Once a delicacy only the wealthy could afford in the Middle Ages, spices have become commonplace in modern households around the world. From ras el hanout to za’atar, we really are spoiled for choice!
Whether you’re a kitchen novice or a seasoned master chef, there is no arguing that spices are essential elements for any cook. With few culinary recipes not including them, and their ability to transform and diversify any dish, you can’t go without spices nowadays. But, with the many options available at the local supermarket or the speciality shop, how can we decipher which ones are simply nice-to-haves, and which are the must-have spices you just can't do without on your spice rack?
What are spices?
Spices are made from the dried part of the plant that is cultivated for use. A spice may come from the roots, seeds, dried bark, berries, or pretty much any other part of a plant. But, spices should not be confused with herbs, which solely derive from the leaves of the plant. Traditionally used for flavouring or colouring food, spices are also popularly used in medicine and religious rituals around the world. Talk about versatility!
What spices should every kitchen have?
With so many plant sources across different cultures, there is no finite number as to how many spices there are. But, luckily, certain ones have found a place in an array of worldly cuisines and recipes, making them essential to the everyday cook’s spice collection. Be sure to have these flavourful ingredients stocked in your pantry at all times to avoid any aromatic disappointment.
"Seasoned to taste with salt and pepper" is a common phrase in any recipe book. So, unsurprisingly, black pepper is top of our list. Used in almost every cuisine available, black pepper’s domination in production and consumption makes it the most popular spice in the world. There are several different types of peppercorns, all in a variety of colours offering their individual tastes and uses amongst the different cuisines. However, in terms of versatility, black pepper seems to be the reigning champion!
Although you can buy pre-ground pepper, we’d advise grinding your black peppercorns the old-fashioned way in a pestle and mortar, or in a classic pepper mill. That way, you can choose just how course you like it. Additionally, the robust flavour can’t be beaten. You can even grow your own black peppercorns at home for extra freshness!
Sweet and fragrant, woody and warming — it’s all things spice and everything nice when it comes to cinnamon. Cinnamon has become the most comforting and wintery of essential spices. Its spicy warmth is the true epitome of Christmas scent.
However, cinnamon’s popularity lies within its ability to suit both sweet and savoury dishes, as well as being a component in food types such as breakfast cereals and tea. Add it to white chocolate cookies, a veggie stir fry, or even your hot cup of cocoa, the list is endless. One of the only spices that could make an appearance in breakfast, lunch, dinner, and your evening cuppa, cinnamon is a must-have spice.
A necessity for a majority of Indian, Middle Eastern, Mexican, and Latin cuisines, cumin rightly deserves its spot on our list of essential spices. Often mistaken for turmeric, the savoury pungency of this yellowy-brown spice offers warm, earthy tones to a number of popular dishes, such as fajitas, curries, and even hummus.
Whether you choose cumin seeds or ground cumin, adding this spice to your cooking will offer flavour depth and complexity.
The characteristic red colour makes this spice a standout. Paprika is made from a mixture of sweet and hot dried peppers, and is known for its mild flavour. It’s simply a spice rack staple!
One of the best things about paprika is its variety. In fact, in its country of origin — Hungary — paprika is available in eight different grades, ranging from mild-tasting to hot. We can’t vouch for the ubiquitous type of paprika you may find in your supermarket, but we’d bet its pungency doesn’t match that of erős, the hottest Hungarian paprika.
Want something with a bit more of a twist and kick? Keep a look-out for smoked paprika, an excellent choice to add a smoky note to seafood, veggie fajitas, or stews!
Perhaps the most controversial and divisive spice of the essentials list, we thought it best to leave it to last. If you like following recipes precisely as they are, garlic powder is likely already a staple in your pantry (as it is in ours)!
Whether you like it or not, garlic appears on the majority of savoury dishes. Simply put, garlic powder is a quick and easy way to add that unique garlicky taste to your food on those busy weeknights. Simply whip the jar off of your spice rack, sprinkle a dash or two, and there you have it. No need for crushing, no need for chopping, and definitely no need for that lingering, potent odour on your finger! Although, if you are going to use fresh garlic, we’d recommend investing in a stealthy garlic press or mincer.
How to store spices?
Although spices don't go off as quickly as most other foods, their strong aromas and flavours start to fade after a certain amount of time. And, let's face it, nobody wants a dull-tasting curry. To keep their vibrancy for as long as possible, knowing how to properly store your essential spices could prevent unnecessary wastage.
As a general rule, all spices and herbs should be stored in a cool, dark place. By doing so, you'll keep them fresh and flavourful that bit longer. The most important aspect to consider is air. By allowing air into the spice container, you're allowing the integrity of your spices to become damaged, ultimately diluting their flavourings. All of our Spice Racks and Carousels are glass and airtight, maximising longevity and keeping your spices with their original punch of flavour!