10 Herbs and Spices Everyone Should Have in the Pantry

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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.

10 Large Jars of Spices sitting on two wood shelves with white background

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

In many southern families, Lawry’s Seasoned Salt is a staple. This incredibly popular seasoning contains mostly salt, but it also has paprika, turmeric, onion, and garlic.

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.

Read more about the various kinds of salt available.

Dried Dill

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 mold 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).

Ground Cumin

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.

Cayenne Pepper

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.

Cinnamon

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.

Dry Mustard

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!

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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!

41 thoughts on “10 Herbs and Spices Everyone Should Have in the Pantry”

  1. Great post. Cinnamon is my favorite spice, I too use it in main dishes and not just desserts. I add cinnamon to broccoli and cauliflower mix. Also sometimes to pasta as you mentioned.

    I have only ever used dill on fish dishes, mostly salmon. Interesting spin to use on meat, I will try that.

    • I prefer using spices on their own than the “complete seasonings” (full of MSGs or not) that a lot of people where I am use. I don’t have all of these but am going to have to give them a try (compared to most people my age I’m kind of new at cooking). Now, cinnamon on pasta? Had not heard of that. I’m going to have to give it a try. I only use it on desserts and my king’s oatmeal.

    • So I forgot to use the cinnamon last time we had pasta, but I used it on our rice last night. Good!!! I know it’s strong so I used maybe about half a pinch. It gave it a nice different taste but didn’t change it completely. Will be doing it again. 🙂

  2. It is amazing how many people underestimate the importance of a well stocked spice cabinet in their cooking. The sheer amount of punch that they add to even basic meals makes the upfront cost more than worth it. Also thank you very much for the information about the Lemon herb seasoning I will attempt my new chicken dish as soon as the meat thaws out I am quite excited to see the results.

  3. Great post. Among those the one I use more often is the Italian seasoning, although I have some small basil plants and whenever possible I take basil directly from the source. You wouldn’t believe the taste! I feel very lucky living in Southern Italy, it’s easy to find these things at a very cheap price, and you don’t have doubts about their genuineness!

    I do like cinnamon but it’s quite difficult to use for someone like me without a sense of measure! Just a tiny bit too much and you get a less than optimal taste. On the other hand I always need to restrain myself when using hot spices. I love them so much but my body doesn’t agree with them.

    I’ll confess a slightly unorthodox use of herbs and spices for beginners like me: I balance them according to how tasty the dish I made is; if it’s a bit insipid or not as good as I wished, I try to mask the imperfect result with a bigger amount of them; if I think it has a great taste, less spices to show how I can make a great meal with a delicate taste! Always worked for me, although I feel a bit guilty doing that!

  4. I already have most of these. I love using spices in food, they definetely bring something new to every dish. It’s amazing what a little cumin can do. I even love spiced cakes, with cinnamon and ginge specially.

  5. I’ve just read the Cayenne Pepper sub-topic and my eyes just started to water…my sub-conscious mind is replaying a disaster i had in the kitchen with the said spice..something i ‘d rather not divulge in right now…lets just say…i had pretty swollen eyes..i believe Cayenne Pepper is not going anywhere near my pantry…as for garlic/onion powder that is a must-have.

  6. Lemon Herb seasoning is a staple in my arsenal of cooking ingredients. I put the Lemon Herb seasoning in soups, salads, sandwiches, pasta and meat dishes. I grew up using Lawry’s Seasoning salt, when I was in high school, I would sprinkle the seasoning on my potatoes chips and pickles. Yum!

    • Kael, my 12 year old has a serious lemon pepper addiction. there is nothing he won’t put it on. Even when we airpop popcorn, he douses his with lemon pepper. French fries, salad, *everything*!

  7. Lynn, you are so right when you say that some off brands of herbs/spices can have an off-putting flavor. I try to save money where I can, but I tend to buy quality seasonings. Have you guys heard of Penzey’s? Seriously- they have the best stuff for very reasonable prices. Of course, I don’t buy my seasoning salt there. Lawry’s all the way!

    Penzey’s has a spice blend called Mural of Flavor. It is sodium free and it is just excellent on vegetables. I stopped adding butter and salt on all my veggies and just use a shake or three of the Mural. Perfect!

  8. I’m in favor of all but the Lawry’s. The salt content is too much for me personally. What I keep on hand instead are different types of steak, burger and vegetable seasonings. They’re all something like Mrs. Dash, but they do have just a tad bit of salt in them.

  9. I love spices, and I keep quite a few in my pantry. I am one of those people who used to reserve spices like cinnamon and nutmeg for sweet dishes, but I’ve recently learned that a little of both of these spices can really jazz up a homemade bolognese sauce.

    I think what you have here is a really good collection of spices that can be used for a broad range of dishes, and what I would deem as staples in my pantry. I never think of getting dry mustard though – I usually just have the ready made stuff in jars, but I will look out for that next time I go shopping.

