Have you ever wondered what spices you should have in your pantry? Whether you’re just starting to fill up your spice cabinet, or trying to pare things down, this list of the 10 Essential Spices and Dried Herbs for Every Home Cook is the ultimate guide to completing your pantry.

Kosher Salt and Pepper

Okay, kosher salt and whole peppercorns are both absolutely essential spices. But because they are so common, we didn’t think it was right for them to take up precious space in the top ten list of essential spices and dried herbs.

Kosher salt is the way to go (instead of table salt) because it goes much farther when seasoning, most (reputable) recipes are developed with kosher salt, and well, it just has more oomph

New to kosher salt? We cover everything you need to know in What is Kosher Salt. If you’re also new to whole peppercorns, you’re going to need to get a pepper grinder.

And let me tell you, there are some terrible pepper grinders out there. This pepper grinder from Peugeot is hands-down the best grinder you can buy.

spices in piles all over a dark slate board.

Buying Spices

Quality spices matter—the better quality they are the more flavor and potency they will. You’re already investing in filling out a spice cabinet, so make sure it’s a worthy investment!

I purchase a lot of spiced from Burlap and Barrel. Their spices are exceptional and their mission to shorten the supply chain and support farmers is even more reason to buy from them.

I also really like the quality of Morton and Bassett spices.

Where to Store Spices

As a rule of thumb, all spices and dried herbs should be stored in a cool, dark place. Many people tend to store spices near or above their stove out of ease during cooking.

However, the heat that’s given off by the stovetop and oven can damage the spices, decreasing their potency.

Additionally, most dried herbs and spices start to lose potency after 6 months, although they’re still fine to use, just keep that in mind and adjust seasoning (add more) when cooking, if needed.

Now let’s get to the good stuff! Here are the top 10 most essential spices for your spice cabinet.

Essential Spices

Red Pepper Flakes

Whether you’re making homemade marinara sauce or topping a take-out pizza, red pepper flakes are essential for adding a kick of heat to your meals.

Use red pepper flakes in pasta and pizza sauces, soups, anything with sausage, brines, and marinades. Use red pepper flakes in this Shrimp fra Diavolo.

Garlic Powder

When you’re short on time and need to add a kick of garlic to whatever you’re cooking, garlic powder is a great shortcut. While fresh is always best, it’s great to have garlic powder on hand for busy nights.

Skip any with added herbs and flavorings. And, if you’re wondering, garlic salt is simply garlic powder with salt added (so skip garlic salt and get more bang for your buck with garlic powder).

Use garlic powder in rubs and spice blends such as Cajun Seasoning and Blackening Seasoning.

a small white bowl filled with paprika, salt, pepper and fresh dill

Ground Cinnamon

An absolute essential in baking and cooking. Cinnamon is most familiar to people in sweet applications, but it’s also common in savory stews to add depth of flavor and dimension.

Use ground cinnamon in our Healthy-ish Cinnamon Rolls, Bran Muffins, Hermit Cookies, Cottage Cheese Cake and so much more!

Whole Nutmeg

Yes, you need whole nutmeg, which means you’ll need a microplane. But trust me, grated fresh nutmeg offers so much more flavor than the pre ground stuff.

Plus, you’ll use a microplane for tons of things, I use mine daily for zesting lemons and grating Parmesan.

Use nutmeg in desserts, baked goods, drinks, and anything creamy like alfredo, basic white sauces, potato soup, and more. It’s also often added to veggies and ground meat dishes as well.

Try grated fresh nutmeg in our Savory Sweet Potato Casserole, Mushroom Crostini and Christmas Biscotti.

a mix of spices and dried herbs in small piles in a medium shallow white bowl

Cayenne Pepper

In similar vein to red pepper flakes, cayenne pepper adds heat to a myriad of dishes. This versatile spice, made from ground chiles, is often used in hot sauces, and is prevalent in Mexican, Cajun, Southern, and Indian cuisines.

Add a little kick Salmon Croquettes with a dash of cayenne or try it in our Beef Kofta.

Ground Cumin

Cumin is actually the dried fruit of a plant in the parsley family. Cumin comes in both seed and ground form, but ground appears on this list due in part to its convenience.

This aromatic spice is used a lot in Middle Eastern cuisine as well as Asian and North African.

Use ground cumin to make homemade Easy Guacamole or homemade Adobo Sauce. If you want to try out whole cumin seed, use it in our Beef and Cabbage Soup or Apple Walnut Salad with Toasted Cumin Vinaigrette.

Onion Powder

Onion powder makes the list for the same reason that garlic powder does. It’s great for busy weeknights or when you’re in a pinch.

Use onion powder in rubs, spice blends, breadings and dressings. It’s especially right at home in our Blackened Salmon recipe. You can also add it to the cornstarch mixture used to make Crispy Tofu or the breading mixture used to coat our Chicken Cutlets.

spices in a shallow white dish

Essential Dried Herbs

Dried Bay Leaves

An aromatic herb with woodsy aroma, dried bay leaves are often used in stews, soups, long simmered dishes, meat dishes, and vegetable dishes.

