Essential Spices Every Kitchen Should Have - Public Goods

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Essential Spices Every Kitchen Should Have

Curious to explore the great world of spices? It’s a broad topic, and there’s no right way to learn. At–home cooking depends on personal palate and preference. Get ready to experiment and have fun! Just dive in. Keep reading for a shakedown on top spices.

What is Must–Have Seasoning?

Rich, flavorful dishes are the result of great seasoning. Set your food up for deliciousness! Start with the basics. While salt is essential to most foods, black peppercorns add more depth. Salt and black pepper can really flavor anything, from fish to vegetables, soups, salad dressings, and pasta. 

You’ll likely end up with several kinds of salt. For general cooking, kosher is best; use table salt when baking, and flaky sea salt as garnish. For an extra kick, try peppering scrambled eggs or avocado toast.

It’s worth shopping for spices to enhance your favorite meals. If you love morning bagels, look no further than everything but the bagel seasoning to add the right amount of crunch and punch, with a savory mix of black and white sesame seeds, poppy seeds, salt, onion, and garlic. 

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Garlic powder and onion powder are two necessities in virtually every cuisine. At a wide glance, allspice is key to seasoning meats and stews in Caribbean culture. Another favorite is jerk seasoning, containing a mix of peppers, cloves, cinnamon, and thyme. Sesame seeds are present in many Chinese dishes, while Italian cuisine highlights summer herbs, particularly rosemary and basil. Japanese–inspired foods often incorporate poppy seeds, orange peel, and cayenne pepper. Warm peppers like chipotle and ancho add smokiness to Mexican staples. Just grab the chips and salsa

Exploring other world traditions, popular Middle Eastern spices include nutmeg, sumac, turmeric, and cardamom. Cajun or Creole cooking takes on many unique flavors, such as paprika, tarragon, chili peppers, and yellow mustard. Thai dishes embrace mint, lemongrass, lime, and cilantro. To create irresistible Mediterranean flavors, try using mint, tarragon, cloves, and black pepper.

With top spices, the possibilities are endless. Sage is popular atop cheese and sausage. If you’re a seafood fan, dill complements fish and salads. Bay leaves are used to enhance meals like biryani and adobo. Try celery salt on cooked dishes, sauces, and stews. Despite the name, this spice is unrelated to fresh celery. Made from wild celery seeds, it’s bitter and earthy. No matter which direction you choose, top spices are easy to store and use at a moment’s notice. When it comes to must-have seasoning, the choice is up to you.

Top Spices for Your Kitchen

There are hundreds of spice blends out there, and you don’t always need the most expensive one (read: saffron). Essential spices depend on personal preference. Here are a few basics to help you achieve premium deliciousness. Remember: it’s your pantry!

Crushed Red Pepper 

Versatile and easy to use, this go-to seasoning creates a burst of heat and color. A fabulous companion to Italian cuisine, crushed red pepper also tastes great on avocado toast, eggs, and hummus. Perfect for dry rubs, store this spice between 2 to 3 years for maximum freshness.


Cumin adds depth and complexity to everything from chili to couscous and chicken. An ancient spice originating from Egypt and the Middle East, it’s essential to dishes around the world. Be wary of the amount, as too much cumin can overpower other spices. A member of the parsley family, it’s full of warm, earthy flavors that last up to 6 months in storage. Cumin tastes delicious sprinkled on grilled vegetables with a squeeze of fresh lemon or lime.

Curry Powder

Curry powder delivers warm, deep flavors with a slight kick of heat. Largely made of turmeric, specific ingredients depend on the brand, from ginger to cinnamon, garlic, cloves, mustard seed, fennel, and black pepper. With high–quality, aromatic spices, this spice is meant for slow– cook recipes. Longer time allows for a better release of flavors. Mix curry powder with liquids, like broth or coconut milk, to infuse the spice’s flavors with other ingredients.

Dry Mustard 

Dry mustard is made of ground mustard seeds. Alone it has no flavor or taste, so this spice must be combined with liquid. Long used in Asian and European cuisine, simply add ground mustard to plain water and let sit for 5–10 minutes to develop flavor. As an alternative, stir this spice with brown sugar and orange juice or apple cider vinegar. 


Made from the bell pepper plant, this sweet, mild spice proves excellent in everything from deviled eggs to vegetable soup and roasted chicken. Smooth and flavorful, paprika adds smokiness without extra heat. In most recipes, paprika is added at the end of the cooking process to retain its bright red color. With proper storage, this must-have seasoning lasts 3 to 4 years.

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Known for its fragrant aroma and mild, sweet-bitter taste, oregano is great in soups, stews, and marinades. Complement tomato–centric recipes, like pizza and pasta sauces, or combine with olive–oil based marinades. This spice is versatile enough to use often and lasts anywhere from 2–3 years. Perfect for dusting on grilled shrimp or meats.

Tumeric Powder 

Packed with anti-inflammatory properties, turmeric is a nourishing spice, especially when added to healthy fats like olive oil and black pepper. Use it on curries, chicken, pickles, relishes, lentils, and rice pilaf. If you’re a coffee-lover, try making a golden turmeric latte with warm coconut milk, a dash of pumpkin pie spice, and vanilla extract. Fresh turmeric lasts between 6–9 months in the freezer, while ground powder stores well for 3–4 years.

Essential Spices for Baking

Baking and cooking are two activities that may sound similar but are in fact very different. Cooking is an art that allows improvisation, while baking is much more specific. The latter requires cooking ingredients fully in the oven. Results mirror a baker’s precision, and every time is different.

Essential spices in baking often include cardamom, ground cinnamon, ginger, and nutmeg. If you’re looking for something spicy – like Red Hot candy – try Vietnamese rather than Indonesian cinnamon.

In need of other grocery list ideas? Consider purchases like nuts (almonds, hazelnuts, cashews, pecans); dried fruit (cranberries, dates, figs); chocolate bars (for melting!); almond butter; all–purpose flour; and coconut oil.

Where to Buy Top Spices

If the supermarket seems too overwhelming, there are always online businesses to support. Popular recommendations include:

Storing Essential Spices

Ever wondered if spices can go bad? The answer is yes. Spices degrade over time, but a good rule of thumb is to check your supply every 6-12 months. Jars help to protect ingredients from heat and air exposure, ensuring sustained freshness. Don’t forget to label any self–made mixtures in sealed bags or canisters.

Get Cooking!

Now that you know about the hottest top spices, it’s time to start cooking! Who doesn’t love a well-stocked pantry? Head to the Public Goods blog for great recipe ideas and tips. 

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