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Essential cooking spices every at-home chef should own

Essential cooking spices every at-home chef should own

You mentally scan the contents of the refrigerator and freezer and hope to come up with a plan. But, it is the well-stocked spice cabinet that makes the final determination. And, having the right combination of spices in your kitchen allows you to create personalized flavor blends rather than using prepared seasoning mixes and packets that may contain ingredients you don’t really need or enjoy.  

Knowing you have chicken is great. Being able to turn it into a meal everyone will love requires the perfect seasonings! 

The very definition of spices that distinguishes them from herbs, is the fact that they are dried. Spices may be derived from parts of plants including the seed, root, or fruit and many times are used in smaller amounts compared to fresh herbs 

Staples not on the list include salt and pepper in all their varieties – salt and pepper, should always be on hand and can include Kosher salt, sea salt, coarse black pepper, coriander, and peppercorn medleys. 

So, salts and peppers aside, here are the top 12 essential cooking spices every at-home chef or cook should always have on hand. 

01.

Cinnamon 

Even if you think you will never bake a single dessert in your life, cinnamon brings a bit of sugary warmth to dishes and has earned a space in the spice rack. Sprinkle some in your French toast, on applesauce or rice pudding, add a teaspoonful to whipped cream, or mashed sweet potatoes, and consider adding a dash or two to spice rubs for ribs and steaks. 

02.

Cumin 

Most times, the flavor profile of a taco includes the earthy seasoning of cumin. Also used in spice rubs, and may be in the background of chili, cumin adds a bit of depth to dishes. Beware, this spice packs a strong flavor and is best used in small amounts.  

03.

Dill 

Not just for pickles, dried dill can add flavor to cucumber salads, fish, dips, and tartar sauce.  

04.

Garlic powder 

Toasty, golden garlic bread may be the first thing that comes to mind when thinking about garlic powder, but this versatile spice (as well as the fresh version) can be added to almost any dish that needs more seasoning. Described as pungent and sharp, garlic adds a distinct aroma as well as a savory taste when it is used in sauces, sautés, spice rubs, stews, soups, and stir fry dishes. 

05.

Ginger 

The deep, warm, and zippy taste of ginger make it a possible choice in sauces or glazes for poultry and pork. Ginger works well with garlic, honey, soy sauce, mustard, barbecue saucemarinades, and salad dressings.   

06.

Onion powder 

Anytime you are cooking and want to add an onion flavor that will blend evenly throughout the dish, without the presence of fresh onion, grab the onion powder. Along with garlic and paprika, this is one of the top three key spices to have on hand.  

07.

Oregano 

Looking to add a bit of Italian-style seasoning to a dish? Oregano. Used in sauces, rubs, in olive oil dips for bread, meatballs, and steak seasoning blends, oregano has a uniquely distinct green flavor 

08.

Paprika 

Paprika comes in numerous varieties like salt and pepper. Most often a distinctly rusty red color, paprika brings a smokiness and warmth to foods. It can be used on mayonnaise-based salads like macaroni or potato, sprinkled over deviled eggs, or in soups, stews, and spice rubs.  

09.

Red pepper flakes 

Anytime you taste a dish and feel, “It needs a little heat,” add a pinch of red pepper flakes. Derived from a variety of spicy red peppers, this dried seasoning can bring a bit of zip to any dish. 

10.

Rosemary 

The flavor of rosemary may be described as woody, pine, and lemon-like and the dried spice maintain a needle appearanceBake into breads, biscuits, or rolls, use with other seasonings to create marinades and rubs, sprinkle onto the chicken, or blend with butter for a flavorful spread.

11.

Sage

Commonly used to season chicken or turkey, sage likely evokes memories of holidays like Thanksgiving which includes savory dressing or stuffing. Sage’s distinct earthiness makes it highly recognizable and can be used to create a delicious brown butter. 

12.

Thyme 

French cooking may come to mind when thinking of thyme as it is used in herbes de Provence, a bundle of herbs frequently used when roasting anything from poultry to vegetables. On its own, thyme works well with winter (think roots and roasting) vegetables – especially potatoes. 

Want to use a recipe that calls for a particular blend of spices like adobo or steak seasoning? With the right inventory of spices, you can make your own and adjust to taste. 

Create your own adobo  

Combine the following ingredients:

  • 2 tablespoons salt 
  • 1 tablespoon paprika 
  • 2 teaspoons ground black pepper 
  • 2 teaspoons onion powder 
  • 2 teaspoons dried oregano 
  • 1 teaspoons ground cumin 
  • 1 teaspoon garlic powder 

Popular steak seasoning 

Combine the following ingredients: 

  • 2 Tablespoons Kosher salt 
  • 2 Tablespoons black pepper 
  • 2 Tablespoons garlic powder 
  • 2 Tablespoon paprika 
  • 2 Tablespoon onion powder 
  • 2 teaspoons dried rosemary 
  • 2 teaspoons dried thyme 

Mix and match spices to come up with your own flavor blends and add more flavor to the recipes you already love. They are also a relatively inexpensive and easy to find – just remember, they do not last forever. If you don’t remember when you bought the spices in your cabinet, it’s safe to say they should be discarded and replaced.  

Go ahead and spice things up today! 

About The Author

Sharon MacGregor

Writing from her desk in New York, Sharon MacGregor is a contributing reporter, freelance writer, and blogger with a passion for human interest stories as well as meals shared with friends and family. Her blog, Fed Well includes recipes with upcoming tips to prepare foods for infants and toddlers, simple and seasonal cocktails, and easy modifications to create dishes respecting dietary restrictions including dairy and gluten intolerances. She loves entertaining for the ones she loves including her new grandbabies!

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