Whether you live to cook or cook to live, having the right spices on hand can take your food from a boring and tasteless meal to a dish that your friends and family will request on a weekly basis.
Unless you cook often or know which spices you will use frequently, it’s best to go with small containers since spices only have a shelf life of one to two years. Even though spices are dried, exposure to light and air can cause them to lose their flavor over time. It’s easy to check whether spices have gone off by simply smelling them and checking for a strong aroma.
Ideally, when buying spices, you would purchase them in a whole form and grind them yourself, which provides the freshest and most flavorful results. Freshly ground spices also have a much longer shelf life compared to ground spices, which can easily oxidize in months. Unless you cook every day and have ample time to ground every spice, we recommend sticking with only the most commonly used spice, black peppercorn, and buying it whole and using a grinder. As for the rest? You can still get great tasting spices that are already dried and ground for convenience.
When it comes to purchasing spices, there are many companies offering sets to make it easy to buy several pantry staples at once. These can be a great option for those who are new to cooking and aren’t quite sure what spices they will need in their new culinary quest. But you may not want your cumin to be the same size as your chili flakes when you only use one every few months and use the other one daily.
Not sure which spices to add to your rack? We’ve put together a list of some of the most commonly used spices and included high-quality options that will get your kitchen closer to the first-ever at-home Michelin star.
1. HQOExpress Organic Paprika
ADDS A SWEET AND SPICY FLAVOR
Typically made from dried tomato peppers, paprika is frequently found in meat and vegetable dishes. This spice is packed with beneficial compounds, including vitamin A, which can help to improve cholesterol and blood sugar levels, making it a great addition to food. High Quality Organic Express make a certified organic, kosher and gluten-free paprika that is sustainably farm grown and free from any pesticides or herbicides. Adding a sweet and spicy flavor to several dishes, HQOExpress Organic Paprika pairs beautifully with chicken, soups, chili and pasta.
2. Classic Provisions Mexican Oregano Spice
BEST CUISINE-SPECIFIC OPTION
Everything we said about fresh spices being better than ground? That doesn’t apply to oregano. The spice actually has more flavor when it is dried and has a warm and slightly bitter taste that is favored for a wide variety of cuisines, including Greek, Italian and Mediterranean recipes. There are plenty of great oregano options available online, but we wanted to highlight that there is a difference between oregano and Mexican oregano. For Mexican dishes that call for oregano, it’s vital to the flavor of the food using Mexican oregano. Classic Provisions make their Mexican oregano in an easy to use shaker and use large leaves with an enticing aroma that will have guests going back for seconds and thirds.
3. Watkins Gourmet Organic Basil
GREAT FOR ITALIAN FOOD
If you plan on cooking anything from an Italian cookbook, you will likely need basil and a lot of it. Fresh basil is a great way to add flavor to a meal, but it has a short shelf life, which is why we recommend keeping basil spice on hand. Watkins makes a gourmet organic basil with a peppery taste that is USDA certified and non-GMO. The gluten-free and Kosher spice is packaged in a recyclable bottle and is considered a gourmet-quality spice that can be paired with vegetables, soups and meat.
4. McCormick Gourmet Organic Ground Cumin
PAIRS WITH SAVORY MEAT
Available in both seed and ground form, cumin is derived from a plant in the parsley family. It is also one of the few spices that expertly straddles the area between cooking and baking. Found frequently in Indian and Mediterranean dishes, cumin brings a warmth to dishes like stews, soup, meat-based meals and even pastries. McCormick Gourmet Organic Ground Cumin is considered earthy and warm and pairs perfectly with savory meat like lamb. Cumin is an ingredient of chili powder and is typically found in recipes for Mexican, Indian, North African and Middle Eastern dishes. McCormick’s citrusy cumin is certified organic and non-GMO.
5. Frontier Organic Spice Apple Organic
BEST FOR BAKERS
Apple pie spice combines four of the most commonly used spices for baking, which is great news for casual bakers. Ideally, you would want to own all four of these spices separately, but if you are short on space and trying to keep your cooking budget small, Apple Pie Spice is a great way to get cinnamon, allspice, nutmeg and ginger in one product. Frontier Co-op makes a delicious organic spice apple blend that is salt-free, non-irradiated and has a freshness date to ensure everything that is supposed to rise and taste delicious, well, does.
6. Morton & Bassett All-Natural Chili Powder
BEST SPICY BLEND
Like Apple Pie Spice, chili powder is also an all-encompassing spice that pulls in several flavors for an easy to use addition to a dish. Often found in recipes for Mexican food, chili powder includes coriander, cumin, oregano, and chilies. Morton & Bassett All-Natural Chili Powder is a flavorful blend of paprika, cumin, cayenne pepper, garlic, parsley, oregano, and black pepper. A great addition to chilis, barbecue sauce, meat rub, or a topping for Mexican street corn, the chili powder is all-natural, salt-free and has no MSG, preservatives and is non-irradiated.
7. Red Pepper Flakes
BEST FOR ADDING HEAT
Red pepper flakes are one of the easiest ways to add flavor and spice to a meal. Made from red chili peppers that have been dried and crushed, this spice is a great accompaniment to meat, salad dressings and vegetables. Red pepper flakes can be used for spaghetti sauce, pizza, soup and other dishes. They are a great layering spice that can add just a touch of heat for the more spice adverse or a delicious dollop of food fire for those who crave all things spicy. We like the Simply Organic Red Pepper Flakes, which are certified organic and have an earthy, potent flavor that brings a full-bodied heat.
8. New Harvest Turmeric
Turmeric has been helping to keep people healthy for thousands of years, but the benefits of the spice are only recently becoming more widely known in North America. Turmeric can be used to help prevent inflammation, cancer, and treat rheumatoid arthritis. Fresh turmeric is a bright yellow color and can easily stain skin, clothing and countertops, which is why we like using it in ground spice form, which is less messy. Delicious in soups and stews and a great addition to smoothies and teas during cold season, turmeric adds a spicy flavor to food and drinks. Burlap and Barrel make turmeric that is grown organically in India that has a sweet floral flavor without any of the bitterness that can be found in lower quality options.
9. Sweet Allspice by Burlap and Barrel
ADDS A SMOKEY WARMTH
If you want to add some smokiness and warmth to everything from pies to jerk chicken recipes, Burlap and Barrels’ Ground Allspice Berries is going to become your secret weapon. Using dried berries from evergreen trees, allspice mixes sugar and spice to create a spice that works on mole sauces, jerk chicken, pumpkin pie, and other desserts. It’s also a great addition to drinks, creating added depth and warmth to cocktails, chai tea, and lattes.
10. Salt Traders Peppercorn Tower
MADE FOR GRINDERS
As we said above, black peppercorn is the one spice that is worth grinding on a daily basis. Thankfully, it is such a commonly used spice that it’s easy to find whole and in a grinder. If you already own a pepper mill, we recommend the peppercorn tower from Salt Traders. The tower includes five flavorful varieties of whole peppercorns, including Tellicherry Pepper, Szechuan Pepper, Muntok White Pepper, Comet’s Tail Pepper and Asian Pepper (Wynad Black Pepper). Most of us already use pepper every day in our cooking, so why not change things up with some new and exciting varieties?