Different cuisines need a varied set of spices that impart specific flavours into the food. However, there is a basic list of ‘must-have’ herbs and spices in any kitchen where multicultural recipes are prepared. Use them fresh or dry the herbs for later use, this list serves as the ‘initial list’ for everyone to have in the pantry.
Essential herbs and spices
These large-sized dry leaves can be added to potatoes, stews, stock, soups and curries for enhanced flavour. Only 1-2 leaves are used per recipe as too many may be overpowering. The leaves are not meant to be eaten and should be removed before serving. Even though these leaves are dried, they can lose their fragrance if stored for too long.
Thyme is commonly added to meats, marinades, and any dish that needs seasoning. Fresh thyme is will enhance fish and seafood recipes, and it will add flavour to lasagna, roasted vegetables, and potato dish. Use 1 tsp of dry thyme for 3 tsp of fresh thyme.
A more pungent herb, oregano, is not commonly available fresh, but it is the best herb to infuse flavours into Mediterranean dishes and more particular Italian and Greek recipes such as pizzas, Bolognese, but it can also be used in various other cuisines.
When used fresh, a sprig of rosemary with its tiny leaves is often added whole into the cooking pot and removed before serving. Dried rosemary is equally aromatic when a sprinkling is added to soups, stews, potatoes and meats.
Whilst fresh basil leaves are most fragrant, the dried version is a must-have in the kitchen as it is great to flavour salads, pasta sauces, soups, or in marinades for chicken and meat. Basil pesto might be the most common recipe but you it is also a great herb to flavour vinaigrettes.
There are numerous types of pepper available, with the most common being black and white pepper. Between the two, black pepper is the most popular, and along with salt, the favoured seasoning for meats and vegetables. It is recommended to have black peppercorns in a mill to freshly grind the pepper when required. Additionally, the mill provides the availability of the full peppercorn for any recipes that may call for it.
Chilli / Paprika Powder
Red chillies and peppers abound in different shapes, sizes and potency. Whilst some of these may be super-hot in terms of the spice level and may be required for specific cuisines, the most versatile one to have in the kitchen is paprika, as it is mildly sharp with hints of sweetness. If you prefer something a bit stronger, then opt for cayenne pepper. For something high on the hot scale in terms of spiciness, go for Indian red chilli powder.
Saffron powder is the ground, dried stigmas of saffron crocus flowers. It is the most expensive spice in the world because each crocus produces only three stigmas, which are hand harvested during only three weeks of the year. Saffron is pungent with an outspoken aroma, and it colours your food yellow. The best substitute for saffron is turmeric. Great to make sauces and soups.
Vanilla is a spice derived from orchids. The pronounced flavour of vanilla powder makes it a great addition to savoury and sweet dishes, but it is mostly used in desserts.
Vanilla can also be used as a natural sweetener and the purest form of vanilla powder comes from vanilla beans.
This is one of the most versatile spices as it can be used for savoury preparations as well as desserts like cinnamon rolls or apple pie! Cinnamon is the inner bark of the Cinnamomum tree. Recipes may call for cinnamon sticks or cinnamon powder, so it’s beneficial to have a little of both versions available. Remember it’s not only a flavour maker for mulled wine.
Cloves are the dried buds of the clove tree that are usually used whole. Being pungent, they impart an intense flavour to food, and therefore are good for any preparation with meats. A baked ham studded with cloves takes the recipe to a new level! While they can also enhance the flavour of hearty vegetables such as potatoes and pumpkins, many people prefer not to bite into them!
Nutmeg is often the ‘secret’ ingredient to mash potatoes or vegetables and a must have in Bechamel sauce.
It has an outspoken aroma and a particular flavour which works very well in cheese dishes. Nutmeg is also part of the group of spices that bring a hint of Christmas year-round.
Add an Asian twist to your cuisine with turmeric. It is mostly used in Indian and Thai cuisine and imparts colour (orange-yellow hue) and flavour into vegetables, meat and rice preparations. We recommend to use gloves and be careful when using fresh turmeric or turmeric powder as it turns everything into a bright yellow.
Most often used in curries, or as a spice ingredient for Asian and Mexican recipes, cumin is soothing to the digestive system. Cumin seeds or powder are popularly used, and depending upon what the recipe calls for, the seeds are usually tempered in hot oil, or roasted in a pan, as that brings out the fragrance and flavour of the spice. Cumin powder is convenient to use in any recipe that requires this spice.
This is a mix of different spices consisting of cardamom, cinnamon, cumin, and coriander and is versatile in its use. Apart from curry, as the name suggests, a sprinkling of this can be used in soups, vegetables and other meat preparations.
Concluding notes on essential herbs
Even though essential herbs and spices are available dried they tend to lose their freshness of smell and flavour if exposed too much or stored for too long.
It is best to buy smaller quantities in airtight bottles, but if you prefer to buy larger economical packs do make sure to keep transferring to a smaller bottle for regular usage and keep the bulk pack tightly sealed.
In regions with humidity, it is best to refrigerate bulk packs to retain the fragrance and flavour of the spice.