10 Essential Spices Every Cook Should Have on Hand
Whether you're setting up your first kitchen or you've been cooking for years, these essential spices will be your go-tos.
A well-stocked spice rack doesn’t need dozens of jars—for freshness’ sake it’s best to buy spices as you need them. (Especially the world’s most expensive spice.) But there are some staples that you’ll grab for again and again! Here are 10 essential spices that should be in a well-stocked pantry.
Cinnamon is made from the peeled, dried and rolled bark several kinds of trees, usually from Southeast Asia. Look for Saigon cinnamon, also known as Vietnamese cinnamon, which has around 1-5% essential oil content. (It’s the highest of all the cinnamon species.)
Crushed Red Pepper Flakes
Crushed red pepper flakes are red chili peppers that have been dried and crushed (as opposed to ground). They tend to be primarily cayenne peppers, which are about 12 times hotter than a jalapeño. It’s a must-have to pep up a frozen pizza or to add heat to your Homemade Canned Spaghetti Sauce.
Ground ginger is the dried, powdered form of the peeled root of the ginger plant. It adds sweetness, warmth and a gentle bite to all sorts of teas, beverages and both savory and sweet recipes.
Test Kitchen tip: It’s not interchangeable with fresh ginger in recipes!
Garlic powder is made from finely ground dehydrated garlic. You can use 1/8 teaspoon garlic powder for every clove of garlic called for in a recipe. (Garlic salt is garlic powder mixed with salt. It’s also handy—but definitely not the same thing.)
Peppercorns come in several colors, but black is the most common. You might also find that white peppercorns are handy to have on hand for mac n’ cheese, mashed potatoes and other light-colored dishes. Using a pepper grinder means the flavor will have extra spark every time you crank it.
Fun fact: While they’re often grouped together, pink peppercorns are unrelated to the others.
Cloves can be found with their BFFs cinnamon, ginger and nutmeg in baking recipes. But they’re also popular in beef and pork dishes, like this Spice-Braised Pork Roast. (You can also buy whole cloves and grind them in a food processor.)
Bay leaves are technically herbs as opposed to spices. (Herbs come from leaves; spices from seeds, roots or bark.) But they still deserve a place as spice rack all-stars. Whole bay leaves are usually added to hearty soups, stews and braises while they’re cooking, and removed before serving.
While oregano is technically part of the mint family, it has a warmer, more savory flavor than its sweet relatives, and is particularly popular in Italian and Mexican dishes. It will add depth to recipes without completely overwhelming the other ingredients.