Top 12 Spices To Have In Your Kitchen Pantry

At a recent family gathering at my house, I discovered my 20 year old niece taking pictures of spices in my kitchen pantry. She recently purchased her first home and wanted to start cooking at home more. 

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Unfortunately, she had no idea which spices she needed for her kitchen. This elicited a collective gasp from the rest of the family since the majority of us consider ourselves to be seasoned home cooks.

We’ve all seen the overwhelming amount of spices on shelves at the local supermarket. But, you want to be sure to buy spices and herbs that you’ll actually use. Worry no more, because we have you covered with this round-up of the top 12 spices to have in your kitchen.

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A Quick Glance of the Best Spices To Have In Your Pantry

  • Seasoning salt blend
  • Bouillon powder
  • Garlic powder
  • Onion powder
  • Chili powder
  • Cayenne pepper
  • Lemon pepper seasoning
  • Cinnamon
  • Nutmeg
  • Basil
  • Rosemary
  • Bay leaves

Be sure to read through the entire article for more detailed information on the Best Spices To Have In Your Kitchen.

What Spices Should Every House Have

It goes without saying that every kitchen pantry should include basic salt & pepper. Since, this is a given it’s not included in our round-up of top spices.

You’ll definitely want to have spices and herbs that are commonly used across an array of dishes. Ideally, you should be able to make the most common dinner, lunch and breakfast dishes with the spices in your kitchen. 

Below are a few examples of popular dishes that can be made with the top 12 kitchen spices:

  • Spaghetti and meatballs
  • Meatloaf
  • Grilled chicken & veggies
  • Steak & potatoes
  • Chili
  • Tacos
  • French toast
  • Omelets
  • Bean dishes
  • Soups

Top 12 Spices and Herbs To Have In Your Kitchen

Now that you have some background information on the spices every house should have, it’s now time to provide a handy guide to the top 12 spices needed in every kitchen. Check out our choices below:

1. Seasoned Salt

I’ll get ready to be tarred and feathered by the cooking snobs for this choice, but every kitchen pantry should include your favorite seasoned salt. I almost always use it in place of regular table salt when cooking.

Even if you have no other spices on this list, you can make many popular dishes exclusively using seasoned salt. There are many seasoned salt brands but they all mainly consist of similar spice blends. 

My favorite brand to use is Season-All by Morton’s. I swear my beloved red beans and rice wouldn’t be the same without it. This blend consists of salt, black pepper, paprika, onion, garlic, chili pepper and celery seed. 

Popular Seasoned Salt Brands

  • Season-All by Morton’s
  • Lawry’s Seasoned Salt
  • Tony Chachere’s Creole Seasoning
  • Goya Adobo All Purpose Seasoning
  • Slap Ya Mama Cajun Seasoning (warning: this is spicy)

2. Chicken Bouillon Powder

Our goal is to provide beginner cooks with the best spices to have in the pantry. Therefore, we are including another versatile mix – chicken bouillon powder. Chicken bouillon powder consists of the flavors of chicken, garlic and other herbs in an easily dissolvable mix.

You may have heard of bouillon cubes which are popularly used when making soup or broth. Well, the powder is basically the same thing – but way more versatile.  

If you have a recipe that calls for chicken broth you can dissolve the bouillon powder into boiling water to make your own stock. Also, if you have other stews, sauces or pastas that are lacking in flavor, a small sprinkle of chicken bouillon powder can immediately enhance the flavor of your dish.

3. Garlic Powder

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The next top kitchen spice on our list is garlic powder. Just search the internet and you’ll find a plethora of recipes that include garlic as a component. You simply cannot make a good alfredo pasta without using garlic.

I even use garlic powder to make my own garlic bread. Simply add garlic powder to melted butter, then brush the mixture onto regular slices of bread. I then either place the bread in my toaster oven or grill in the skillet (like grilled cheese) until it’s to my desired toastiness – yum!

If you don’t have fresh garlic you can substitute a clove of garlic with approximately ⅛ teaspoon of garlic powder. Full disclosure – I always have fresh garlic on hand but I still have garlic powder as a pantry staple because I like the ease of use.

4. Onion Powder

I believe we all know that fresh ingredients like onion and garlic are the preferred choice but most dishes are perfectly fine using the granulated or powdered version. Onion powder is another top spice you should have in your kitchen.

A teaspoon of onion powder is equivalent to 1 small onion. Onion and garlic powder generally go hand-in-hand as many recipes will include both of these components. 

Commons dishes like fried rice, roasted potatoes and grilled chicken would simply be bland without onion flavor added to it.

Related: Easy Fried Rice Recipe with Already Cooked Rice

5. Cayenne Pepper

You may think that regular black pepper is enough. But, black pepper won’t give you the heat level that’s unique to many cajun, creole and Mexican dishes. You’ll only need a little bit of cayenne pepper powder to go a long way so use it sparingly. 

