If your spice cabinet is anything like ours, it's a fun house. We love browsing through our collection and being surprised by what we find (hello, Urfa pepper!). But when we're actually cooking, we definitely have our go-tos. Here are the 15 essentials every cook should keep around.
1. Black Peppercorns
Can't go wrong with this classic. Buy whole peppercorns and grind them in a mill, since the pre-ground stuff loses its flavor much more quickly. You can even make it the star of the show with a pepper-crusted steak au poivre. Yum!
2. Cayenne Pepper
When you need a teeny bit of heat, a pinch or two of cayenne pepper does you right. It's excellent in many different types of dishes, from roasted root vegetables (a mix of carrots, parsnips and sweet potatoes is our fave!) to corn on the cob to French onion soup.
3. Chili Powder
This spice mix starts with cayenne but might also include other dried peppers, along with cocoa, garlic and onion. (Read the labels before you buy, or make your own mix with our recipe!) The good stuff offers complex levels of heat and a wonderful depth of flavor.
This key baking spice can actually can go sweet or savory — choose your own adventure! It's fabulous in everything from classic cinnamon rolls to Cincinnati chili.
This strong-smelling spice is often used only in small quantities, but the sweet, warm flavor is unmistakable. From homemade cranberry chutney in the winter to barbecue rubs in the summer, it's a year-round fave.
From Cuba to China, the world crushes hard on the hot, slightly nutty flavor of cumin. If you're making a cooked dish like this chicken tangine, take a moment to toast the cumin to amp up its flavor before adding it in to the rest of your ingredients.
7. Curry Powder
Like the chili variety, curry powder is a blend of other spices, typically coriander, tumeric, cumin and fenugreek. Look for the signature mustard-yellow color to know you're about to get a hit. (We especially love the warm flavor it brings to this curried sweet potato soup.
8. Garlic Powder
Made from finely ground, dehydrated garlic, it can sub in for fresh garlic in many recipes. It's happy to sit on your shelf for a long time, waiting for the next time you want to make garlic bread, soup or a roast. It's also an awesome time-saver in recipes like this weeknight skillet lasagna.
9. Ground Ginger
Ground ginger has a warm, spicy flavor that shouts holiday cookies. (Or, in this case, gingerbread streusel coffee cake. Mmm!) Also an MVP for spice rubs, tagines and marinades. Fresh ginger has a stronger, sharper taste but the ground kind can hang out in your kitchen a lot longer.
10. Kosher Salt
There are a zillion kinds of salt, but kosher is probably the most versatile. It has a fairly neutral flavor, which makes it easy to cook with, and the coarse flakes have a real presence when you sprinkle them on a dish. (We love how it enhances the flavors in this burrata and roasted cherry tomato masterpiece!)
11. Dried Oregano
Oregano has an herbaceous, slightly citrusy flavor that plays well with others. You definitely need it for Italian dishes, like these osso-bucco style drumsticks.
12. Smoked Paprika
Its subtly wood-fired flavor gives a little extra complexity to any dish. Try it in chili or in your steak rub — game changer.
13. Dried Rosemary
A staple in a lot of Mediterranean and French cooking, rosemary has a woodsy, peppery, wildly aromatic quality you won't find in other herbs. It's stellar in all kinds of baked goods and savory breads, like these pull-apart rolls.
14. Dried Thyme
Dried rosemary's BFF. This intensely fragrant herb works well with a wide variety of meats, especially poultry, and vegetables. It also finds its way into most stuffing recipes. You basically can't have Thanksgiving without it, so stock up early. (And if you’re really going all out, bake up this thyme-infused whole wheat bread for next-day turkey sammies.)
15. Vanilla Extract
Vanilla is anything but "plain" and you'll need it if you do even the slightest bit of baking. From homemade ice creams to chocolate chip cookies, you'll find vanilla in there.
Remember, Freshness Counts!
Dried spices and herbs have a long shelf life compared to fresh, but do yourself a favor and change them out every 12 months or so before the flavor goes flat. Smell your spices regularly to ensure they're still pungent. It's like free aromatherapy!
When buying spices you probably won't use very much, look for small bottles so you won't waste as much when you change them out.