13 Essential Spices for a Well-Stocked Pantry (And How to Use Them)

by | Jan 20, 2022

essential spices for the home

Want a more complete spice cabinet so you can whip virtually anything up when you’re in the cooking or baking mood? These are the most common spices called for in popular American recipes. Get these loaded up (and double check the ones you do have are fresh), and you’ll be ready for almost any recipe. And if you find you don’t have something a recipe is calling for, check out our handy list of spice substitutions.

The 13 Essential Spices for Everyday Cooking & How to Use Them

What spices do you really need to have stocked in your cabinet or pantry? Well, the ones you love of course, plus these single spices that are true cornerstones of cooking:

Basil Leaf

basil in a bag Organic basil –  A sweet yet savory herb, with mint and anise flavors and a tiny tingle of heat on its back end. It’s a fabulous brightening seasoning for marinades and salad dressings, tomato and pasta sauces, stews, soups, meat, fish, beans, lentils, pizza, cold fruit and pasta salads.

Bay Leaves

several bay leaves in a close up Organic Bay Leaves – Some people would say this isn’t a must, but we think these leaves are under-appreciated. If you take a bite of a bay leaf, it doesn’t taste great, but its secret is what escapes it when left to stew. They slowly release a subtle tea-like flavor of black pepper, bitter, menthol and pine. Bay leaf flavors live in the background and help beef up the other flavors in your dish, kind of like salt. Use to flavor soups, marinades, stocks, stews, sauces, roasts, legumes, rice and beans and for pickling veggies. Add them in early on so they release their flavor over time, then scoop them out before serving as they’re difficult to eat/digest.

Black Peppercorns (Whole)

close up of black malabar peppercorns Organic Black Malabar Peppercorns – This all-purpose staple is so crucial, but too many people use low quality pepper that don’t hold much flavor or complexity. Our peppercorns are extremely fresh and aromatic, as we buy frequently from our organic spice farmers in Sri Lanka just after harvest. They are well-balanced with a little warm, peppery heat. Black Malabar peppercorns taste mildly bitter, as a peppercorn should, and that flavor is balanced out with its bright citrus and berry notes. We recommend buying these in whole form so you can freshly crack it, but we also offer freshly ground black pepper too (we grind it when you order it).

Cayenne Powder

bright red cayenne powder close up Organic Cayenne Powder – This fiery, robust red spice obviously adds heat to food, but also brings a nice earthy tinge and fruity tangy “zing” to your dishes. While it’s spicy, it’s nowhere near the hottest end of the pepper spectrum, coming in at just around 10 times hotter than a jalapeño. If you’re looking for something hotter, our Bird’s Eye Chili is a great alternative to cayenne, coming in at 150,000-175,000 Scoville units (vs cayenne’s around 40-50,000 Scoville units). Cayenne is best known in Mexican cooking for things like sauces, marinades, tacos, enchiladas, fajitas and hot chocolate. It’s often also commonly used in many Asian for curries and soups. Use it anytime you want some warming heat. Our cayenne is very potent compared to others, so we recommend using 1/2 of what’s called for in recipes, then add more to taste if you want. It builds heat as it cooks, so if you’re worried about something getting too spicy, use it more toward the end of your cooking.

Chili Flakes

best organic chili flakes close up Organic Chili Flakes – We’re talking fresh crushed red chili pepper flakes here, not the tired crusty ones you often see in stores or stapled to your pizza box. These vibrant flakes come from a chili found in Sri Lanka, named “red chili”. They bring mild to medium heat, color and texture to your meal, and are a great topper when you want to add some heat. Great for pizza, pasta, chili, stir fry and sauces that need a little heat.

Chili Powder

the best salt-free chili powder from Pinch Organic Chili Powder – A classic spice for American cooking that can be used in anything from chili dogs and loaded nachos to enchilada casseroles, tacos, rice and beans and grilled meat and vegetables. We use an array of organic chilies for our salt-free chili powder and add sassafras and sage to balance the heat. Quality matters here. As always, check the labels. Too often spice companies add in weird things to bulk it up (sometimes flour!) and make it appear fresher than it is.

