Here is a list of the 20 herb and spice essentials in my kitchen. Have you every made a meal and thought it was lacking if flavour or just needed something a little extra? I know I have made meals at are just bland and boring. Herbs and spices come from distinctive flavoured plants, but from over 100 herbs and spices what ones do you need in your kitchen? Confusing right?
For thousands of years countries around the world have used pure herbs and spices as an easy and economical way to add variety and flavour to any dish. While we all have our own likes and dislikes, my 20 herb and spice essentials list will give you a spice set to make your own curries and spiced dishes from scratch.
This list of 20 herb and spice essentials will give you the the basic ingredients for thousands of dishes for countries all over the world. There may be other herbs or spices that you will need for some dishes you may love. Just add these to your collection.
Should I Make or Buy my Spice Rubs and Curry blends?
Making your own spice blends, rubs and curries from scratch is a wonderful journey through cultures and techniques that will open up a world of thousands of dishes form around the world. If you are going to come on this culinary journey, my advice is to buy a good heavy stone mortar and pestle and a heavy based frying pan for roasting spices.
Although, if you want quick and easy meals you can buy great herb and spice blends but be sure to find a spice blender and roaster like Eclipse Organics that you can trust. It’s best to use herbs and spices that are freshly ground and blended.
Just a side note, pure herbs and spices should be organic as conventional spices are often irradiated or loaded with chemicals that reduce the amazing natural health benefits of herbs and spices.
What is the Different Between Herbs and Spices?
If we are going on a herb and spice adventure let’s start right at the basics. So what is the difference between a herb and a spice? It is really simple actually.
The difference comes from which part of the plant is used. The leaf and sometimes the stalk of a plant is used as a herb. These can be used fresh or dried. While a spice can be from any other part of the plant such as the bark, seeds or roots, and are always dried.
While the perfect herb and spice cabinet is a very individual thing here is my list of herb and spice essentials that will give you a great foundation to make thousands of meals from all over the world.
Allspice is a spice native to the West Indies. Its aroma and flavour are reminiscent of a blend of cinnamon, nutmeg, pepper and cloves. Used in preserving and pickling, in French and Caribbean cuisine, North Indian Curries and Pot-pourri.
Bay leaves are a herb native to the Mediterranean and used since Roman times, are an aromatic leaf used for their distinctive flavour and scent. Use to flavour stocks, soups, stews, pates and in Mediterranean cooking. Bay leaves are often regarded to stimulate appetite.
Black Peppercorns, native to tropical West India, are dried green peppercorns. They are the most intense tasting of all peppers. This highly valued spice is used in spice blends and cooking throughout the world. Grind fresh for the most intense flavour. Pepper acts as a stimulant and aids digestion.
Cayenne pepper is the ground dried cayenne chilli that originated from Cayenne Island in South America. It is closely related to the Asian bird’s-eye chilli with a similar heat intensity and an acidic and tart taste. Cayenne pepper is an important ingredient in South American, Caribbean and, in some European Dishes.
Chilli flakes are crushed dried red chillies from a variety of chillies. They have a high ratio of seeds which intensifies the heat of the chillies. Chilli flakes make a great seasoning. Use in Mediterranean, Asian, Mexican and other cuisine’s to all heat and intensity.
Cinnamon, a spice, is the inner bark of a tree. It has a pleasant pungent taste and aroma. Cinnamon is widely used in sweet and savoury foods to add flavour and aroma particularly in Middle Eastern cooking. In western cooking cinnamon is most often used with sugar in deserts.
Cloves are an ancient aromatic spice, a dried flower bud native to an island group of Indonesia. They are pungent with a powerful astringent flavour. Cloves are used in pickling and essential is many spice blends including garam masala and Chinese five spice. Cloves are also renowned as a medicine in Ayurvedic and Chinese medicines and in dentistry.
Coriander seeds, the seed from the coriander herb, is native to Southern Europe, North Africa and Southwest Asia. The seeds are used as a spice with have a sweet flavour and woody peppery aroma that increases with dry-roasting and grinding. Coriander seeds are the foundation of many dishes and spice blends from the Middle East, through India and parts of Asia.
Cumin, a member of the parsley family, is an ancient spice native to the Mediterranean region. Its strong deep aroma and peppery flavour makes cumin a staple in the world of spices, from Moroccan to Tunisia food, in Mexican, Middle Eastern and Indian cooking and also in much of south Asia and Indonesia. Cumin also has renowned healing properties.
Garlic is s herb native to Central Asia, is a staple of the Mediterranean region as well as Asian, African and European cooking. This pungent flavoured spice is renowned for both is cooking and medicinal properties. Garlic is used both fresh and dried.
Ginger is one of the most widely used spices in the world. It is a pungent and fiery spice with a sweet and woody flavour. Ginger is widely used in both sweet and savoury dishes from all over the world. It is renowned for its digestive and circulation properties.
Nutmeg is a tropical nut shaped seed with a deep rich taste and fragrant smell. Nutmeg is a spice used in Asian and Indian dishes, on mains and deserts, also in European and Middle Eastern cooking.
Oregano, a native or Eurasia and the Mediterranean, has an aromatic, warm and slightly bitter taste. It is popular in Italian cooking, also widely used on many other counties of the Mediterranean and Latin America. Idea as a seasoning and in roasts and on vegetables, fish and meat. Oregano is also renowned for its medical properties.
Paprika is created from sweet capsicum peppers, which are similar to red bell peppers, are dried, ground and sifted to produce a bright red flavourful powder called Sweet paprika or Hungarian Paprika. It is not uncommon for Hungarian cooks to have several grades of paprika in the kitchen. Paprika and dried mint is the renowned Macedonian spice blend.
Rosemary, named from Latin ‘dew of the sea’ needs little water to grow. It is a woody aromatic herb native to the Mediterranean. Rosemary is renowned for both it culinary and medicinal properties. In the kitchen it is most often partnered with roast or grilled meats an vegetables or used in stuffings.
Smoked Paprika is a Spanish cousin to sweet paprika. Pimiento peppers are slowly smoked and dried over and oak fire, then ground to produce a deep red powder with an intense smokey flavour. Smoked paprika and a key flavour in Spanish paella and other dishes, Mexican and South American food and many Texan and other Southern American dishes.
Thyme is an aromatic culinary and medicinal herb used throughout the ages. In ancient Greece it was used in baths and burnt as incense, a source of courage. Romans used it to purify the air and flavour food and liqueurs. Thyme is used in cuisine from Europe, the Middle East and Africa to flavour meats soups and stews.
Turmeric powder is part of the ginger family originating from tropical South Asia. It is renowned its health benefits and for the rich distinctive flavour its adds to to many dished traditionally from North Africa, the Middle East and South Asia.
White Peppercorns are the pepper seed with the dark colour skin removed and the seed dried. White pepper has a lighter, sweeter and slightly less peppery taste than black pepper. It is ideal in cooking delicate foods or when you want a delicate pepper flavour
This is by no means an exhaustive list and here are other spices I bring into my kitchen for special recipes. If you love Chinese and Vietnamese you may want to get some star anise, for Indian cooking grab some cardamom pods. I am making a lot more Australian native blends these days with herbs and spices like the amazing lemon myrtle or wattle seed. And the list goes on.
I find I get some herb and spice blends when I want a blend that I use a lot such as Classic Italian Herb Mix, Garam Masala, a traditional Sweet Indian Curry or the classic French blends Herbes de Provence.
For a load of great herb and spice essential recipes take a tour around our recipe pages.