They were once more valuable than gold. Wars were started over them. People set sail over uncharted waters to acquire them.
So if you’re not taking advantage of what an assortment of spices can do for your cooking, you’re missing out on one of the wonders of the culinary world.
Spices, in fact, are the heart and soul of a pantry.
Some, on this must-have checklist are obvious, but others might take you into some new “territory.” But don’t fear – it’s much easier to try a new spice now than it was in Columbus’s day!
- Salt: Okay, that one sounds like a no-brainer, but you’d be surprised at the different “varieties” that are available, from pink crystals from the Himalayas to seaweed salt from Japan (see Karen’s blogs about salt here and here). But for the basic pantry salt, you want to make sure you have a naturally white – not bleached – sea salt. Get coarse crystals if you have a grinder, or if not, a fine grind that’s ready to use.
- Black peppercorns: Now here’s where you definitely want to use a grinder. You’ll find the pungent aroma and taste of freshly ground pepper make that extra step worthwhile.
- Bay Leaves: Very aromatic, dried bay leaves are added to soups and stews and removed before serving.
- Cinnamon: It isn’t just for pumpkin pie! Sure, cinnamon is the go-to spice for many desserts, but I often use a dash in chilies, on rice, quinoa and in veggie dishes. You’d be surprised how the “warm” flavor in cinnamon comes out when it’s not used in an overly sweet dish. And cinnamon sticks are great to use in tea, cider, and to add whole when cooking rice.
- Onion and garlic powder: Perfect to use when you need a little extra pizzazz in a dish and don’t feel like chopping onions or mincing garlic.
- Turmeric: This wonderful spice is the stuff of curries and the ingredient that gives mustard its unique color. But beyond its use to spice things up, turmeric appears to have amazing medicinal powers. It’s widely recognized as an anti-inflammatory and an amazing antioxidant, as well as for boosting brain function and reducing the risk of heart disease. So if you enjoy the taste, sprinkle turmeric on dishes whenever possible!
- Dried rosemary: This is probably my favorite spice. It has an earthy, but not overly spicy taste to it that adds a gourmet touch to many dishes. I often add it to dough when I bake bread to create a wonderfully aromatic loaf to slice and dip in olive oil. Like turmeric, it too has medicinal qualities. (See Chelsea’s blog here and Karen’s blog here.
Stay tuned for the rest of these essentials, including one that is even better in dried form than fresh!