No matter where you are in the process of building your spice cabinet & pantry, there are a few basic things to keep in mind:
1) For some herbs & spices, a higher price does equal higher quality. I’ve put a star (*) here next to items worth splurging on.
2) Buy in small quantities whenever possible, especially when trying something new–quality does go down as the shelf life lengthens. Try to find a grocery store that sells spices in bulk; usually they’ll be cheaper this way, too.
3) If you’re going to get really serious, invest in a spice grinder and buy as many spices as you can whole. For example, I buy whole cumin seeds, toast them in a skillet, and grind them to make my own cumin powder. I know, I’m hardcore like that.
By no means is this list comprehensive OR intended to make you feel inadequate. It’s just a glimpse inside my kitchen cabinets. If you’re into kitchen voyeurism, check out the Blue Jean Gourmet Liquor Cabinet & our list of Kitchen Staples.
GROWN FRESH IN THE BLUE JEAN BACKYARD:
Bay leaves (most chefs I know recommend California over Turkish)
Bouillon (vegetable—Knorr is a favorite brand)
Chili powder (Mexican)
Herbs de Provence*
Peppercorns (in a grinder)*
Red pepper flakes
Spike seasoning (a really flavorful blend, an easy “add” for veggies, soups)
Tony’s Creole seasoning (perfect on breakfast potatoes & grilled meats)
Baking powder (make sure it’s new!)
Cardamom (ground, whole)
Cinnamon (ground, sticks)*
Fennel (ground, whole)
Honey (local wildflower)*
Nutmeg (ground, whole)*
Sea salt (flaky, so delicious on chocolate chip cookies)*
LESS-FREQUENT USE/INDIAN SPICES:
Chili powder (Indian red mirchi)
Dry mustard powder (great in marinades & deviled eggs)
Garam Masala (spice blend)
Paprika (regular & smoked)
Za’atar (a Mediterranean spice blend, excellent in hummus)