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Watch the Food Network channel, and you can easily become confused by the terminology, and by the many different herbs and spices that the professional chefs have on hand.
Many people have an aversion to cooking because they’re unsure of how to get their favorite foods to taste the way they want them to.
And even though many of the recipes shown on TV are often fairly easy to follow, recreating them at home (or even developing your own dishes) can be tricky if you’re unsure which spices to use.
Since the recession, I tend to do a lot more cooking at home, and have found it quite enjoyable. As a result, I’ve made at least ten spices new staples in my cupboard.
Keep these stocked in your pantry, and you’ll find that creating delicious specialties won’t be as tricky as it seems.
Lawry’s Seasoning Salt
There are several different kinds of seasoning salts on the market. But Lawry’s happens to be one of those brands with a more “authentic” flavor.
You’ll find that this is a great seasoning for fried chicken, scrambled eggs, french fries –practically everything! The flavor can be a bit overpowering if too much is used. And since it contains mostly salt, it should be added sparingly.
Dill is a very distinctive herb that I’ve found goes very well in starchy dishes. Dill weed has a slightly sweet essence, and is perfect for potato dishes and stuffed chicken entrees. You will also find that a touch of dill really enhances stuffing and cornbread pan dressing–and it is essential in lots of Greek dishes, too.
Garlic & Onion Powder
Sometimes shopping for fresh herbs and produce can bump up those grocery bills. For that reason, I try to keep garlic and onion powder on hand at all times.
These are two flavorful vegetables, aromatic members of the allium family that are often used in the same fashion as spices, and that can very easily (and subtly) jazz up bland dishes.
Make sure that you’re purchasing garlic powder as opposed to garlic salt – a mistake that is very easy to make while shopping, and one that will wreak havoc on your dishes.
You may decide to keep fresh garlic bulbs on hand, and you need to make sure that you store these properly. Read more about storing garlic so that it doesn’t get moldy or go bad.
If you’re in need of a new garlic press, to get the most flavor out of those tasty bulbs, check out Foodal’s review here.
You should also use discretion when choosing a brand of seasoning, and check the expiration and manufacture dates. Some generic store or off-brand spices taste extremely artificial, or they can be nearly flavorless. Select reputable brands, to avoid making dishes that are tinged with the flavor of dried chemicals (or expired ingredients).
If you plan to make Jamaican cuisine, Mexican fare, or even Moroccan inspired food, you will need some cumin. Take one whiff of this spice, and you’ll quickly understand how much flavor it can add to ordinary dishes.
Rub it on roasts or sprinkle some on scrambled eggs, and you’ll instantly add a touch of complex, earthy flavor.
It isn’t too difficult to know what effect this herb will have on your meals. Cayenne pepper, bright red in color, adds the heat to homemade chili, and ethnic entrées. But a lot of people don’t know that adding a dash of cayenne to overly sweet marinades can actually cut back a bit of the sweetness. Learn more about Cayenne – read Foodal’s detailed article.
Many people associate cinnamon with desserts and beverages. But they fail to realize that in addition to creating delectable sweet treats, it can also add an interesting dimension to main dishes.
Food Network chef Giada De Laurentiis once presented a pasta carbonara dish which utilizes pancetta, parmesan cheese, and cinnamon. When used in this capacity, the cinnamon marries well with the other flavors – removing the “dessert” nuance of the spice.
Lemon Herb Seasoning (McCormick’s)
I once attempted to recreate a grilled chicken dish my mother made. The chicken was tender, juicy, and had the perfect lemony-grilled tang that I have grown so fond of.
I went home, prepared my own grilled lemon-pepper chicken, and was instantly disappointed. This is when my mother revealed that she used lemon herb seasoning, as opposed to lemon pepper. The two, in fact are quite different.
McCormick’s Lemon Herb ingredients do not even mention pepper, but include several other spices (rosemary, marjoram, sherry wine, and basil, to name a few), which seem to “activate” the lemon flavor. Lemon pepper on the other hand, is just that: lemon and pepper. You’ll find that in addition to boosting the flavor of poultry and fish, this is a great seasoning for salads and side dishes.
Note that the first ingredient listed is salt, so you’ll want to keep sodium levels in mind.
I am a huge fan of Chinese food. Whenever I order takeout, I always make sure to a scoop up several yellow packets of Chinese hot mustard. But I noticed that the hot mustard in those packs often tastes drastically different from the hot mustard served in sit-down restaurants.
I learned that to make this wonderful (and incredibly hot) mustard at home, you need only purchase a high quality dry mustard from your local supermarket, and add water accordingly. The more water you add, the thinner and less spicy your hot mustard sauce will be.
This makes a great dipping agent for egg rolls. But I also use the spice when creating sauces for my stir-fry dishes. Dry mustard is also excellent when used sparingly in potato or macaroni salads. For more mustard ideas, check out this post.
Dried Peppercorns (With Grinder)
Many of us keep ordinary ground black pepper in the pantry. But I have discovered that ground peppercorns have a more robust flavor in certain dishes than other ground white or black peppers. There are quite a few national brands that have incorporated grinders in the seasoning bottles to make using the herb much easier.
Of course the best, more environmentally friendly method would be to purchase a good quality peppercorn grinder. The larger kernels of pepper are terrific for rubs and marinades. You’ll also find that grilled burgers and steaks pack much more flavor when bigger kernels are rubbed onto them.
Another great grinding method is to use a mortar and pestle, especially for creating your own custom spice blends. Read our post to determine which one is right for your kitchen.
Italian Seasoning Mix
Read the label of your favorite brands of jarred pasta sauce, and you’ll see that many of them contain massive amounts of sodium. While these sauces are quite tasty, you can easily create a healthier, more flavorful version by using canned tomatoes, tomato sauce, or paste, and adding spices accordingly. Incorporating Italian Seasoning mix is the perfect way to do that.
Most brands include basil, oregano, tarragon, and marjoram, amongst other spices – which is all you’ll need to produce an authentic Italian flavor. But in addition to making your favorite pastas, Italian seasoning is terrific on homemade “deli-style” sandwiches and salads.
The best way to gather up these spices and more is to purchase a spice kit or spice rack that offers an assortment of bottles prepackaged.
Need somewhere to store your seasonings? Check out Foodal’s review of the best spice racks.
What are some of your favorite pantry spices and spice blends? Let us know in the comments!
About Lynne Jaques
Lynne is a stay-at-home mother of two boys. As a former US military officer and the spouse of an active duty US military member, Lynne enjoys traveling the world (although not the moving part!) and finding new cuisine and methods of preparing food. She also has the habit of using parenthesis way too much!