything from deviled eggs to Mexican inspired black bean chili to buffalo sauce on pizza. It has a wonderful smoky flavor that reminds me of campfires in the summer time. Paprika is made from dried ground sweet bell peppers so it’s not typically as spicy as other ground peppers. But it does vary! I typically purchase a hot smoked paprika because I love spicy foods. Other varieties include Spanish paprika, Hungarian sweet paprika and plain paprika.