Only a hundred or so years ago, running out of salt was more than an inconvenience solved by a quick run to the grocery store. Spices were coveted by all the world. Salt was one of the most expensive luxuries a person could own.
European companies made their names importing salt, pepper, nutmeg– all products from half a world away, mysterious and alluring. Nowadays, they’re less fantastical. Most of the world’s flavorful bounty can be found within the confines of little plastic bottles on the baking aisle.
But if spices and their uses in cooking fascinate you as they did so many people in a bygone age, there’s a wealth of knowledge to be had. And the best way to learn about all the best spices is to use them! Start with this list of must-have spices.
Ten Must-Have Spices for The Adventurous Fledgling Chef
Humanity has enjoyed the warm bite of cinnamon since the Ancient Egyptians put it in fragrant oils, as early as 2000 BCE. Add a pinch of salt and a dash of cinnamon to your coffee grounds to reduce bitterness and enhance the flavor of your morning brew.
The Dutch traded the island of Manhattan, legend has it, for nutmeg and sugar. Though most people save this spice for holiday baking, some nutmeg in your chicken noodle soup can make the sick-day staple a little homier.
3. Grains of Paradise
You may have to buy your spices online if you’re looking for this one, but grains of paradise are incredibly versatile. This relative of ginger has a peppery taste and pairs well with veggies like okra and lentils.
4. White Pepper
White pepper is earthier and more subtle than its black alternative, and some chefs prefer the milder flavor. You can mix both peppercorns for a layered flavor or use the white variety exclusively!
If you like Italian food, you know it’s one of the best spices for those hearty meals. But it’s good for so much more than spaghetti sauce! Thai basil steeped in cream is used in Asian cuisine as a base for ice cream and other desserts.
Mustard as a condiment is known and loved by all, but mustard seeds are just as useful on their own as they are ground and made into a paste. Try your hand at pickling some vegetables with vinegar, mustard seed, and any other spices you think will suit.
Paprika is so popular that a staple Hungarian dish is named after it. Paprikash is comfort-food-worthy, and the warmth and depth of the paprika marries well with the tang of sour cream in the sauce.
Cumin has a nutty, bittersweet flavor. The Ancient Greeks kept it on the dinner table in much the same way we keep salt and pepper today. It’s a great secret ingredient in chili and savory stews.
Tarragon is on the list of spices essential to French cooking, and key in a good Bearnaise sauce. It’s also on the list of spices common pickling ingredient in the Middle East.
It should be a no-brainer, but salt is sometimes overlooked in day-to-day cooking. It can lessen bitterness in food (sprinkle it over your morning grapefruit sometime) and bring out sweeter undertones.
Variety is the Spice of Life…
So embrace a variety of must-have spices! And check out our blog for more ways to spice up your food and your life.