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13 Essential Spices for Your Kitchen

13 Essential Spices for Your Kitchen

Even though spices are not as exotic, rare and expensive as they once were thousands of years ago, they are still valued in any cook’s kitchen. (Read more on the history of spices) These spices are best when at their freshest, and can enhance many of your favorite dishes.

The real question is what cuisines do you enjoy. Choosing the most versatile spices will mean you can mix and match them, and enjoy deliciously seasoned recipes from around the world.

Here are some suggestions for a well-stocked kitchen, based on general need and particular cuisines.

The Basics

Sea Salt
A little salt enhances the flavor of most savory dishes. Sea salt will also get the right rise and texture for baked goods.

Black and White Pepper
This staple can enhance almost any dish. White pepper is milder and finer and won’t affect the appearance of a dish.

Italian Food

Oregano
A primary seasoning used in soups, stews, and sauces.

Basil
Aromatic and commonly used with oregano.

Basil Tip: Use fresh basil with some olive oil and pine nuts. Place in a blender and process until smooth, then add to your favorite pasta as a quick sauce, or use as a spread or the base for a salad dressing.

Fennel Seeds
These seeds give sweet Italian sausage its unique taste. You can get the flavor in your red sauce even if you are vegetarian. Fresh fennel makes for a delicious salad.

Mexican Food

Oregano is also used a good deal in Mexican recipes, especially those with tomatoes.

Coriander
Used in moderation either fresh or dried. It gives a savory taste with a hint of lemon.

Cumin
Usually used with coriander. It has a deep, earthy taste that is a bit peppery.

Indian Food

Coriander and cumin are also used in Indian food, so they are a good addition to any spice rack. But there are many other wonderful spices to explore.

Cinnamon
Sticks and ground cinnamon are used in savory dishes, especially in tomato-based sauces. Cinnamon is also incredibly useful for your favorite baked goods.

Curry Powder
This is a blend of a range of spices, and is an easy shortcut if you want to get an authentic taste of India without buying a lot of different items. You can also make your own blend.

Garam Masala
A standard Indian blend you can buy to take the guesswork out of your seasoning. It is a “finishing spice” that you add just before you serve, rather than cook it.

Turmeric
A root related to ginger root. It is bright yellow, with a mild flavor. It gives curry powder its color. It’s useful as a natural dye for foods and will enhance any rice dish.

Ginger Root
Used in both sweet and savory dishes. It’s also used for candy and tea. It is a bit pungent, but goes well with chicken. It can be used fresh or dried and powdered.

Chinese Food

Ginger is found in many recipes, in both its fresh and dried forms. You will also find coriander, fennel and cinnamon in Chinese dishes.

Star Anise
This popular dried flower with seeds is used whole, or ground into powder. It is one of the five spices in Chinese 5-spice powder, along with coriander, fennel, cloves, and Szechuan peppercorns.

With these spices in your kitchen, you will be able to enhance and vary the taste of all your favorite meals.