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12 must have spices that every kitchen should have

12 must have spices that every kitchen should have

There are seemingly hundreds of spices used for cooking. There are some basic spices that every kitchen needs to keep stock of. Here is a list of 12 must have spices and seasonings with ideas to help you make flavorful meals in minutes .  

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If you searched for ‘Must -Have spices’, or ‘essential spices for cooking’, I may not be completely wrong in assuming that you are looking for a small list of common spices to start with rather than something vast and complicated.

This list is what I consider to be the popular spices for cooking.

But the type of ‘must-have’ spices is pretty subjective as the spices that work for you may  for you may not be an the most used spice in someone else’s kitchen. 

If you are unsure of how to choose kitchen seasonings that suit your taste and eating habits then follow this basic spices guide to select the top 5 essential spices for your kitchen which is especially useful if you are a beginner cook.

These 12 must have spices are the most used spices and herbs and narrows the list down to the basic spices to keep in hand.

With the right amount and type of kitchen seasoning, you can transform plain food into something irresistible.

If using spices is new to you and you want to learn few tips on adding flavour with spices, then this blog will surely help. 

Why Should You Cook With Spices

Seasoning is what makes food taste good.

We normally use salt and pepper to pep up our dishes.

Imagine if we broaden our scope of seasoning and bring in more exciting flavours ??!!

You may already be using the basic two seasonings, aka salt and pepper!

The more adventurous cooks have necessary spices for the kitchen which they cant do without.

Spices and herbs not only make it easier to elevate the taste of dishes, they are full of healthy nutrients and also help introduce new flavours and dishes to mealtimes.

Pre-blended seasonings and spice mixes also reduce cooking time as all you need to do is add them to your raw ingredients and voila you are done with cooking.

Seasonings also help you in branching out and experiment with cultural flavours.

How exciting do mealtimes become with a touch of spice !!

List of 12 Basic Spices To Have In Your Kitchen Pantry

If you feel overwhelmed with the many spices that you see in the shopping aisles then the good news is that you only need to stock up essential cooking spices.

I have narrowed the list to the most common and easily available seasonings, herbs and spices to start your kitchen pantry.

They are in alphabetical order, so feel free to choose any one.

The idea is to begin by adding just one spice each month of the year, (hence a 12 spice list)  and work with different suitable combinations before you introduce another spice!

Slowly but SURELY these little culinary experiments will change how you cook with spices.

1. Cajun seasoning

Click image to buy Cajun seasoning online

Cajun spice is similar to a taco seasoning but uses additional spices such as cayenne pepper, garlic powder, sweet paprika, dried oregano,  dried thyme, ground black pepper, onion powder.


Mildly hot and sweet

How to use Cajun Seasoning

Cajun seasoning can be used directly in the dish as a marinade for making rubs, dips or flavouring rice dishes

Compliments best with

Meat, chicken, fish, rice, legumes and almost all vegetables

Recipes to Cook with Cajun Spice

Cajun Spiced Flounder with Tomatoes 

Cajun Potato Salad 

2. Cardamom

green- cardamom-elaichi-image-indian-spice-buy-online-spiceitupp - Copy
Click image to buy green cardamom pods online

Known as the queen of spices due to its high price and aromatic properties.

Its a flower bud and is popularly used in many cuisines.



How to use Green Cardamom

You can either use the pods whole, crushed or in powder form.

Green cardamom pods are used for curry, rice or even to flavour coffee in Arabic style.

It can be used to make both sweet and savoury dishes.

Simply add it to the dish to enhance flavour and aroma.

Compliments best with

Green cardamoms go well with almost any vegetable or meat.

This aromatic spice is great for flavouring dairy based desserts.

Recipes to Cook with cardamoms

Warli Style Traditional Indian Lamb Curry 

Mango and Cardamom Chia Seed Pudding

3. Chinese 5 spice

chinese five spices
Click image to buy Chinese 5 spice online

Bring in an oriental twist to your meals by adding a bit a Chinese 5 spices to your meats and veges.

