There are 11,452 spices in that aisle of the grocery store. But you need only 12 or so to make your dishes sing.
1. Black pepper. Yes, freshly ground pepper really does taste better. So buy some peppercorns that come with a built-in grinder (which can be refilled repeatedly, by the way) and play restaurant waiter at home.
2. Cayenne pepper. Some say this hot, spicy pepper can help your body detox. And maybe that’s true. But Master Cleanse aficionados aren’t the only ones who benefit from this staple—so do lovers of barbecue rubs and veggie dishes with a kick.
3. Chili powder. Sure, you could mix up your own blend of dried chilies, cumin, coriander, and oregano before the next Super Bowl party. Or you could just buy a jar.
4. Cinnamon, ground. Mmm—this aromatic staple adds warmth to cookies and cakes and earthiness to stews.
5. Cumin, ground. A mellow, intensely flavorful spice, ground from a small seed. Delicious in Mexican, Middle Eastern, and Indian cooking, especially curries.
6. Curry powder. Up to 20 spices—including coriander, cumin, and turmeric—can make up this popular Indian blend. Look for a Madras variety, which brings the heat.
7. Ginger, ground. This spice has a more intense and astringent taste than fresh ginger.
8. Kosher salt. Forget the salt from the shaker; this is your go-to for seasoning everything from chicken to salad dressing. It’s coarser than regular table salt, which makes it easier to pinch and sprinkle, and it dissolves fast.
9. Nutmeg, whole. A warm, delicate spice frequently used in savory winter concoctions (roasted squash, spinach casserole) and baked goods. Use a microplane to grate it as needed.
10. Oregano, dried. A member of the mint family (who knew?), this robust herb adds a wallop of flavor to everything from spaghetti with marinara sauce to pizza to grilled tilapia.
11. Red pepper, crushed. Use these flakes of crushed red chilies sparingly to spice up pastas and stir-fries and to add zing to pizza.
12. Sea salt. These big, flaky crystals should be a final touch on just-cooked foods. Take a pinch and crush the crystals between your fingertips over vegetables, fish, or (bliss) warm chocolate chip cookies.
Excerpted from The Real Simple Guide to Real Life: Adulthood Made Easy. Copyright © 2015 Time Inc. All rights reserved.