You’ve been cooking more meals at home lately and want to step up your seasoning game. The key is having the right herbs and spices on hand to add flavor to your dishes. Don’t worry, you don’t need one of those massive spice racks with 50 tiny bottles to get started. A few essentials are all you need to transform your cooking.
We’ve rounded up the must-have herbs and spices that should be staples in every kitchen. With just these basics in your spice cabinet, you’ll be whipping up tasty homemade meals in no time. Your taste buds will thank you – and you’ll wonder how you ever cooked without them!
The Essential Herbs: Rosemary, Thyme, and Oregano
The essential herbs every cook needs in their spice rack are rosemary, thyme, and oregano. These Mediterranean herbs have been used for centuries to add flavor to dishes.
Rosemary has a piney, fragrant aroma and is great with roasted meats like lamb, chicken, and potatoes. Strip the rosemary leaves from the woody stems before chopping and adding to dishes. A little goes a long way, so start with a pinch and add more to taste.
Thyme has an earthy, minty flavor and is used in everything from tomato sauces and vegetable dishes to stuffings. Fresh or dried thyme works in most recipes. Rub it on meats before roasting or add while sautéing veggies.
Oregano is essential for pasta sauces, pizza, chili, and bean dishes. Its robust, aromatic flavor is popular in many Italian and Mexican cuisines. Use dried oregano in long-cooking dishes and fresh oregano at the end of cooking or as a garnish.
\n\n###The Perfect Combination
Together, rosemary, thyme and oregano make a flavorful combination for marinades, rubs, and herbed butters. Mix 2 parts rosemary, 2 parts thyme and 1 part oregano and use to season meats, seafood or vegetables before cooking. You can also blend the fresh herbs into softened butter or olive oil to make a compound butter or herbed oil.
No matter which of these herbs you use, start with a little and add more to suit your own tastes. Once you get familiar with the flavors of rosemary, thyme and oregano, you’ll want to keep these essentials well-stocked in your kitchen!
Spicing Things Up: Chili Peppers, Paprika and Cinnamon
Chili peppers, paprika and cinnamon are spices that add heat, flavor, and aroma to so many savory and sweet dishes. You’ll want to have them on hand in your kitchen.
Chili peppers provide a kick of heat and come in a range of intensities. Jalapeño and chipotle are moderately spicy and great for chili, tacos, and guacamole. Cayenne pepper is very spicy and used in Cajun cooking. Just a pinch will do! Start with a little and add more to taste.
Paprika is made from dried and ground sweet red peppers. It adds a vibrant red color and mild peppery flavor to dishes. Use it in rubs for meats like chicken, fish or potatoes, in stews, rice and bean dishes. Paprika comes in sweet, smoked and spicy varieties. The sweet kind is most common.
Cinnamon is one of the most versatile and aromatic spices. It’s essential for baked goods like cinnamon buns, snickerdoodle cookies and apple pie. But cinnamon also enhances savory Moroccan tagines, Indian curries, and Mexican mole sauces. You can use cinnamon sticks or ground cinnamon. Sticks will impart more intense flavor to liquids like cider or broths.
With these three spices in your pantry, you’ll be ready to add warmth, color, flavor and aroma to both sweet and savory home-cooked meals. Experiment with different types of chili peppers and paprikas, and discover cinnamon’s savory side. Your taste buds will thank you!
Aromatic All-Stars: Cloves, Nutmeg and Allspice
The spice rack staples that should be in every kitchen are cloves, nutmeg and allspice. These aromatic all-stars add warmth, flavor and fragrance to both sweet and savory dishes.
Cloves are the dried flower buds of the clove tree. They have an intensely spicy, aromatic flavor with notes of citrus. Cloves are essential for flavoring ham, stews, and mulled wine. They are also used in chai tea, fruit pies, and spice cakes. A little goes a long way, so use sparingly.
Nutmeg is the seed of the nutmeg tree. It has a slightly sweet flavor with hints of cinnamon or mace. Nutmeg is commonly used in eggnog, French toast, spinach dishes, and potato gratins. It’s also essential for classic desserts like apple crisp, spice cookies, and pumpkin pie.
Allspice, also known as Jamaican pepper, tastes like a blend of cinnamon, cloves and nutmeg. Despite its name, allspice comes from a single dried berry. It’s used in Caribbean jerk seasoning, mole sauces, and sweet pickles. Allspice brings warmth to fruit desserts like berry cobblers, banana bread and spice cakes.
In addition to their robust flavors, these spices also have antioxidant and anti-inflammatory properties. However, consume them in moderation since they contain volatile oils that can irritate the stomach in large amounts.
A well-stocked spice rack allows you to add lots of flavor to your cooking without adding extra salt. Cloves, nutmeg and allspice, in particular, will elevate your sweet and savory dishes, transforming an ordinary meal into an extraordinary culinary experience. Every kitchen should have these aromatic all-stars on hand.
Classic Combinations: Peppers, Onions, and Garlic
A well-stocked spice rack is essential for any home cook. Some classic herb and spice combinations that should be staples in your kitchen are peppers, onions, and garlic. These three ingredients are the base for so many savory dishes in cuisines around the world.
From mild bell peppers to spicy chili peppers, peppers add flavor, heat, and color to your cooking. Bell peppers are great for stir fries, fajitas, and salads. Chili peppers like cayenne, chipotle, and red pepper flakes provide heat and spice up pasta sauces, chili, Cajun dishes. Crushed red pepper is also essential for homemade or store-bought pizza and tomato sauce.
Onions are indispensable for building flavor in savory cooking. Yellow or white onions are all-purpose and ideal for sautéing with peppers and garlic. Sweet onions like Vidalias or Mauis are perfect for salads, sandwiches and burgers. Shallots, though small, pack an aromatic punch and are key to vinaigrettes, pan sauces and compound butters. Green onions or scallions add fresh oniony flavor to dishes like fried rice, ramen and tacos.
No spice rack is complete without fresh garlic. Garlic adds robust flavor to marinara sauce, stir fries, curry dishes, and meats like chicken, beef or lamb. Whole roasted garlic is a treat on its own, spread on bread. Garlic powder is convenient but fresh garlic is superior. Look for plump, firm bulbs and store in a cool, dark place.
With these three aromatic ingredients – peppers, onions and garlic – on hand in your kitchen, you’ll be ready to whip up delicious home-cooked meals from fajitas to pasta primavera to beef stew in no time. The variety of flavors and heat levels allow you to customize the dish to your own tastes. Your friends and family are sure to appreciate the inviting smells wafting from your kitchen!
So there you have it, the essential herbs and spices that should be staples in any well-stocked kitchen. With these basics on hand, you’ll be able to whip up flavorful and aromatic dishes from cuisines all around the world. Don’t be intimidated by the variety, start with a few and build up your collection over time as you get more comfortable.
Your cooking will become more complex and adventurous. And soon enough, you’ll be creating your own signature spice blends and flavor profiles. A lifetime of delicious meals awaits you, so stock up on these must-have herbs and spices and get cooking! The possibilities are endless.