It is a popular Chinese base seasoning for many Chinese/Oriental dishes. It is made with a mix of different spices such as star anise, cloves, cinnamon, Szechuan pepper and fennel


This spice mix falls between sweet and pungent.

How to use Chinese 5 spice

Use the spice blend directly into the dish you wish to cook.

It makes a very aromatic rub and marinade for meats such as pork, duck and beef.

You can also use it as a seasoning for making fried rice, noodles, stir-fries and also broth of soup.

Compliments best with

Since it already has different blended spices, its best to combine the spice with sauces such as tomato sauce, soya sauce,  and other oriental sauces.

It enhances the flavour of meats, vegetables, noodles and rice.

Recipes to Cook with Chinese 5 spice

Slow Cooker 5 Spice Pork Roast 

Orange Spiced Salmon with Spaghetti Squash 

4. Cloves

Nelken-ganz-Gewuerzland-com-2 Cloves7 Buy Spices online Switzerland
Click image to buy cloves online

Cloves are the aromatic dried flower buds from the clove tree. Popularly used whole, ground cloves powder can also be used.


It has a very strong sweet and pungent taste.

How to use Cloves

Cloves can be used to make both sweet and savoury dishes.

Whole cloves are commonly used to flavour oil, sauces or to add flavour to broths and curries.

You can also use it for making barbeque sauces, soups and pickles.

Use cloves for pies,  dairy-based desserts and also drinks.

Compliments best with

Cloves go well with almost any type of ingredient and other spices.

Few of the best combinations are red meats, nuts, sweet vegetables such as pumpkin, carrots, sweet potato, peas.

The best spice combination is cinnamon, cardamom and bay leaves.

Recipes to Cook with cloves

Egg Curry In Cashew Gravy 

Molasses Crinkle Cookies 

5. Curry powder

curry powder buy online
Click image to buy curry powder online

Perhaps the most popular Indian spice mix used to make a basic curry. There is no set recipe for a curry powder mix but primarily has turmeric powder, cumin powder, coriander powder, ginger powder, curry leaves powder and chilli powder.

The more adventurous cooks can choose to make their by following this easy homemade curry powder recipe.


Hot and pungent

How to use Curry powder

Curry powder is added directly to the dish and is best when sauteed with other ingredients in oil to remove the strong raw smell of spices.

It can be used to make curries,  marinades or stir-fries.

Compliments best with

Whole spices such as cloves, cinnamon, cardamom, bay leaves

Goes with any kind of meat, vegetable, legumes, rice and rice noodles.

Recipes to Cook with curry powder

Singapore Noodles 

7 Ingredients Chicken Curry

6. Flavoured Salt

Click image to buy flavoured salt online

When in doubt with lifting flavours instantaneously, add a dash of any flavoured salt to your dish.

There are many different kinds of flavoured salts available in the market these days such as garlic and herb salt, chilli salt, curry flavoured salt, Chinese salt etc.

How to use flavoured salt

Since it is a seasoning its best to add a dash of salt to the finished dish or while sauteeing and even directly in any broth or liquid used to boil to retain maximum flavour.

Add flavoured salt to salads, marinades for grilling or steaming, stir-fries and chips.

Compliments best with

A flavoured salt goes well with any vegetable, meat, chicken, fish or legumes, eggs.

Recipes to cook with flavoured salt

Salmon Fillet with extra sea smoked sea salt

Assorted recipes using flavoured sea salt 

7. Ground Cumin

Kreuzkuemmel-gemahlen-Cumin-cumin powder buy online switzerland
Click image to buy spice online

Earthy, fresh and mildly spiced ground cumin or cumin powder is one of the worlds widely used spice.

It is a popular spice that makes the base of different spice blends and can be used in any dish.

The universal and versatile taste of ground cumin makes it one of the most popular must have spices.

GOOD TO KNOW – You can freshly ground cumin into powder if you buy whole cumin seeds. They taste better and fresher. Read here to see how. 