Coriander Powder

closeup of powdered coriander Organic Coriander Powder – Some people are surprised to find out that coriander powder comes from grinding the seeds of the plant that produces cilantro leaves. While it comes from the same plant as cilantro, don’t try to substitute one for the other because they taste very different. Coriander has a nice floral smell and brings a nutty and citrus flavor to your dishes. It pairs really well with cumin, which is why you’ll often see the two listed together in recipes. It’s very common in Indian, African and Middle Eastern cooking, and great for adding to chili, stews, curries, soups and vegetable and meat dishes – pretty much anything.

Cumin Powder

flecks of cumin seed ground Organic Cumin Powder – This classic all-purpose spice brings balance to your recipes. It’s rich, warm, savory, sweet and a little bitter all at the same time. It can go into any vegetable or meat dish to add depth and bring out those flavors (especially the sweetness of root vegetables and the savory aspects of rich meat). In some parts of the world people add salt to their cumin and place it on the table like Americans do with salt and pepper. It really is a wonderful go-to spice.

Garlic Powder

a bag of organic garlic powder Organic Garlic Powder – Fresh garlic and garlic powder taste different. And not because garlic powder is “lesser”. It’s different. It’s still garlicky but tastes sweet and has less bite and less bitter notes than fresh chopped garlic. Garlic powder is made from garlic cloves that have been dehydrated and ground into fine particles. The flavor is garlicky but still vastly different than fresh-chopped and sautéed garlic. Its sweeter and less assertive, and has less caramel undertones. Basically, garlic barks (in a good way) and garlic powder hugs.

Onion Powder

fresh onion powder in bag Organic Onion Powder – Ah, lonely onion powder. It seems most people know the brilliance of garlic powder but for some reason onion powder never gets the spotlight it deserves. Onion powder is a powerhouse of a spice. It brings a sweet and savory flavor to whatever you’re cooking that you can’t quite squeeze out from fresh onions alone. Definitely still cook with fresh onions as they’re great for flavor and texture, but onion powder will bring way more punch to the table. You can use it virtually anytime you’re cook savory food and stews, and it’s fun to add in when a recipe calls for garlic or fresh onions (still use those, just add a teaspoon of your secret onion powder ingredient, too).


organic oregano freshly dried closeup Organic Oregano – This herb has a slightly minty smell with a peppery taste. It holds an earthy (but not “in-your-face muddy”) flavor, and brings pleasant woodsy notes to dishes. It grounds sweet and acidic food, and brings on the savory. It’s perfect partner is anything citrusy or acidic like dishes with lemons or tomatoes, which is why its so popular on pizza, pasta and lemony Greek dishes. It’s also delightful when added to vegetables, fish, salad dressings, vinaigrettes and meat marinades.


fresh dried parsley close up Organic Dried Parsley – For the folks out there that think dried parsley is just used to add color to dishes – you’re not using the right dried parsley. High quality dried parsley does have bright and fresh flavor, it’s just not overpowering so it can get lost in heavy, rich dishes but really helps add brightness to lighter meals and food, like light soups, salad dressings, mild sauces and stews. It’s also great to toss on leftovers to add freshness and some green crunch. While fresh parsley has a bolder taste, you have to add it at the end of cooking or it loses flavor as it cooks, whereas dried parsley holds its flavor well in high/long heat.