Most recipes call for 1–2 dried bay leaves since using too many can cause the dish to become bitter. They should be removed from the food before eating.

Use dried bay leaves in this Pozole Recipe, our Beef and Barley Soup and Tacos Arabes.

Dried Basil

Although dried basil bears little resemblance to fresh basil in flavor, it’s an important dried herb to have in your spice cabinet. It’s great added to Italian dishes and bumps up the flavor in soups and tomato sauces.

When in season, I recommend keeping fresh basil on hand as much as possible.

Use dried basil in our Cottage Cheese Lasagna!

Dried Oregano

Related to marjoram, oregano is more pungent in flavor and is featured a lot in Mediterranean recipes. Use dried oregano in Greek dishes, pizza, meat dishes, and vegetable dishes.

Use dried oregano in our Quick Lasagna Soup, Chicken Pozole Verde and our Mexican Chicken Soup.

blackened spice mix in a shallow bowl with a spoon

Got More Space? Fill Up Your Spice Cabinet With These Spices Too

Ground Cardamom

This aromatic spice is great in cocktails and baking as well as curries and stews. Taste as you go, because a little goes a long way. Use cardamom in our Chewy Cardamom Cookies, Mini Cardamom Pavlova or our fan-favorite Pistachio Cake.

Dried Rosemary

Use this aromatic spice in stews, soups, meat dishes, and vegetable dishes.

Dried Dill Weed

Use dried dill in salad dressings and vinaigrettes, yogurt sauces, and dips.

It also pairs wonderfully with salmon and green peas. Use dried (or fresh) dill in our Lemon Dill Salmon.

Curry Powder

A mix of more than 20 herbs, spices, and seeds, curry powder can be used in a lot more than just curry dishes (though you should definitely try our Meatball Curry!). Use it in these veggie cakesstuffed mushrooms, or sprinkle it over popcorn.

Ground Coriander

The ground seeds of the coriander plant, sold fresh as cilantro, is used in a variety of dishes. I like to use it in tacos, guacamole, and curry dishes. Coriander is a must in these Cilantro Lime Shrimp Tacos and Carne en su Jugó.

Dried Ground Ginger

Great in spice-heavy baking, curries, meat dishes, and soups

Smoked Paprika

This mild spice adds a smoky note to seafood, vegetable, and egg dishes. It’s a great addition to our Hungarian Mushroom Soup.

Chili Powder

A great shortcut in the kitchen, chili powder is a spice blend made with chiles, garlic, cumin, coriander, oregano, and cloves. Use in Mexican and Southwest cuisine.

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About The Author

Lauren Grant is a professional culinary food scientist, food writer, recipe developer, and food photographer. Lauren is a previous magazine editor and test kitchen developer and has had work published in major national publications including Diabetic Living Magazine, Midwest Living Magazine, Cuisine at Home Magazine, EatingWell.com, AmericasTestKitchen.com, and more.

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  1. In your experience do you recommend any particular spice mills? Or do you typically use graters or mortar and pestle? For example, I’m considering getting a mill to do spices like cumin, pepper, mustard, allspice, nutmeg, cinnamon, etc. Also controlling the coarseness is important too. In your experience, would a mill or mortar and pestle be easier?

    1. Hi Manny!
      I usually use a spice mill or grinder simply for the ease of it. I really like my Krups spice grinder but Cuisineart makes a great one too. These are both easy to control the grind because you pulse the spices to desired consistency. For spices that I just want a rough crush on I use my mortar and pestle. So, unfortunately I recommend having both. But if I had to choose just one to have, it would be a spice grinder because it’s so versatile and I can still achieve a rough crush on spices with that too. I hope that helps!

    1. Hi Debi!

      Yes I have! I think they are great for quick weeknight meals or prepping ingredients (beans, meat, etc) at the beginning of the week for meals throughout the week. They are pricey, so it’s definitely an investment. I would say the biggest benefits are that it saves time in the kitchen, is versatile and creates really tender meat. I have one and so far have only used it a couple of times, though I do think I may use it more in the winter.
      All in all, it’s a great addition to your kitchen, but definitely not necessary in my opinion. If I didn’t have one, I wouldn’t miss it. BUT that’s just me, I know many people who use it weekly.
      Hope that helps!

  2. I want to buy all of these to have in my pantry just as staples. I would have to think some of these go bad or lose their flavor after some time.

    Which ones last forever?
    Which ones can ‘go bad’?
    Which ones go bad he quickest and how long does it take?

    Which brand of spices would you recommend? I want everything in my pantry to look the same 😉

  3. My granddaughter is setting up her first home. This list from above great but I would add a few items just from experience and too many Mai borrow: Italian seasoning, ground sage, lemon pepper seasoning. Salt and pepper is a must ut to be used sparingly. Thank from my redneck Oklahoma heart!