Aromatic, pungent and woody

How to use ground cumin

Add a teaspoon or two of ground cumin while frying onions, ginger, garlic or tomatoes.  You can also add cumin powder to any sauce base such as BBQ sauce, chilli sauce, mayo etc. Add to stir fries,

Use it for making curries, stir fries, soups, salads, marinades, stews and even pies.

Compliments best with

Most other spices,vegetables, meat and chicken.

Recipes to Cook with ground cumin

Lamb Bhuna 

Spicy Corned Beef Hash

12 Must have spices to have in the kitchen and make food taste better

8. Italian Mixed Herb

Italian seasoning buy online
Click image to buy Italian seasoning online

An Italian herb mix is a mix of dried Oregano, Basil, Marjoram, Rosemary and Thyme.

Just a sprinkle of a teaspoon or two of this mixed herb adds a rounded flavour to any pasta, fish and chicken dish.



How to use Italian Mixed Herb

Mixed Italian Herb is very easy to use. You simply need to add a few teaspoons directly to the dishes such as tomato-based sauce, cheese-based sauce.

You can also use it to make dressings, salads, stews, marinades and rubs.

Compliments best with

Pasta, fish, and white meat.

Also combines well with dairy and tangy based sauces such as tomato sauce, lemon garlic sauce etc.

Recipes to Cook with Italian mixed herb

Creamy 20 Minutes Spaghetti  

Cranberry Roasted Chicken 

9. Nutmeg

nutmeg -whole-jaiphal-indian-spice buy indian spice online spiceitupp
Click image to buy nutmeg online

Nutmeg is a seed kernel used to flavour sweet and savoury dishes, popularly used in Middle Eastern, Indian and European cuisines. It is a delicate spice with a strong flavour.


Nutmegs are sweet-scented and pungent.

How to use Nutmeg

The popular form of nutmeg is the whole seed. You can freshly grate nutmeg with the help of a grater into the dish.

It can also be used to delicately enhance the flavour of meat dishes and sweet or root vegetables such as potatoes, carrots, turnip etc.

Compliments best with

Nutmegs go well with dairy products such as cheese sauce for pasta and is added to many desserts such as apple, rhubarb or pumpkin pie, custard, rice pudding etc.

You can add nutmeg to other warm and sweet spices like cloves, cardamom, cinnamon

Recipes to Cook with Nutmeg

Roasted Squash 

Moroccan Meatball and Couscous Soup 

10. Rosemary

Rosemary buy online
Click image to buy Rosemary online

Unlike any other spice or herb, rosemary has its own distinctive flavour and taste and holds it flavour well to extreme cooking.

You only need a few sprinkles of this herb to infuse your dish with the aromatic earthy aroma.

Mildy strong , you only need few springs as adding too much may make the dish too overpowering.


Woody, fragrant and aromatic

How to use Rosemary

Rosemary is one of those spices that can be added anytime during the cooking process.

This is want makes it an easy herb to cook with. Mostly used to cook savoury items, rosemary can also be used to make desserts.

Add it to baked dishes as such baked fish, meat, or roasted veges.

Use it for rubs, infuse oils, dips, sauces, broths and stews.

Compliments best with

Fish, chicken, any vegetable, olive oil

Recipes to cook with Rosemary

20 Minutes Mediterranean Prawns

Figs, Goats Cheese And Rosemary

11. Smoked Paprika

Buy smoked paprika online
Click image to buy online

Also called ‘pimenton’ its an aromatic Spanish red paprika powder that adds a subtle smoky flavour to dishes it is used in.

It can range from mild to hot depending on the kind of heat you choose.


Sweet, smoky and hot

How to use Smoked Paprika

Add directly to the dish you, however like most spices do take care not to add too much to the dish as a small spoonful render strong smoky flavour to the dish.

It can be added to roast vegetables, all kinds of meat especially sausages and also eggs.

Add a pinch to dressings or sauces. Use in marinades, dips or soups.

