12 Must-Have Herbs And Spices Every Cook Needs

If you cook, even just a little, you’ll know how critical herbs and spices are for creating tasty meals. The right ones can elevate your dishes, while the wrong choice can undermine the entire meal. Here are essential herbs and spices every cook should have in their kitchen, forming a foundational collection for a wide range of dishes.

1. Sea Salt

Glass salt shakers with sea salt coarse and fine on dark wooden table.
Photo Credit: Ekaterina Markelova/Shutterstock.

No list of must-have herbs and spices would be complete without sea salt. No, not just any regular table salt. You need sea salt to make your dishes stand out. It packs more flavor, making your dishes more palatable and delivering that umami element that makes dishes satisfying to your taste buds.

2. Black Pepper

A bowl and spoon lay on a table, both filled with black pepper corns.
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Adding saltiness to your dishes isn’t enough; it needs a hint of spicy kick, too. Black pepper provides that added kick that takes your cooking to the next level. Ideally, use freshly ground black pepper as it has more kick than bottled ground black pepper.

3. Garlic Powder

A wood bowl filled with garlic powder. A head of garlic and some cloves lay next to it.
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Garlic powder is a versatile ingredient that you can use for stir-frying, stewing, and making soups. Be careful when adding garlic powder to your dishes because a little goes a long way.

4. Ginger

A wood bowl filled with fresh ginger. Slices of ginger lay next to it.
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Ginger is another spice that adds depth to the flavor of your dishes. You will often see it used in Asian recipes, but one of the great things about ginger is that it can be used in both sweet and savory dishes. It also makes a great tea when you’re feeling under the weather.

5. Red Chili Flakes

A wooden scoop filled with red chili flakes on a white background.
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Another spice to keep on hand if you like spicy foods is red chili flakes. You can add them as an ingredient when cooking or as a topping after the dish is cooked. If you love your food spicy, make sure you have this on hand.

6. Cinnamon

Cinnamon sticks and a small wood bowl of ground cinnamon on a cutting board.
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The smell of cinnamon is hard to resist. The aroma wafting into the air as you bake is tough to top. But cinnamon is not just for baking; you can use this spice for cooking savory dishes and for making beverages as well.

7. Cumin

Ground cumin in small bowls and on a wood spoon.
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The strong and potent flavor that cumin adds to a dish is what makes it popular in many different cultures and cuisines. If you love making curry dishes, stews, and soups, you better have this in your pantry at all times.

8. Italian Seasoning

A large wooden spoon filled with Italian Seasoning.
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You don’t need to be Italian to appreciate this Italian seasoning blend. It’s filled with a wonderful aroma and adds a lovely Italian flavor to whatever you put it in. You can buy it bottled or make your own using various dried herbs, such as basil, rosemary, and oregano.

9. Paprika

Paprika dried and ground in bowls and a wooden scoop.
Photo Credit: Veronika Idiyat/Shutterstock.

Don’t confuse paprika with other chili peppers. This spice has its own unique flavor profile with a hint of sweetness to balance out the spice. Make sure you have a bottle of the smoked version as well as a bottle of the regular stuff.

10. Parsley

Dried parsley in a white bowl and in a wooden spoon that sits next to it.
Photo Credit: Annmell_sun/Shutterstock.

Yes, parsley might be often used as a garnish, but it can also be a versatile addition to your spice collection. Dried or fresh, it’s a must-have herb for many soups and stews.

11. Thyme

A bowl and wooden spoon sit on a wooden table and are filled with dried thyme leaves.
Photo Credit: Halil ibrahim mescioglu/Shutterstock.

Fresh or dried, thyme is an excellent herb to include in your cooking at home. You can incorporate it into marinades, sauces, and soups. It’s also great on poultry.

12. Nutmeg

A bowl of nutmegs sits next to a spoon full of ground nutmeg.
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Spicy, intense, and sweet. These are the best words to describe nutmeg as a spice. It’s no wonder it’s a popular addition to holiday baking. It’s also notable for its earthy and nutty flavor. Much like cinnamon, you can use it for both sweet and savory dishes.

How To Scramble Eggs Like A Pro

A white plate with scrambled eggs on it.
Photo Credit: The Gracious Pantry.

If your scrambled eggs always turn out less than stellar, here’s how the pros do it.

How To Freeze Avocados

Option three for freezing avocados is to remove the seed, put the halves back together, wrap in plastic wrap and place in the freezer.
Photo Credit: Lana_M/Shutterstock.

If you have a lot of avocados and no way to use them before they go bad, try freezing them.

How To Make Almond Milk

A pitcher of almond milk.
Photo Credit: The Gracious Pantry.

Interested in making almond milk at home? This guide will walk you through the steps.

This originally appeared on The Gracious Pantry.

Author: Tiffany McCauley

Title: Food and Travel Journalist

Expertise: Food, cooking, travel


Tiffany McCauley is a nationally syndicated journalist and an award-winning cookbook author and food blogger. She has been featured on MSN, Huffington Post, Country Living Magazine, HealthLine, Redbook, and many more. Her food specialty is healthy comfort food recipes.

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