Basic Spices for the Novice and Home Chef

Basic Spices for the Novice and Home Chef

Paul May 19, 2019

The following is a basic list of most commonly used spices that every novice and well-seasoned home chef can use when stocking your spice cabinet. As part of the list, I’ve given you a brief description of each spice’s flavor as well as common uses:


Ground Allspice Allspice is a cured, unripe berry of a Caribbean evergreen tree, reminiscent of cloves, cinnamon, and nutmeg. Allspice matches well with: beef, beets, cabbage, carrots, corned beef, fruit pies, game, grains, lamb, meats, onions, pumpkin, soups, spinach, squash, stews, sweet potatoes, and tomatoes.

BasilA must have for Italian cooking, dried basis has a peppery flavor that works well with thyme, garlic, oregano, lemon, and tomato sauce. I recommend keeping fresh basil on hand whenever you can, but dried, chopped basil leaves should always be stocked.

Bay LeavesTypically sold dried, bay leaves are aromatic with a woodsy taste. Whole bay leaves are very potent, and just one will add lots of flavor to soups, stews, and marinades.

Whole PeppercornsSkip the ground pepper, get yourself a pepper grinder, and fill it with black peppercorns. Freshly ground pepper has so much more flavor than ground pepper, you really must have it.

Ground Cayenne Red PepperCayenne pepper is made from the small, very spicy red cayenne chili pepper, and is often used in Indian cuisine, as well as Cajun and Southern dishes. Ground cayenne pepper can add just the right brightness to any dish that otherwise tastes a little flat. Using sparingly will not add heat.

Chili PowderIf you like to cook Mexican or Tex Mex, then chili powder is a must-have in your spice cabinet. It’s actually a blend of spices—typical chilies, oregano, coriander, and cumin.

Ground CinnamonA bittersweet spice, cinnamon is heavenly in baked goods and coffee drinks, and is also used in curries, chilies, and stews. A true must-have.

Ground ClovesCloves are common in Asian, African, and Middle Eastern cuisines. Also used to flavor meats, curries, and marinades, but are most commonly paired with fruits and holiday baked goods.

CuminCumin is a flowering plant native from the eastern Mediterranean to India. It adds a warm earthiness to stews, soups, curries, and tacos or other Mexican dishes.

Curry PowderCurry powder is a popular Indian blend of up to 20 spices, such as coriander, turmeric, cumin, fenugreek, and chili peppers. The mix is used in chili, spice rubs and even marinades.

Garlic Powder or Granulated Garlic (better) – Always have fresh garlic on hand, but it helps to have this ground, dehydrated alternative as a back-up when you’re in a pinch. Some garlic powders will have added herbs or seasoning, such as parsley, so read the label carefully. If you can buy products labeled as granulated garlic, you will prefer it.

Garlic Salt Although not entirely necessary, since you can make your own combination, some recipes call for it specifically.

Ginger RootGinger is a hot, fragrant kitchen spice, often used in Indian, Chinese, Japanese, Vietnamese, and many South Asian cuisines. Ground ginger is often used to flavor cookies, crackers, cakes, and of course, gingerbread. It can also be used to tenderize meat. If a recipe calls for fresh ginger and you don’t have it, a lesser amount of this spice can be substituted.

Ground NutmegThe seed of an Indonesian tree, nutmeg has a slightly sweet flavor and is used in drinks like mulled cider, savory dishes, soups, potato dishes, baked goods, meatloaf, and even on some vegetables. It’s a great combination with cinnamon, cloves and ginger in pumpkin pies. For even better nutmeg flavor, buy whole nutmeg and grind it yourself with a nutmeg grinder or microplane rasp graterHint-once you own a rasp grater, you’ll never be without one, the uses are endless.

Onion PowderOnion powder is ground, dehydrated onion. Like garlic powder, it is an essential ingredient to keep handy for those times when you don’t have fresh onion handy.

OreganoOregano is a perennial herb with an aromatic, warm, and slightly bitter taste; surprisingly, it’s actually more flavorful dried than fresh. It is often used in Italian-American cuisine and is essential on pizza. Also used in a lot of Mexican dishes.

Paprika – Sweet and SmokedA dark red spice made from the air-dried fruits of chili peppers, paprika is used to season and color meat, seafood, vegetables, rice, stews, and soups. Hungarian paprika is the best. Smoked paprika is also a must, offering a more woodsy-smoky flavor than regular or sweet paprika.

Red Pepper FlakesDried and crushed red chili peppers, red pepper flakes are another common “pizza herb” and also often used in pickling, chowder, spaghetti sauce, pizza sauce, soup, and sausage.

RosemaryA woodsy, perennial herb with fragrant, evergreen, needle-like leaves, rosemary has kind of a  lemon and pine flavor. It’s often used in Mediterranean, Italian, and French cuisines. Delicious with garlic and olive oil and is amazing used for focaccia, tomato sauce, pizza, and pork.

SageA perennial, evergreen shrub, sage is an essential herb with a savory, slightly peppery flavor. It’s frequently used in European and American cuisines, in everything from stuffing and casseroles to cheese and sausages.

Kosher SaltCoarse salt made without iodine, kosher salt can be used to season recipes in place of table salt. Its larger crystals or flakes allow you greater control, as you can pinch them with your fingers. Don’t use it in baking dishes that use little liquid. It won’t dissolve sufficiently.

TarragonFrequently used in French cooking, tarragon has a bittersweet, peppery taste. It’s a crucial component of béarnaise sauce and pairs well with fish, omelets, and chicken.

ThymePopular in Mediterranean and some Italian dishes. Thyme has a light, woodsy flavor, perfect vegetables, meat, and poultry.

Finally I suggest that you invest in a mortar and pestle, because there are times when you will need to combine spice and ingredients and this tool will come in handy.

Courtesy of Good Dinner Mom

You may find the following useful as you complete your spice collections.

Perfect for the beginner as well as the seasoned pro.

Cave Tools Spice Rack & Herb Organizer Set Magnet – Kitchen Cooking Guide Conversion Chart with Grilling Rubs & BBQ Seasoning Substitutions – Measuring Spoon

Barbecue Accessories Gift Idea


For more information and to purchase

Perfect for grinding up roots and seeds.

ChefSofi Mortar and Pestle Set – Unpolished Heavy Granite for Enhanced Performance and Organic Appearance



For more information and to purchase

Perfect for standardizing and categorizing your spices and seasonings.

12 Magnetic Spice Tins & 2 Types of Spice Labels, Authentic by Talented Kitchen. 12 Storage Spice Containers, Window Top w/Sift-Pour. 113 Clear & 126 Chalkboard Stickers.


For more information and to purchase

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