Paprika (Sweet & Smoked)

 smoked paprika in Pinch Spice Market bagorganic paprika powder Organic Smoked Paprika and Organic Sweet Paprika – Yes, we squeezed two different spices in here, but both are important cornerstones of cooking. Smoked Paprika is created by slow-roasting paprika peppers (similar to red bell peppers) over an oak fire. The smokiness is fantastic for any homemade BBQ or hot sauces, dry rubs or barbecue dishes in general. It’s spicier and has a richer taste than regular paprika, and works well with “heavier” meals like casseroles, baked beans, pulled pork and ribs. Sweet paprika brings a layer of heat and popping flavor and is great as a garnish (think hummus, deviled eggs, mac and cheese) or on roasted chicken or veggies. __________________ Psst…Love to bake? Scroll down for our list of essential baking spices…

Plus…Spice Blends You’ll Use Throughout the Week

These trusty and versatile seasonings are great to dash on anything you’re whipping up. They’re the ones we get messages from customers saying “I love it and use it all the time”…

  • Bay Seasoning – If you’re from the East Coast, you probably already know this savory blend is a must. Perfect for seafood, dips and vegetables.
  • Buffy’s Slayer Helper – This has turned into a cult-classic, and not just because of the silly name. It’s the ultimate garlic lover’s blend. Many customers say they use this almost daily.
  • Curry Powder (SALT-FREE) – This Madras style Indian curry powder has seriously aromatic spices with a kick of cayenne and cooling turmeric, fenugreek and Ceylon cinnamon notes. When you’re in the mood for curry, meat skewers, dal, rice bowls, stir fry or just nicely spiced soups or roasted veggies, and even a curried tuna sandwich, this is a great one to grab.
  • Finger Lickin’ Chicken – Poultry seasoning is essential for, well, chicken and poultry, but it’s also a vegetarians bestie as it adds savory, herbal and umami flavors to any soup, veggie or faux meat dish.
  • Garam Masala (SALT-FREE) – While not traditionally stocked in most American kitchens, it’s gaining popularity and for good reason. It’s sweet and savory, and adds both warmth and depth to your meals. Best when used at the end of cooking, and great on curries, meat, vegetables and lentils.
  • La Dulce Vita – Italian seasoning with flair. This this medium spicy all-purpose Italian blend is all about synergy. Salty and sweet, cool and hot all come together to flavor up your pork, beef, chicken, pasta, beans, risotto and favorite vegetables.
  • Mrs. Pinch Salt Alternative (SALT-FREE) – Lower your salt intake without losing out on flavor. This is a tantalizing combo of dill, celery, onion with citrus touches. Its a fabulous multitasker spice that compliments most any food, but especially eggs, fish, chicken, tofu, soups and stews.
  • Sizzling Steak – A salty and peppery Montreal steak seasoning that blows all others out of the water. Of course it’s great on steak, but also insanely good on broccoli, potatoes, burgers, asparagus, french fries, pork chops, seitan and popcorn.
  • Spice Melange – When you’re needing a southwest seasoning with some soul, this has strong cumin, ancho and garlic notes and works well on tacos, salmon, chicken, enchiladas, tofu, steak, pork chops, root veggies, broccoli, rice and beans, popcorn, dips, and pretty much everything.
  • Taco Town – A taco seasoning the whole family can agree on. It’s not spicy, so heat-sensitive eaters love it, but it’s also full of flavor, so you don’t miss the heat. Can also be used as you would a chili powder.
  • That’s Amore (SALT-FREE) – A classic blend of freshly-dried organic Italian herbs. Think of it as your Italian cooking aid. It’s bright and fragrant, full of flavor and salt-free. Great for making sauce, soup, salad dressing and sprinkled on veggies.
  • Veggie Sprinkle – Wake up veggies with this herbal, citrusy mix. Grab the olive oil and toss this with zucchini, squash, broccoli, asparagus or other favorite veggies before grilling, pan frying or baking them. Also tasty on white fish and chicken.


