If you want to whip up some delicious meals in your kitchen, you’ll need some must-have spices on hand. There are plenty of kitchen supplies you can get away with not having, but spices are crucial if you want to bring out all the flavors of your food (and not have to rely on store-bought seasonings). To help you start building your spice collection, here are our top must-have spices and why you should include them in your pantry.
Whether in its crystalline form or as a seasoning, salt makes food taste better and helps us eat less by making us feel full faster. There’s also evidence that it may help reduce blood pressure and other blood lipids. But be aware that too much sodium (the bad kind of salt) has been linked to high blood pressure, kidney disease, and stroke. If you have high blood pressure or heart failure, seek your doctor’s advice before adding extra salt to your diet. Otherwise, consuming moderate amounts can help improve athletic performance.
One of my favorite all-purpose, must-have spices, turmeric is great for adding flavor to food and for fighting inflammation. Curcumin (an ingredient in turmeric) has been shown to reduce joint pain caused by rheumatoid arthritis. To be most effective, use fresh turmeric root (which can be found at most grocery stores), as opposed to powdered or ground varieties. You can also find curcumin supplements at health food stores and online. A typical dose is 400–500 milligrams of curcumin taken three times a day with meals. Studies on curcumin typically use doses between 500–1000 milligrams per day.
If you’re a fan of Indian and Middle Eastern foods, then you already know that cumin is a must-have spice. The warm, aromatic flavor adds complexity to dishes such as rice pilaf and roasted vegetables. Cumin also can help regulate blood sugar in people with diabetes by slowing carbohydrate absorption. It’s one of my favorite spices to grow in my herb garden because it smells amazing—and has so many uses!
Coriander is used for its lemony, slightly spicy, and citrusy flavor, as well as its distinctive aroma. It’s a key ingredient in many types of curry powders and blends. The seeds are also often used to make herbal teas or infused in oils for topical use. They can be used whole or ground up depending on how you want to use them.
Cinnamon sticks spices
Cinnamon is a sweet and fragrant spice that contains anti-inflammatory properties. You can buy ground cinnamon, but it’s more fun to get sticks! Cinnamon sticks are perfect for mulling wine or steeping in hot tea. Save yourself some time by pre-cutting your cinnamon sticks before storing them. Place a paperclip on one end of your cinnamon stick, then use a knife to cut through the woody core at that end of your stick; you’ll get several perfectly equal slices, which will be easy to grab from storage when you need them.
Cayenne pepper spices
Any foodie worth his salt has to have it in his pantry. A dash of Cayenne pepper to your soup or stir-fry helps balance flavors and mask unwanted tastes. If you’re cooking a Mexican dish, its pungent flavor goes wonderfully with chilies and black beans. Your guacamole will never be better if you add some Cayenne pepper! Be careful when seasoning your dishes with cayenne though; too much can ruin your meal. Just remember to start small, go slow, and ask for help before adding more cayenne pepper. Start with one pinch at first and work your way up from there until you find that perfect taste for your recipe or meal.
Cardamom pods or powder (or both!)
Cardamom is one of those species that has a ton of versatility. The pods are often used in Indian cuisine, but can also be used in tea or coffee. The powder, on other hand, can be used in everything from baked goods to meats and desserts. To use cardamom pods whole, take them out of their pod (keeping them whole) and put them into your dish as you would use fresh herbs. Use ground cardamom as a substitute for cinnamon or nutmeg. Use it liberally; one teaspoon goes a long way!
Garlic powder spices
In addition to adding flavor, garlic powder can also be used as a substitute for fresh garlic cloves. Garlic powder can be added to dishes such as pasta sauce, macaroni and cheese, and chili. It can also be added to baked goods like biscuits or cookies. Garlic powder is a must-have spice in every kitchen.