  10. When I moved in with my husband, the only thing in his pantry was seasoned salt. Now I have all kinds of spices in there, but somehow every time I read a recipe, it calls for something that I don’t have. How’s that even possible?

  11. What a great arsenal to start with! These are good options to use to experiment or add on a whim without risking anything, and also common ones that are used in a lot of recipes. Great list and I’ll refer back to it next time I’m house-warming shopping!

  12. Thanks for this list. Its short enough that I would be able to complete them in my kitchen. It very thoughtful of you to list them and give reasons why we should have them, since I already see list like this but they didn’t bother to explain why I should have them in my pantry.

  13. Yay, I’ve got all of these! Growing up my mom never really used spices. I never knew what I was missing. Now that I cook I use them all of the time. I actually just heard about Lawry’s a couple of months ago. It’s delicious! I’ve been throwing it into a lot of recipes here and there. I wish I had known about it sooner too.

    • I am kind of the same way. I do not think it is that my mother never used them, but it was more me just not noticing and when I started cooking, I did not really give much attention to spices. You learn though, and I was quick to catch on with how much flavor they can add, which is great for trying to eat more healthy. Adding some basil and oregano to simple foods is a staple of mine now, and I plan on adding a lot of these others ones to that list too.

  14. The best way to gain confidence with herbs and spices is to taste them! Just dab a small amount and put it on your tongue. For the longest time I felt like paprika was a waste of time. I felt it had no flavor. It wasn’t until I tasted some by itself that I understood that paprika adds a slight smoky richness to dishes. It’s not exactly a flavor that I would notice if it wasn’t there, but it’s one of those subtle things you can add to a dish that just makes it nice. Bay leaves are another one. Taste a bay leaf (just don’t swallow the leaf parts). It is also a subtle flavor, slightly grassy to me. If I am eating a stew, and it is tasting a little bland, I would not think “You know what this needs? Bay”. But when a stew does have bay in it, the other flavors resonate a little bit more. The only way to know how to use these things is to have an intimate understanding with their flavor complexities. And the only way to gain that understanding, is by tasting.

  15. I am amazed at how different your list is to what I would have written in your place, Lynne!

    I avoid salt so that cuts out flavoured salts for a start but even ignoring that there are many differences.

    I usually have a jar of minced garlic in the fridge rather than dried garlic – I find it gives more flavour and is easier to sauté or use in mixtures. And I rarely don’t have onions in the house!

    I think my basics are oregano, basil, nutmeg, cinnamon, cumin, tumeric, dried mint, coriander, chilli flakes and marjoram. I also have paprika, mustard seeds, cardamom, dry mustard and garam masala on hand.

    Again, the Chinese hot mustard is a new one for me! Not served as such on our Chinese restaurants!

  16. I always always add spices to my food. I have so many in the cupboard and I have been wanting to organize them and have been wondering which ones are best to have “convenient” so I am so happy to have come across this article! It gave me a great understanding and now I can’t wait to go organize my pantry! 🙂

  17. I don’t know that we could survive with just ten spices in the pantry! at the very least we would have to have Chinese Five spice, cumin, and chili powder in addition to the ten that are listed here. We do all of our cooking at home and from scratch as well.

  18. This is a great list and may be a shopping list as we help our kids set up their own places. Our niece just was married and she is starting to cook and leaning on us for down home flavor. I think I’ll take a peak in her spice rack to see what she’s in need of and fill the rest out. My pantry has others such as all kinds of spices for southwest and creole cooking. Lots of spices for barbecue as well. Thanks for a great post!

  19. Lawry’s seasoning salt has been a staple in my family’s pantry for generations. My great-grandma called it “good salt” and that is the term we use because it really does make everything taste so good. An interesting food I use it on is cottage cheese. Cottage cheese is a great snack or lunch item, but with just a sprinkle of “good salt” it really tastes amazing.

  20. I am always telling people to try different spices instead of just relying on extra salt and sugar! I add paprika, garlic, onion powder and mixed herbs to almost every dish I make. Sometimes some cracked white/black pepper as well. Cumin and Cayenne Pepper powder are great for Mexican and spicing up dishes. Cinnamon is a great alternative to sugar, I find it works very well with porridge instead of loading it with brown sugar.

  21. Very inspiring post. I think my cooking changed when I started using cinnamon in my stews, and it even got better when I bought my first ground cumin! It was incredible the whole range of flavors I could achieve from then on. I’ll have to try buying dill and lemon grass, then, I’m pretty sure I could achieve even more depth with this. I appreciate particularly the way you add what it complements best!

    I never bought Italian seasoning mix. Don’t see the point, we have all (or most, depends on the time) of these spices separate, and use them in different dishes. Herbe de provence is the quick fix if we don’t want to think of proportions — but italian mix, never quite understood the point!

  22. What a great list! I use almost all of them. Our house especially loves garlic powder and cayenne pepper in many different types of dishes. Mmmm! So much flavor, without relying on a bunch of salt.