In order to take the heat level in your dishes up a notch, you’ll need cayenne pepper as an addition to your kitchen spices. Growing up in New Orleans, cayenne pepper was an absolute staple used in nearly every dish.

Cayenne pepper has a medium heat level. It’s hotter than jalapeno but not nearly as hot as habanero. Cayenne pepper is the main component of the red pepper flakes you may have seen at pizza restaurants. 

6. Chili Powder

Chili powder is another versatile blend that’s a must-have spice needed in every kitchen. Without a doubt, you need chili powder to make chili but it can be added to many other dishes to get a unique Southwestern flavor.

I use chili powder and red wine vinegar to make a fantastic marinade for chicken wings with a kick. I also use it when I make tacos, burritos and my famous meaty, cheese dip.

What is chili powder made of?

Chili powder consists of an herb and spice blend that marry together to create a unique flavor profile. Core ingredients include chili peppers, salt, garlic, cumin and oregano.

7. Lemon pepper seasoning

You’ve figured by now that I’m a proponent of blends of specific seasonings. So, it’s no surprise that lemon pepper seasoning has made my top 12 list of kitchen spices.

There are many brands that make lemon pepper seasoning. The core ingredients of each one would be lemon seasoning (peel or oil), black pepper and salt. They may also include garlic and onion seasoning.

If you wanted to make lemon pepper wings, all you would literally need is this seasoning and butter. Talk about easy peasy!

You can also use lemon pepper seasoning for fish (including salmon), roasted or grilled chicken and veggies.

8. and 9. Cinnamon & Nutmeg

Amazon Brand - Happy Belly Cinnamon, Ground, 2.5 Ounces

I have to put these two seasonings together because they almost always complement each other in recipes.

Let me tell you. I make french toast an awful lot, especially for our monthly family brunch. If you don’t have cinnamon and nutmeg then don’t even think about making french toast.

These two are the hallmark of warm spices for autumn and winter. They’re the most pronounced ingredient in pumpkin spice latte and Mexican hot chocolate. Cinnamon and nutmeg are also what give pumpkin and sweet potato pie their signature flavor.

What About The Herbs?

The last three of our round-up of top 12 spices to have in your kitchen are actually herbs. Herbs are simply the dried, green, leafy part of the plant. Whereas spices are from the seed, fruit, root or stem of a tree or plant.

10. Basil

The distinctive, sweet smell of basil is easily identified. It’s one of the most popular herbs used around the world and actually belongs to the mint family. 

Its fresh flavor automatically wakes up Italian dishes like spaghetti and lasagna. Use it on pizza to add a fresh flair and I bet you’ll never eat another pizza without basil!

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Basil is also the basis for pesto. It can also be combined with olive oil and lemon juice to make a refreshing vinaigrette.

11. Rosemary

Don’t be like me and go the first 30 years of your life without incorporating rosemary into cooking. Yes, I’m ashamed…

If you eat chicken or steak, and could add ONLY ONE herb to your herb and spice collection it has to be rosemary. It’s a complete gamechanger, especially when cooking a steak. 

Related: How To Cook Steak on an Induction Cooktop

If marinating your steak, you can add rosemary to the marinade. I simply add rosemary and butter to the skillet when the steak is about 80% done. I allow the rosemary to marry together with the butter and spoon the mixture over the steak just before I remove it from the pan.

The secret to restaurant roasted or grilled chicken is the use of rosemary. It instantly elevates the flavor of poultry like chicken or turkey by adding a fresh, earthly tone.

12. Bay Leaves

The bay leaf is the small leaf of a laurel tree. The whole leaf or leaves are used in dishes that require simmering. 

The aroma of the leaf infuses with the liquid of the dish. This in turn gives your dish a light, fresh and earthy taste. 

This is an easy to use herb for your kitchen because it doesn’t require strict measurements as you’ll be using an entire leaf. Add a bay leaf the next time you make any soup, sauce, stew or pot roast. Your friends will be begging you for the secret ingredient.

Honorable Mentions (Spices and herbs to have in your pantry)

We narrowed down the 100s of different spices to have in your kitchen to the top 12. However, there are a few more that you may want to add. Particularly if you have a favorite type of cuisine.

  • Cumin
  • Curry Powder
  • Ginger
  • Paprika
  • Oregano
  • Cilantro

Our Final Thoughts On The Top 12 Spices Needed In Every Kitchen

It’s always better to cook with fresh herbs and spices like garlic and onion. However, that doesn’t mean you can’t have a wonderful dish without them.

Pick up these suggested herbs and spices and you’ll have everything you need to make nearly any popular dish. We are glad to have provided you with this list of the best spices and herbs to begin or add to your spice collection. 

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