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.

  1. Check 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.

  2. Check 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.

  3. Check 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.

  4. Check Chili powder

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

  5. Check 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.

  6. Check Cloves, ground

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

  7. Check 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.

  8. Check Cumin, ground

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

  9. Check Curry powder

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

  10. Check Ginger, ground

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

  11. Check 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.

  12. Check Nutmeg, whole

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

  13. Check Oregano, dried

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

  14. Check 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.

  15. Check Crushed red pepper

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

  16. Check Rosemary, dried

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

  17. Check 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.

  18. Check Thyme, dried

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

  19. Check 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.