Compliments best with

Red meat and vegetables such as potatoes, zucchini, aubergine.

It combines well with spices such as cloves, cinnamon and cumin powder.

Recipes to Cook with smoked paprika

Roasted Red Pepper Tomato Soup 

Moroccan Braised Chicken, Lentils, Smoked Paprika & Tomato

12. Taco/Fajita seasoning

Taco seasoning
Click image to buy taco seasoning online

Taco or fajita seasoning is a popular Mexican inspired spice blend easily available in any supermarket.

You do not have to stick to making fajitas or tacos with this seasoning but use it to make different kinds of dishes.

Its a mix of garlic powder, chilli powder, red pepper flakes, cornstarch, oregano, cumin powder and salt.


Pungent and hot

How to use Taco/fajita seasoning

This versatile spice mix can be used to make curries such as chilli beef, roast vegetables, pasta sauce, marinade, dips and even soup.

Compliments best with

It goes very well with tomato sauce, yoghurt, lemon, mincemeat, couscous, legumes and many vegetables.

You do not need to add any extra spice if you are using a taco seasoning.

Recipes to Cook with Taco/fajita seasoning

Chicken Fajita Pasta 

Portobello Fajitas 

Where to Buy Spices From

Now that you have the list, where do you go looking for them?

All the 12 spices listed above can be bought from any supermarket near you.

If you like to avoid walking through the long shopping aisles and standing in checkout queues then its the online world of shopping for you.

In case it has slipped your attention, there is a direct link to buy the listed spices simply by clicking on them.

Shopping For Spices For US Readers

For more exciting meal ideas and a range of spices to buy, I wholeheartedly recommend The Spice House for organic freshly packed spices.

There a huge range of freshly ground spices, dips, herbs, flavoured salts and many more products that make cooking easy and flavour packed.

Shopping For Spices and Ingredients For European Readers

If you live in Europe you can visit the British Corner Shop , search for your products and get everything delivered to you anywhere in the world!!

How Long Do Spices Last For

Now that you have bought the spices, make sure that you do not toss them to the back of your drawer.

But remember spices do have a USE BY date. This means that they can go stale and loose their flavour if not used within a certain time.

This guide explain how to revive old spices and keep them fresher for longer

A Guide To Cook Flavourful Meals

Cooking with spices is not complicated. All you need to know is what, when and how much to use spices.

This becomes easier if you have someone to share the many tips to flavour your meals and also guide you at every step.

An online cook along session is a fun and fully interactive way to learn about different spices, use them in different ways and make a spicy Indian dish at home from the comfort of your home.

To Conclude 

Flavourful meals does not necessarily mean a lengthy ingredient list and hours of standing.

You can prepare exotic, great tasting food in minutes with this list of basic spices for cooking.

Every cook has their own favorite spices, and not all may agree with this list, so you are free to choose something out of the list.

You do not need to buy all of them, just start with few and make some easy dishes.

It could be as simple as using them for a marinade, adding a spoonful to your casserole or stir fry.

Seasoning food is one of the first step to great cooking!

Let me know if you have been using any of the above spices already or other spices that you enjoy.

Share your favourite spice or trick you use to lift the flavours of your meals. It’s always fun to learn from others.

Links To More Cooking Tips 

Cooking Spices – A 5 Step guide to cook with spices 
How to cook Indian food so that it tastes right each time 
Top 10 Spices to make 30 – minutes meal that feeds a crowd
12 Must- Have Spices

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Sarah eyebrows
6 years ago

Okay, you rock. I had to say that. lol

6 years ago

I’m definitely going to be using some of these ideas! Great Read!

6 years ago

This is great! I’m currently in a phase where I’m testing out some spices and I’m not really sure yet what spice I should use for a specific recipe. Thanks for sharing!

6 years ago

I’ll have to bookmark this and come back to it. I don’t do a ton of cooking so sadly I haven’t tried about half of these spices… But, I can’t wait to now. I’ll let you know how it goes!

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