Spice Guide

11 Essential Spices for Any Beginner Chef

Ever stroll down the grocery aisle or Instacart page looking for the 5 weird spices your super-complicated recipe needs, spend a good chunk of change on them at checkout, then never use them again? Experiences like this are so unfortunate because they often discourage people from cooking on a regular basis. That’s why I’m such a fan of delicious, easy-to-make recipes that require minimal effort and ingredients. Thinking about this made me realize that what so many aspiring chefs need is list of 11 essential spices for their kitchen and how to use them.
Every hear the phrase “the spice of life”, heard Emeril Lagasse’s “Bam!” while he throws a new flavor into his dish, opened a history  book, or –yes- listened to The Spice Girls? Spices are all around us and add incredible color, richness, flavor, and nutrients to our food. What makes them so useful in healthy cooking is that they help you boost the flavor and color of your dishes without using butter or unnecessary amounts of salt and oil. Pretty cool!


Spices are an investment item in your kitchen. Good ones do cost a bit more, but  last for months and, if used on a regular basis, have incredible value. My goal here is to give you a simple list of spices that you can use in almost any dish you make at home. These are the items that I use most often in my own cooking and are the foundation of any apartment chef’s pantry.


  1. Chili Powder – Awesome to add to Mexican, Indian, Chinese, Thai, and Korean-inspired dishes. I love this in my , stir frys, and on top of sweet potatoes when baking. Chili Powder is actually a blend of peppers and other spices so it has the kick of pure ground pepper while still being translatable enough for many different kinds of dishes.
  2. Smoked Paprika – One of the most versatile spices out there. Paprika is actually derived from chili peppers, but has a much more mild kick to it than its cousins out there. Don’t be afraid to be more generous using this than you would a hot chili powder. It’s fabulous for you because of its high concentration of Vitamin A and Vitamin E which help promote blood health. I love paprika in just about everything – roasted veggies, homemade tortilla chips, soups, and more. Smoked Paprika has a slightly smokier taste than normal sweet paprika and is great for adding an earthier flavor, but you can easily sub in regular paprika if smoked isn’t available.
  3. Curry Powder – Curry isn’t just one spice, but rather refers to a mixture of many spices. The amazing thing about curry powders is that they can vary so much. The base ingredients in curry are chili, garlic, turmeric, cumin, and coriander, but you’ll see so many different ratios and add-ins that the spices really do vary. Try different brands out there to see which has your favorite. Surprise surprise I love making curries with this spice, but it’s also great for making spiced chickpeas, soups, and dips.
  4. Turmeric – This spice is so in right now and for good reason. Turmeric is a root similar to ginger that has been shown to help relieve everything from heartburn to upset stomachs.
  5. Garlic Powder – For when you’re in a rush or you don’t have fresh garlic on hand, this is a lifesaver.
  6. Ground Ginger – This is another great sub for when the fresh version isn’t on hand. Ginger is wonderful for soothing the stomach and goes great in stir fry dishes, curries, and even in granola and smoothies.
  7. Ground Cumin Seeds – A staple in middle-eastern cooking. Ground Cumin has an earthy, nutty, slightly peppery taste and is great for digestion. It’s one of the component spices in curry, but I love it on my won to add complexity to my dishes. This is really a versatile spice, so try it in just about anything, but do remember to heat it first when using it in a saute to release its full flavor.
  8. Ground Coriander Seeds – Fun fact: coriander is actually just cilantro! Different people use different terms depending on where they are in the world. Coriander has a light, lemony taste that increases with heat and goes great with its best friend cumin in most dishes. The seed is loaded with antioxidants and carotenoids which increase in potency when heated. My favorite thing is coriander with roasted cauliflower or eggplant. Nom!
  9. Ground Cinnamon – Most amazing, absolutely stupendous seasoning ever. Cinnamon actually comes from the inner bark of several different varieties of trees that’s been dried. You can either have it whole (fantastic for making holiday cider!) or in a powder (great for everyday). It’s also fantastic for you – cinnamon’s been shown to help regulate blood sugar, promote brain health, and fight against diabetes. Try it in savory dishes and not just breakfast! You’ll be amazed.
  10. Whole Oregano Leaf– One of the most popular herbs out there. Fantastic for Mediterranean dishes, superb for fall cooking, and goes great with lemons.
  11. Whole Thyme Leaf – The great all-around flavor giver. Any dish that needs that little something could use some thyme. It’s also available ground

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