Unsplash | Calum Lewis
Nowadays, with the number of books, television shows and websites that expose us to the world's diverse cuisine, we're able to discover an incredible amount of flavours.
However, not every meal requires a wide range of spices, but some essentials deserve a designated spot in your pantry.
Here are our top 20:
- Basil: The standard spice in most Italian recipes. Goes well with all tomato-based dishes.
- Oregano: A mainstay of Mediterranean cuisine, it partners well with basil. It is used for vegetables, meat and fish. Note that it is tastier dried than fresh.
- Dill: Very aromatic, it is a wonderful flavouring for fish and seafood dishes as well as dips made with yogurt or sour cream.
- Cumin: Another flavour from the Mediterranean, especially Indian cuisine. It is used in stews, curries and sauces.
- Chili powder: Very versatile, this Mexican spice is actually a blend of chili, paprika, oregano, coriander and cumin.
- Peppercorns: A must-have. Skip the ground pepper and get a pepper mill if you haven't already.
- Thyme: Adds flavour to poultry and vegetables in Mediterranean, Cajun and Creole cuisines.
- Tarragon: Very present in French cuisine, its taste is reminiscent of licorice. In addition to giving its characteristic flavour to the Béarnaise sauce, it goes very well with poultry and fish. Note that its taste is very pronounced, so use it sparingly.
- Rosemary: Its fresh and fragrant aroma from the Mediterranean region reminds us of pine. It goes very well with lemony flavours and very tasty meats like lamb and game. Its flavour is quite strong, so make sure it doesn't take up all the space by measuring out the quantities.
- Garlic powder: Very useful to substitute garlic in a recipe, if needed. It is often confused with garlic salt, which is simply garlic powder mixed with salt.
- Onion powder: As with garlic powder, it can be used to replace onion when needed. Onion salt is also a mixture of onion powder and salt.
- Curry: This is actually a combination of about 20 spices! It can be very mild or very spicy, but it is always very fragrant. It is the basic spice in South Asian dishes.
- Coriander: Ground coriander gives a slightly sweet and lemony taste to Indian, North African and Mexican dishes, while the whole seeds are used for marinades.
- Paprika: Obtained from the ripe, dried and ground fruit of the sweet pepper, it is found in mild and hot versions. It adds flavour and colour to meats, vegetables, seafood, rice, stews and soups. It was with this spice that a Hungarian scientist discovered vitamin C in the 1930s, which earned him the Nobel Prize in Medicine!
- Cinnamon: A must for many desserts but also in chili and some Moroccan stews.
- Cayenne pepper: To add a touch of spice. Very present in Indian and Cajun cuisine.
- Allspice: A small dried berry that has a taste reminiscent of a mixture of cloves, cinnamon and nutmeg. It is used in marinades, stews and many grilled dishes.
- Bay Leaf: An aromatic leaf from a Mediterranean tree, it adds great flavour to soups, stews and sauces. It is removed just before serving.
- Chilli Flakes: These dried and crushed chillies are often found on restaurant tables in our country, where they are sprinkled on everything from spaghetti and meat sauce to a full pizza. In the kitchen, they are very useful to give a touch of spice to sauces and simmered dishes.
- Gourmet Salts: Kosher salt is very pure, as it contains no iodine, and is perfect for seasoning before and during cooking (not at the table). Its texture, larger than table salt, gives us more control over the quantity. For the final touch, fleur de sel adds a crunchy touch to our dishes.
Note: Although some of these herbs are also available "fresh" (basil, oregano, cilantro, rosemary, etc.), it is also recommended to have them in "dry" version for dishes that simmer longer.
You can also use "dry" herbs to substitute for fresh herbs, if you don't have them at hand. As a general rule, if a recipe calls for 1 tbsp of fresh herbs, substitute with 1 tsp of dried herbs (1/3 of the amount).