The 8 Essential Spices & Blends for Baking & Sweets

Don’t forget these essential spices for desserts and baking…

  1. Allspice Powder – Contrary to popular belief, allspice is not a blend of different spices, rather its a dried unripe fruit from an evergreen tree native to Central America and the West Indies. It was named allspice because it tastes like a combo of cinnamon, cloves and nutmeg. It has a soft, sweet clove flavor and is excellent for sweet dishes and baking pies and cakes, and it also works well in savory meals that could use some sweetness like stews and curries.
  2. Cardamom Powder – From the ginger and turmeric family, cardamom comes in two forms – green and black. Our cardamom powder is made from green cardamom, the sweeter of the two. It has a complex sweet, pungent, somewhat piney flavor, with notes of mint and lemon. Its another spice that can be used for savory and hot dishes to temper heat. We think it really shines in pastries, coffee and tea, sweet buns, fruit pies (especially apple and pumpkin), banana bread, custards, chocolate tortes, fruit tarts and cakes, olive oil cakes, mousses and sugar cookies.
  3. Cassia Cinnamon Powder – If you were raised in the United States, this is the cinnamon you grew up on. Bold and sweet, it brings that warm familiar flavor to sweets and is tasty when sprinkled in complex savory dishes like chili. As we move on to the next kind of cinnamon, Ceylon, we need to note that while Ceylon is often referred to as “true cinnamon”, it doesn’t mean Cassia cinnamon isn’t good. Cassia has its place in our food world as the sweeter of the two. Now, it does have higher levels of a compound called “coumarin”, which studies have shown may harm your liver or increase the risk of cancer, but this is only when it’s consumed in high quantities and for long periods of time. So, if you’re regularly eating cinnamon for any potential health benefits, Ceylon is the way to go. But for most sweets recipes calling for cinnamon, we use Cassia.
  4. Ceylon Cinnamon Powder – Ceylon cinnamon comes from Sri Lanka (formerly known as Ceylon) and is much more rare than Cassia. It’s not as dark, has more ripe fruit notes and has a more complex flavor than Cassia. Ceylon has a bite of “sweet heat” to it that’s not necessary “hot” per se, but reminds us of cinnamon candy. It works really well in savory foods and drinks, and great when you want to bake with it but don’t want the sweet cinnamon vibe to overwhelm your cookie, pie, cake or pastry.
  5. Clove (Ground) – We love clove for its strong aroma and bold flavors (use in small quantities for this reason). They’re wonderfully pungent and warming. They taste kind of like nutmeg on steroids. They’re mildly spicy in the cinnamon candy way (not spicy in a cayenne way) and sweet with a bitterness that doesn’t offend but compliments other baking spices. We love using them in cakes, pastries, cocktails and teas. It’s also very popular in savory Asian cooking. Use a little clove powder when you want to add some “oomph” and warmth to whatever you’re baking.
  6. Ginger (ground) – A high quality ginger powder is strong, zesty and pungent as well as spicy, sweet and floral all at the same time. It brings a warmth to whatever you’re making. Use for cookies, gingerbread cakes, muffins and it’s fun to add to homemade frosting for pumpkin pie. It can also be used to season meat or in curries and stews (we think its especially good in sweet potato stew).
  7. Nutmeg – Nutmeg tastes nutty, sweet and earthy. It often brings that “wow” factor to baked goods, but it’s complex flavors mean people typically don’t know it’s the nutmeg that made the difference. Even if you love nutmeg flavor, be careful to not go too heavy with it because it can give off a soapy, bitter taste in larger quantities. It goes in a lot of baked goods but it’s also amazing in pastas and sprinkled on french toast as it cooks. We suggest buying it whole and grinding it fresh with a microplane when you need it.
  8. Vanilla Extract – Technically it’s not a spice, but you’ll need it for baking (sorry, we don’t carry it at the moment).


