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The Must Have Spices for Your Kitchen
If you are a person who is just beginning their spice journey and you have come here looking for a carved in stone list of spices that you absolutely must keep in your kitchen, we unfortunately must direct you back in time to when stone slabs were all the rage, since the internet has taken over the present and nothing is so set in place anymore. Really, opinions are just subjective, and this list is only suggestive of the spices we think deserve a home in your pantry.

It can be daunting to find a recipe you want to try out only to discover you have to make your way to the grocery store and buy a bunch of spices for it that you have never heard of before. Even more disconcerting than experimenting with new spices is discovering that most of the grocery store spices have a thick layer of dust on their caps. This is unappealing and may leave you feeling uneasy about the recipe you want to try out. This would have been easier if you had some more spices in your cabinet already, wouldn’t it? Fret not, we are here to help.

If you were limited to just a handful of spices, would you have trouble narrowing it down or would you have to rack your brain to fill up a few spots? You want to give yourself access to a plethora of flavors that will compliment what you are already good at cooking, but will also help you branch out into other food territories.

We will tell you that our staff is partial to whole spices which they can grind themselves, so our list does include some whole spices. Whole spices maintain their flavor better for longer, and when ground their flavor is released rapidly throughout a dish. When working with whole spices, one must remember that they are much more flavorful than the pre-ground spices simply because their oils, which are subject to evaporation just like any other oil, are trapped within the cells of the spice. When a spice is ground the cell walls are pulverized, and the oils are released.

Since this list is subjective and not exclusive, feel free to disagree with our choices and include your own.

  • Bay Leaves are best whole and dried, and can be ground down easily. They may seem like a spice that is easy to forget about, but they are a silent, nuanced enhancer of flavors.

  • Black Peppercorns are also best whole. Invest in a pepper grinder, thank us later.

  • Korintje Cinnamon is relatively lower in cost and is found in a lot of baking scenarios.

  • Coriander Seed is a whole spice that is excellent for dishes with a little sweetness to them.

  • Red Pepper Flakes are quintessential for the spice rack, as they heat up red sauces, add flavor to pizzas, and taste incredible in many varieties of soup.

  • Smoked Paprika (Sweet) is another essential, as the depth of its flavor does a lot for everything it is added to. Do not confuse this with the ridiculously old paprika your mother used to sprinkle on your deviled eggs at Thanksgiving. We are pretty sure that expired in 1993 and has been sitting in the cabinet every year since.

  • Mediterranean Oregano is popular for its presence in Italian cuisine. When you think of oregano, you are probably thinking of this variety.

  • Nutmeg Powder works wonders for many vegetables and tastes surprisingly delicious in savory foods, like eggs.

  • Ground Cumin has an extremely unique flavor that cannot be replicated or even simulated. This is a great spice for beans and breads. It is popular in Middle Eastern cuisines.

  • Basil is another herb that makes itself known in Italian cuisine, though it does also come up in French cooking as well.

  • Thyme is good to have on hand for savory soups and cheesy dishes. Thyme also pairs extremely well with beef.

  • Garlic Powder is a tried and true spice that can be added to many dishes for that savory, familiar taste but without the bulk that garlic cloves add to a dish.

  • Onion Powder has a similar effect as garlic powder, with an obviously unique flavor.

  • Rosemary is unlike most other spices because it doesn’t loose much flavor as it cooks. This is a spice that is unique in its ability to be added to a dish early on.

  • Cayenne Pepper is excellent for Cajun or Southern United States inspired dishes. Cayenne pepper gives a nice spiciness to many dishes.

  • Ground Cloves are excellent with meats and add a lot to holiday baking. They are also delicious with fruit and in marinades.

  • Turmeric is found in a lot of different curry powders and gives a nice yellow glow to many foods.

  • Kosher Salt gets its name for its size, not because of its actual Kosher status. The chunky particles give the salt a better distribution and make it more suitable for seasoning meats, like chicken.

  • Cardamom Powder intensifies both savory and sweet flavors. It is light and floral with notes of citrus.

  • Allspice Powder was historically used to preserve and flavor meat. It is warm while also maintaining a slight pungency.

  • Ginger Root Powder is present in a lot of Asian cuisines, and gives a distinct heat and flavor to everything it touches.

  • Sage is popular in England and in Greece. This herb is mostly popular in America for stuffing during the holidays, but we think it is an essential spice because it does so much for fatty meats. It tastes excellent with things like veal or lamb.


Of course, a spice list aimed at helping someone get their spices in order wouldn’t be complete without some spice blends. Here we will give you some ideas about what spice blends are good for beginners who are not confident yet in their abilities to layer the flavors of different spices on their own. Don’t worry, you will get there with time.

  • Chili Powder is great for chili but can also add some flair to vegetables. We think it’s necessary to have at least one chili powder on hand at all times just in case of an intense chili hankering.

  • Pennsylvania Pepper is a gourmet pepper blend. Hand blended to perfection, this has become a customer favorite. It works anywhere that regular old black pepper works, but it also has a little something extra to it that will surprise you when you first give it a try.

  • Maharajah Style Curry Powder is a popular spice blend based on South Asian cuisine. Curries are becoming more mainstream in American cuisine, and if you are looking to experiment, here would be a good place to start.

  • Chinese Five Spice is a blend famed for flavoring cheap cuts of meat and making them taste amazing. The meat will be left in a pot of spicy sauce to stew for 4 to 5 hours. This technique is called “flavor potting” or “red cooking”.

  • Cajun Seasoning is perfect for seafood and for dishes that are built around fried food.


We recommend buying spices by how frequently you use them. If you use a lot of something and you know that, buy in bulk. It is often cheaper to buy in bulk and if you are going through a spice quickly, you have less to worry about in terms of freshness. If you use very little of a spice, or are only planning on using it once, buy the smallest container possible so you are not wasting it. If you happen to fall in love with a spice, you can always go back and purchase the larger size. Spices lose their flavor over time, and though they don’t usually “go bad” they can become less aromatic and vibrant, warranting their disposal. We have a set of the 25 Must Have Spices for your kitchen that features most of the spices mentioned on this list, including some of the spice blends. Loaded with all this knowledge, give your spice cabinet a thorough cleaning and wipe away the cobwebs. For the record, if one of your spices has become a home for baby spiders, we recommend safety rehoming the spiders before discarding the spice.


Related Posts

What is the Shelf Life of Spices and Herbs?
How to Store Your Spices
Are Spices Safe?
How Much Spice to Use & When to Add It

Pennsylvania Pepper

Pennsylvania Pepper

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Ground Cumin

Ground Cumin

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Smoked Sweet Paprika

Smoked Sweet Paprika

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California Garlic Powder

California Garlic Powder

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Turmeric Powder

Turmeric Powder

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Cayenne Chile Powder (30,000 SHU)

Cayenne Chile Powder (30,000 SHU)

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Mediterranean Oregano

Mediterranean Oregano

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California Onion Powder

California Onion Powder

Click here to read more!

Crushed Red Pepper Flakes

Crushed Red Pepper Flakes

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Ginger Powder

Ginger Powder

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