Spices are a crucial part of any dish. They bring new flavor notes, textures, and aromas to your favorite meals. Additionally, some spices are quite versatile, which means you can use them in a wide variety of recipes. But if you’re still new to cooking, knowing what spices are essential or how to identify the best spices for cooking takes a little time and research.
That’s why Good Home Chef has put together this list of essential kitchen spices that will complete your pantry. Because knowing which essential spices to have in your kitchen is one of the first steps in becoming a knowledgeable and skilled cook.
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Unlike already refined pepper in a shaker, black peppercorns add a stronger flavor to savory dishes. It’s perfect for hearty meats like steak or chicken, or for finishing off a soup or chili! Black peppercorns complement bold flavors or elevate milder dishes by adding a bit of a kick.
However, if you’re picking up black peppercorns, make sure to buy a bottle that allows you to grind them up or you’ll have to invest in a pepper grinder.
Widely consumed and wildly versatile, cumin is an essential spice you should always have in your pantry.
From hummus and curries to carne asada tacos, cumin brings depth to a myriad of foods. On the other hand, if you love to cook vegetarian, cumin is still one of the best spices for cooking. Add it to your pasta or vegetables as they grill or roast.
And the best part about cumin is that you can toast it, grind it, or use it as-is for different levels of flavor notes.
Additionally, cumin is actually an antioxidant. Some research suggests that components of the spice may produce anti-inflammatory effects, promote digestion, and improve blood cholesterol.
Granulated Garlic or Garlic Powder
While mincing fresh garlic will often give you the best results from this essential spice, keeping granulated garlic or garlic powder in your pantry will ensure you always have the spice at your disposal.
Typically, granulated garlic will yield a closer profile to fresh garlic than garlic powder. Moreover, its consistency is a lot like table salt, so it combines with liquids like pasta sauce or broth more smoothly than garlic powder.
On the other hand, garlic powder adds a bit more potency than granulated garlic. Especially if your dish has a short cooking time.
Whichever you choose, be sure to pick up at least one of these options.
Perfect for soups, salads, meats, seafood, and potatoes, oregano brings a slight bitterness and peppery flavor to your Latin and Mediterranean-style dishes. Think of this essential spice as the perfect marriage between sweet and spicy.
An exception to other essential spices for cooking, dried oregano tends to retain its bold aroma and flavor as if it were fresh.
Although you might associate cinnamon with tasty baked goods, this essential spice can complement savory dishes as well.
Try adding cinnamon to roasted carrots or even a warm chili! Or if you want to make a compote, cinnamon adds a nice touch of sweet, earthy tones.
Cinnamon’s wide range of uses makes it one of the best spices for cooking.
Another essential spice to have in your pantry, turmeric is great for vegetarians. The perfect addition to sweet potatoes, pumpkins, cauliflower, and many other veggies, this spice will bring an earthy, slightly bitter flavor profile to your recipes.
A little like mustard, turmeric brings a nice depth to any dish you’re preparing.
Smoked paprika complements vegan dishes as well as meat dishes. Bringing a distinct smoky flavor to roasted chicken, stews, sauces, or beans, the spice lends a bit of a bold, meaty taste to recipes.
[Related: What Goes Into an Indian Spice Box]
Things to Keep in Mind
While the spices in this list are essential for your kitchen, try not to use too much of a good thing. Because the flavors of some of these essential spices and herbs are strong and potent, adding too much to a dish can quickly overwhelm all the other flavors.
It’s always best to start small and add more as you see fit.
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