8 Spices Everyone Should Have On Hand

See the top 8 spices & how to use them!

The right combination of spices can elevate a perfectly fine meal into something truly amazing and worthy of praise. I don’t know about you, but when I first started cooking, I was completely intimidated by the vast options of spices. I still am, to be honest. I started out with a generic spice rack – you know the kind, with the spices included right in the box. If you’ve ever had one of these, then you can pretty much guess how that ended up. I burned through salt, pepper, and garlic within a month, while most of the others remained nearly untouched until they were no longer good.

The other option seems to be stocking up on all kinds of specific spices you’ll probably only use for one or two dishes and then abandon in the back of your cupboard. What about the middle ground? What spices do people really use most often? Let’s take a look at the top 8 spices and see some creative ways to use them in the kitchen!

Cinnamon

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If you want to add a bit of sweetness to a dish without adding sugar, a dash of cinnamon will do the trick. It pairs well with apples, oatmeal, even yogurt! Cinnamon isn’t just for desserts, however. The earthy undertones also add a depth of flavor to savory dishes like pot roast and pasta carbonara.

Paprika

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Paprika is another spice that can be used in a variety of different ways. The two most common types of paprika are Spanish paprika and smoked paprika. Spanish paprika is made from dried chilis, whereas smoked paprika is made from smoke-dried chilis that are then ground into a fine powder using oak, which gives it an earthy flavor.

You can decide which one you like best, or maybe keep both on hand, but I personally love smoked paprika. It’s great on meats, in soups and stews, and is a common ingredient in taco seasoning and lots of meat rubs.

Salt & Pepper Grinders

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This wouldn’t be a complete list without salt & pepper on here somewhere, but I thought I’d take a second to focus on the importance of using grinders instead of shakers. Pre-ground salt and pepper oxidize, which makes them lose their potency. Plus, don’t you just love the extra crunch freshly ground salt and pepper add to your meal? You don’t get that same texture from the pre-ground stuff!

Garlic & Onion Powder

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I know, I know, I’m doubling up, but these two go together so seamlessly, almost like salt and pepper. If you use one, chances are, you’re going to use the other. While fresh onion and garlic are preferable when you have them on hand, using the dried, powdered version sure takes a lot of work out of a prepping a meal. For those occasions when you need to simplify and cut down on time and effort, having garlic and onion powder is a real life-saver!

I’ll be honest, I use both of these spices in nearly every savory dish I cook. Browning hamburger for pasta and sauce? Throw on garlic and onion powder. Baking chicken and potatoes in the oven? You better believe there’s a healthy dose of garlic and onion powder in that pan!

Ground Ginger

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Ginger is another one of those spices that goes well in both sweet and savory dishes. Gingerbread cookies, ginger snaps, even ginger candy all come to mind. However, ginger is also used in many rubs, blends, and international dishes. Like garlic and onion, ginger is most potent and flavorful when it’s fresh, but ginger can be hard to cut and even more difficult to use up before it goes bad, seeing as most recipes don’t call for much ginger. Therefore, having the powdered version is super helpful!

Turmeric

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Turmeric is in the ginger family, but it has an earthy, bitter, almost musky flavor to it. The brightly colored spice is surprisingly versatile and can be sprinkled on fruit, yogurt, or in your morning smoothie. It’s most famous as a staple in Indian dishes, but even if you don’t cook a lot of Indian food, you’ll be surprised at how many other savory sauces and rubs turmeric will be good in.

Red Pepper Flakes

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Sprinkling a few red pepper flakes onto a dish can add a little heat without changing the overall flavor. The best time to add in this spice is early in the cooking process. Stew them in a marinara sauce or chili, or sauté them with veggies or meat. Alternatively, a dash of red pepper flakes on a salad or a slice of pizza gives an extra kick for just you to enjoy!

Ground Mustard

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I love using ground mustard when preparing meats. It goes well with beef, chicken, turkey, and even salmon! This is another common ingredient found in plenty of rubs, but I like adding it into the pan when I’m browning hamburger or searing chicken over the stovetop. A little bit of mustard, garlic, and onion powder, topped with freshly ground salt and pepper takes your dinner to the next level!