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The Essential Spices Every Home Cook Needs

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The Essential Spices Every Home Cook Needs

Imagine with us: You’ve just signed the lease on your first apartment. Of course, before even unpacking, you and your roommate have invited a few friends over for dinner—and then promptly realize the only spices you own are a many-years-old jar of garlic powder that seems to have solidified and a teeny-tiny tin of saffron you spent a full paycheck on because it smelled so good. Which means you’re likely ordering pizza tonight, but now it’s crystal clear: Every home cook needs a solid collection of essential spices. 

“Essential” means something different for every cook, so we decided to base our list around spices that are regularly called for in Bon Appétit recipes and that BA editors cook with on a weekly basis. Below you’ll find our go-to spices, including dried seeds, barks, fruits, and rhizomes as well as dried herbs. (We love to use fresh herbs whenever possible, but sometimes the fridge is bare and that dried oregano is clutch.) 

Before we dig in, we wanted to note a few things about our highly specific spice list. First, you’ll see we sometimes recommend the same spice sourced from different countries, like Anamalai nutmeg from the south Indian state of Tamil Nadu and Grenada Gold nutmeg from the Caribbean country’s St. Andrew region. There’s no superior choice; rather the same spices grown in different parts of the world have their own tasting notes but are fairly interchangeable (unless stark differences are otherwise noted). That said, if you’re cooking a dish from a certain culinary tradition, it makes sense to source spices from its respective country of origin, if possible. Looking at you, chicken paprikash.

Second, we love spice blends—hi za’atargaram masala, and sazón!—but the beauty of building a reliable stable of individual spices first is that you can make your own blends in a pinch.

Third, if you find the list below overwhelming, don’t panic. Opt for a preselected collection like Spicewalla’s Kitchen Essentials, the Spice House’s Kitchen Starter Collection or Essential Spices, or the 6-, 9-, or 12-jar Fundamental set from Burlap & Barrel