Basic Spice Checklist

Every cook needs a well-stocked spice cabinet, regardless of culinary expertise. Here are the most commonly used herbs, spices, and seasonings, which no kitchen should be without.

Illustration of groceries (53)
  • Bay leaves

    These aromatic, woodsy-tasting leaves are typically sold dried. Choose those with a rich green color. Add whole bay leaves to soups, stews, and marinades; remove before serving.

  • Black peppercorns

    A must-have for their slight pungency. Always pick whole peppercorns over preground versions: The flavor of freshly ground or cracked pepper makes the small effort in preparation well worth it.

  • Cayenne pepper

    Made from a small, spicy red pepper, this is the foundation of many bottled hot sauces. Used frequently in Cajun and Indian recipes.

  • Chili powder

    This is typically made from a blend of dried chilies, cumin, coriander, and oregano. Delicious in Mexican and Southwestern dishes.

  • Cinnamon, ground

    This warm, aromatic spice has a reddish brown color and a bittersweet flavor. Great for baking as well as adding an earthiness to stews, chilies, and curries.

  • Cloves, ground

    This sweet, rich spice is a staple in holiday baking, especially gingersnaps. Use it sparingly; a little goes a long way.

  • Cream of tartar

    Derived from a crystalline acid that forms on the insides of wine barrels, this fine white powder is most often used to stabilize meringues.

  • Cumin, ground

    An aromatic, mellow spice, ground from a small seed. Delicious in Middle Eastern and Indian cooking, especially curries.

  • Curry powder

    Up to 20 spices—including coriander, cumin, and turmeric—can make up this popular Indian blend. The Madras variety has more heat.

  • Ginger, ground

    Ground ginger has a more intense and astringent taste than fresh ginger. Keep it on hand for baking.

  • Kosher salt

    A type of coarse salt usually made without the addition of iodine. Use it in place of table salt for seasoning recipes; the larger crystals are easier to pinch with your fingers, allowing for greater control of seasoning.

  • Nutmeg, whole

    A delicate, warm spice frequently used in baking. Also a common addition to baked winter squash, béchamel sauce, and spinach dishes.

  • Oregano, dried

    A member of the mint family, this robust herb is commonly used in Mediterranean, South American, and Cajun cooking.

  • Paprika

    A powder made from ground sweet red pepper pods, this is available in sweet and hot varieties. (If the type is not indicated on the bottle, it's most likely sweet.) With a rich red color and a smooth texture, Hungarian paprika is of the highest quality. Use the spice to season meat, seafood, and vegetables. It also makes for a nice garnish on deviled eggs.

  • Crushed red pepper

    Use the flakes of crushed red chili to spice up pastas and stir-fries or to sprinkle on pizzas.

  • Rosemary, dried

    With an aroma of lemon and pine, this herb is used in an assortment of Mediterranean dishes.

  • Sesame seeds

    These versatile seeds have a sweet, nutty taste that complements both savory and sweet dishes. The seeds are especially flavorful and aromatic when toasted. Store them in the freezer: Because of their high oil content, the seeds can quickly become rancid.

  • Thyme, dried

    This fragrant herb lends a delicate flavor to meat, poultry, and vegetables. It's popular in Mediterranean, Cajun, and Creole cuisines.

  • Vanilla extract

    A baking essential made by soaking vanilla beans in alcohol. Opt for the pure rather than the imitation variety, which often has additives and an unnatural flavor.

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