The Essential Spice Rack


For those who love to cook, a well-stocked spice cabinet is the best way to be prepared to make anything properly. Here are Emily Ellyn’s must-have spices to always have on hand.


Bay leaf: An aromatic, woodsy-tasting leaf most often sold dried. Add whole bay leaves to soups, stews, and marinades.


Black peppercorns: Most recipes call for this must-have, slightly pungent spice. Pick whole peppercorns over ground every time.


Ground cinnamon: A bittersweet aromatic spice with rich earthy notes gives depth of flavor to baked dishes, curries, stews, and chilies (like the beloved Cincinnati chili).


Dill: Most often used in pickling and to flavor dishes like gravlax and borscht, it can be used to give a bright fresh note to dishes.


Garlic powder: Keep on hand for when fresh garlic is unavailable.


Ground ginger: It is no wonder the Greeks first referred to ginger as “zingiberis” as it has sharp spicy notes. Keep this on hand for baking and to use in a pinch when a dish needs some zing.


Onion powder: When fresh onion is unavailable this can serve as a workable alternative.


Oregano: Often more aromatic when dried than fresh, it has a warm and slightly bitter taste. Most popular in Latin American and Italian cuisines this herb is also used in Middle Eastern and Eastern European dishes.


Sweet paprika: Ground sweet red pepper pods that are available in sweet to hot varieties. Although mainly called for in Hungarian food and to top deviled eggs, paprika will lend a rich, red color and smooth, smoky notes to Eastern European and North African dishes.


Red pepper (flakes or crushed): This is a go-to for spicing up pastas and stir-fries or to sprinkle on pizzas. It can be ground to a powder if recipe needs chili powder substitute.


Rosemary: The aroma of pine takes me back to my childhood growing up on a Christmas tree farm. Rosemary can flavor meat, potatoes, and add depth to an assortment of Mediterranean dishes.


Sage: This is the herb that gives poultry and Thanksgiving stuffing their rich, savory, and peppery notes.


Star anise: This beautiful star-shaped fruit, harvested in Vietnam and China, is used to obtain an anise flavor, most distinctly in Chinese five-spice. My favorite use is to flavor stews and braised meat with ground or full pods.


Thyme: A fragrant herb that lends a delicate flavor to meat, poultry, and vegetables. It’s popular in Mediterranean, Cajun, and Creole cuisines.


Vanilla: This is an essential ingredient used in baking. It is best to opt for pure extract.