    I’m a huge fan of cinnamon, but I’ve only used it in sweet things. It hasn’t occurred to me that it can be used in other dishes as well. Will have to try it.

  23. I don’t have that many herbs and spices in my storecupboard. I tend to rely on chili powder, paprika, oregano and rosemary. I always have a supply of whole black peppercorns for my grinder too. I have grown my own herbs in the past and found the flavor to be far superior to their dried counterparts.

  24. I always use dried peppercorns in place of the already-ground black pepper you often find in the supermarket. The already-ground kind isn’t strong enough to influence dishes that are cooked for hours in low heat and they are often used as condiments for already cooked dishes anyway. Dried peppercorns will make sure that your dishes will be influenced by its flavors while it’s still cooking.

  25. I do have the majority of these in my cupboard, but there are a few I need to add. Dry mustard was already on my list, but after reading this, I’ll be adding dried dill and lemon herb. I, too, would have suspected that the fish had been cooked using lemon pepper, and wasn’t aware of the difference between that and lemon herb. Now that I’m aware, I’ll be adding that next time I cook fish.

  26. I love cinnamon but I hadn’t really thought to use it in my main dishes. I’ll definitely have to try it in some pasta dishes. Many of these are definitely staples in my pantry, as I rely on quite a few spices to flavor some rather plain dishes. Garlic and cumin are wonderful in particular. I think I’ll have to start using dill as well.

  27. I do actually have several of these, but will add those that are missing because you have given me several new ideas. Spices are wonderful because they add such flavor to our foodstuffs. I don’t know how I would live without spices. I love them and I hate bland foods.

  28. Lawry’s and Old Bay used to be my go to seasoning spice. I have noticed over the last decade that they have increased the salt levels to unbearable. It’s either that or since I have been eating healthy and cutting sodium I have becoming more sensitive to it. For a salt-free alternative look at Mrs.Dash. It’s more cost effective as salt is just a cheap filler, you can use good quality sea salt and still save money
    Kudos to the dry mustard! I use it in a lot of dishes, funny thing is I don’t ever use yellow mustard on anything.

    The only seasoning that needs to be here as well is red chili flakes. They can go in a lot more dishes than cumin to add kick.

  29. I have every single one of these spices in the exact brand. However, I’m probably not most people. I sometimes shop at specific stores to get the best quality I can. It’s often the most ignored aspect of meals. Having them sit sometimes for over a year on your rack & not paying attention to the fact that the flavor diminishes.

  30. That’s a really extensive list of herbs, I don’t have a lot of those at my house but I don’t eat that spicy anyway. One of the most important ingredients that I always keep around is garlic. I put it in a lot of dishes.

  31. Well I must say I don’t even have half of these in my kitchen. Sometimes I try to spice up my dishes but can’t find what is missing. I guess these are it. The cumming though, I live in Jamaica and I have never used this in my cooking. Neither does my mother.

  32. All of these spices are staples at home for me. I use dill in everything, from poultry to fish, and I haven’t had complaints yet. One spice on this list I have to omit is seasoned salt, I’ve found that most varieties, including Lawry’s, have the salt to other spices ratio completely off-balance, and the salt overwhelms the flavor of the other spices, perhaps I should try my hand at making my own. I use salt very sparingly in my dishes whenever I cook.

  33. I’ve actually never cooked with dill. I try to use as many fresh herbs as I can in the summer time. However in the winter I end up using mostly dried ones. I mostly stick to the typical herbs: parsley, Rosemary, thyme, cilantro and basil. I’m interested in looking up more recipes that use doll.

  34. This is a fantastic list! I actually have all of these in my pantry, except cumin. Cumin is one of those spices that I’ve been wanting to bring into my spice cupboard, but always seem to by pass it when I’m shopping. Hoping to include it on my next shopping trip.

  35. I think this list of spices was good, but ultimately, YOUR list of 10 must-have spices will largely be based on what you cook. I have friends that can’t live without curry powder. Since I enter a large amount of chili cook-offs, chili powder is a staple for me. I have recently begun experimenting more with spices. There are some great shops in Pittsburgh near me that literally sell nothing but herbs and spices. It has opened my eyes to some new culinary adventures!

  36. I have to admit that even if we are mexicans, we don’t have a lot of spices on the pantry, and it’s actually a really non practical thing, since we cook with spices quite often. And also, sometimes we have found ourselves in situations where sometimes we stop ourselves to buy more spices because we are too stuck in our comfort zone when it comes to foods.
    I think that would be a good first step for getting out of it would be start buying more spices.

  37. I would agree with that list, especially the seasoning salt. However, I would change out cayenne pepper for chipotle powder, simply because I like the extra smoky taste it brings. I also like to have Chinese Five Spice powder on hand because it is surprisingly versatile and its mix of spices is hard to duplicate. I would also add celery seed because of its unique flavor. I was surprised that I didn’t see curry powder. I cook enough Indian food that I know not to use it ( I prefer to use a masala spice mix instead), but I know a lot of people who use it all the time.

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