15 Most Essential Spices

Oh my spices… There are so many of them!! Light, earthy, aromatic, woodsy, smoky, spicy… ohh my god! Adding spices to your food is like creating a symphony adding one note after another! Combinations and possibilities are endless. All of us probably have some weird spices in our kitchen cabinets, but I believe there is a few that are absolutely essential for every cook in order to have fun with your food and produce amazing flavors.

So here we go… 15 most essential spices in your kitchen! 

  • Turmeric

For me it’s like a powdered gold! Turmeric is a ginger family plant, which roots are widely used in cooking, especially in Asian dishes. Despite the health benefits, it has an amazing mustard-like, earthy aroma and gives the food a pungent, slightly bitter flavor and beautiful yellow color. I love turmeric on roasted or sautéed vegetables, stews and sauces. Turmeric and ginger tea is also incredibly delicious, not only on a cold winter evening…

  • Smoked Paprika

Its subtle smoky flavor can be a game changer to any dish, sauce of marinade. Try it in a home-made BBQ sauce, marinades for ribs or in the chili, the flavor is amazing! 

  • Cinnamon

This incredibly unique and fragrant spice is key component of many cakes and pastries, but it can actually go really well with savory foods too. I cannot imagine a carrot cake or pumpkin pie without a hint of cinnamon, and I can say the exact same thing about Cincinnati chili. 

                        Let’s not forget the mulled wine too…

  • Curry Powder

Curry powder is a blend of spices. Typically, it contains turmeric, cumin, coriander and fenugreek, but the ingredients may vary. Essential in Indian dishes, but the interpretations are endless.

Need an example? Chicken Curry! 

  • Oregano

Oregano is also very versatile spice. This incredibly fragrant herb is widely used in Italian and Mexican cuisines. Goes well with stews, pastas, many sauces and one of my favorites, honey oregano dressing!   

  • Black Peppercorns        

One of the most versatile spices of all. It literally goes well with anything! Salads, steaks, stews, soups…. You name it! You cannot go wrong with it! Buy peppercorns and grind them in a mill, this way it does not lose its favor and fragrance so quickly. 

  • Cayenne Pepper

When you need a little heat in your life, cayenne pepper saves the day. From the classic ‘corn on the cob’ to stews, roasted vegetables and hollandaise sauce! 

  • Cumin

Cumin’s flavor is a very distinct and I’m not going to lie, it took me a while to learn how to appreciate it. I found that a tiny hint of cumin can enhance the flavor of the food, but too much of it can completely ruin it. I use it in stews mostly, but you can add to dressings, marinades and rubs too. Try with a little bit first and see how you like it. If you really want to see the true colors of it, toast the seeds before adding it to the food. 

  • Dried Rosemary

Very popular spice in Mediterranean and French cooking, rosemary has the aroma and the flavor like no other herb! It is earthy and woodsy, and it always reminds me of the forest. It is my favorite herb of all! Use it in stews, sauces, soups and roasts! I also couldn’t imagine my life without a home-made rosemary focaccia bread! I love the way it smells and the way it tastes! 

  • Dried Thyme

Dried thyme is dried rosemary’s partner in crime. Just like oregano and basil, this dramatic duo works so well together, it is hard to separate them, really. Very fragrant and earthy goes a long way with most of the meats, poultry and vegetables. Amazing in sauces and dressings. 

  • Cloves

Cloves have a very strong smell and it is hard to mistaken it with something else. It is used in small quantities, because of its strength. Use it for rubs, sauces and beverages, or drop a couple of them when cooking rice. The flavor is magical! 

  • Garlic Powder

Garlic powder is made from dehydrated, finely ground garlic. It can substitute fresh garlic in many recipes. Amazing in dips, soups or roasts. Great for marinades and spice rubs, or if you just want a garlic bread!

  • Ground Ginger

Warm and spicy, ground ginger is amazing for many things in culinary world. Holiday cookies and cakes, drinks, spice rubs and marinades or a stir fry in you are out of fresh ginger. 

Ground ginger is not as strong as fresh ginger and a little less spicy, however its shelf life is pretty great! Don’t forget to open the bag from time to time and check, if the fragrance is still there.

  • Vanilla Extract

Vanilla extract is essential to someone who does at least a tiny bit of baking. Such a comforting, but complex flavor can really elevate the flavor of your food. From cookies to cakes, to home-made ice cream and crème brulee it is a must have spice! 

  • Bay Leaves 

Bay leaves are very fragrant. It is the foundation spice for stocks and broths, soups, stews and sauces. There is one catch, do not add too many leaves to your food, despite all the flavor it has, bay leaves are quite bitter. 2-3 leaves in the pot of soup is plenty. 

One more thing! 

If the spices or herbs are dry, it doesn’t mean that it can stay on your shelf for years.

Well… technically it can,

but after a long time, herbs and spices tend to lose their fragrance and flavor.

Do not be lazy and check your spices and try to change them once a year, or you might end up with food with tons of spices and no flavor or fragrance. Checking your spices also help you remember their smell, so you always know what would go well with certain foods. I would recommend buying spices in smaller quantities, but more often. You are most likely to go grocery shopping at least once a month anyway. 

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