10 Seasonings For the Curious Cook (Next-Level Cooking, Ya’ll)

When you want to explore diverse flavors and add something special to your dishes, try these spices and blends…

  1. Advieh Khoresh (SALT-FREE) – Advieh Khoresh loosely translates to “stew spice” and is often used in Persian and Iranian cuisine. It has strong elements of sweet, savory, floral and just a touch of tart. Traditionally used on stews, it’s also great on chicken, kabobs, rice and beans and any dish you want to have a savory, sweet and slightly tart accent. A warm, delightful way to ramp up flavor without the sodium.
  2. Aleppo – Bring a Middle Eastern spice to your table with Aleppo chili flakes. It’s a mild chili and similar in heat level to ancho chilies. It tastes like if sun dried tomato and fresh red bell pepper had a baby…fruity, bright and slightly salty. It’s important to note that ours doesn’t have salt, unlike most others which can have lots of added salt. If you’re conscious about your salt intake, check the ingredients list before you buy.
  3. Black Truffle Salt – This is great to have on hand when you want to jazz up an everyday food or make something special. It brings a “ooo” factor to simple dishes and it’s awesome to make into a compound butter. It’s also amazing on potatoes, pasta, quiche, veggies, salmon, burgers – whatever you can dream up.
  4. Chaat Masala – We’ve heard from dozens of customers that our chaat is one of the most authentic chaats you can buy in the United States, and that makes us so proud. We do not cut corners and use only the best spices to make this tangy umami seasoning. Use to make traditional chana masala or just sprinkle in soups or on vegetables. Here’s a quick and easy way to enjoy chaat: Marinate chicken in lemon, olive oil and a pinch or two of chaat for at least 30-60 mins, then grill.
  5. Chili Crisp (SALT-FREE) – Careful, finding new ways to consume chili crisp can become an addiction. It has in our house. Shake it on anything you want some spicy, fruity, nutty, savory and sweetness on, or use it the traditional way as a chili crisp oil. How to make the oil: Heat up a high-heat oil until it shimmers, then pour over heaps of chili crisp spice. Listen to it crackle as you stir to combine everything. Top on everything from noodles and soup (especially phở) to pizza and eggs, or use in sauces and as a bread dip.
  6. Herbs de Provence (SALT-FREE) – A French collection of high quality herbs can really make a dish sing. With basil, rosemary, thyme, parsley, marjoram, lavender and tarragon, Herbs de Provence is the herbal, floral and earthy seasoning to grab when you don’t know what spice to use but want something to taste fresh and alive. Its especially good in gravy, roasted meat, fish, quiche, soups and grilled or roasted vegetables..
  7. Porcini Mushroom Salt – We make this with high quality organic porcini mushrooms. It makes everything melt in your mouth. Put it on steak, eggs, burgers, fries, pizza, roasted and pan fried mushrooms or our favorite, simple pasta with butter.
  8. Ras El Hanout (SALT-FREE) – Twenty-six spices and herbs. That’s what it takes to make a Ras El Hanout that can stand next to the ones you’ll find at spice bazaars in Morocco, where people take exceptional pride in their versions of the blend. A complex, warm and floral Moroccan blend with delightful layers and depth. It’s perfect for lamb, chicken, dips, root vegetables, rice, cous cous, tagine cooking or anything you want. In fact, in Morocco they call it the “lazy person’s spice” because it can be added to anything and it can transform a regular weeknight dish into a world-class meal.
  9. Sumac – This tangy and citrusy spice is a great replacement for salt. It can be sprinkled on top of almost anything as you cook or as a finishing touch. You might know it as the traditional topping for hummus, but its applications go a lot further than that. From marinades, meat rubs and fish to salads, bread and vegetables, it works well with many foods.
  10. Za’atar (SALT-FREE) – This traditional Middle Eastern and Mediterranean seasoning tastes nutty and slightly tart. It’s amazing when you bake it into bread, or use as a meat rub. It also stretches its flavor far in stews and is tasty to just toss on tomatoes, in hummus or on anything that needs some “zing”.


A Final Note on Spices…

We strongly recommend buying organic when you’re purchasing spices – and not just because we’re an organic spice company – buying certified organic (and fair trade) really matters when it comes to spices.


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