Essential Herbs and Spices for Cooking

What are your Essential Herbs and Spices for Cooking?

Last week I reached for one of my spices and noticed it had expired, umm, long ago {which goes to show I don’t look at their labels very often}. I have a cupboard full of herbs and spices, which I grab on a daily basis but never really inspect them.

This led to a little cleaning of the spice cupboard {by little I mean a massive overhaul} and put some thought into what each one was intended for in cooking or baking. My thought: if they expired hardly used, do I even need them in my cupboard?

Herb and Spice

I do try and add flavor to recipes and dishes with herbs and spices as much as possible, instead of heavy creams and sauces. They can add that perfect taste without all the calories.

So, here is a list of my essentials:

Black Pepper
Slightly spicy and the most versatile and common spice, it can be used for so much. To get the most flavor, use freshly ground whole peppercorns using a pepper mill. Myself, I put pepper in everything I cook!

Only a little cinnamon is needed to bring its trademark dense and rich flavor to a dish. Used most often in baking, but also great with fresh fruits and seasonal beverages.

Extremely aromatic and slightly sweet, try a pinch of crushed cloves in your coffee or tea to add a bright chai flavor, yet I use this spice more when cooking ham!

Cayenne Pepper
Unlike pepper, this has an intense spicy heat. Great in a whole host of recipes where you want a spicy kick. I add cayenne pepper to my hamburger soups or those that have a tendency for being bland.

Sweet to slightly spicy, paprika adds a pungent, bright, and colorful element to any recipe. Myself? It’s a must for egg salad and devilied eggs. Though I use mine for more of a garnish, it’s one of the essential spices for Hungarian and many Eastern European recipes.

Chili powder
A blend which contains chile peppers plus cumin, coriander, oregano, and many other spices. Key for my chili dishes!

Garlic Powder
Used with a variety of foods, it’s another than I reach for more often than others. Love it for garlic toast, Chilis and pasta!

Oregano & Basil
I group these together since I always use them together, mainly for Italian dishes including pizza.

Dill Weed
Always used when cooking fish!

Onion Powder
Used when I don’t have the real deal. A good flavor boost instead of reaching for the salt

Rosemary & Sage
A poultry basic! Reached for most often when I’m cooking whole chicken or turkey

Bay Leaf
Used for soups and stews


Have I missed any of your favorites? How often do you replace your herbs and spices?



  1. I use thyme quite a bit and replace my spices every season. If it’s something I don’t use a lot but still need once in a while I just stop at the bulk barn for a few teaspoons to top up my jar.

    Another great item to have in your spice cupboard is whole nutmeg. It’s a nice addition to cheese sauce and fresh smoothies.

    1. Nutmeg in cheese sauce and smoothies – really?
      I had no idea, I’ll try that next time!

      1. I have a peach and blueberry cobbler recipe from the Real Canadian Superstore cooking class that uses nutmeg too. Very tasty! Though it’s so strange that I wouldn’t dare to cook it if I haven’t seen the process with my own eyes, lol

  2. Lots on there I actually don’t use but absolutely love oregano, basil and black pepper. Although I keep white pepper on hand too as can sneak it into some things easier to fool kids.

    There are likely a bunch of expired spices in my cupboard.

    1. Ha! I like you’re thinking Tara, I hadn’t thought of that.
      ‘What are these black specs?’ – yep, good idea mama!!!

  3. Gee, you are supposed to replace them? This explains so much…I’m as bad as you. There are a few I use regularly but so many times I buy for a specific recipe and then end up wasting a whole bottle because I never use it again!

    1. YES! Carrie, there were so many that hadn’t been touched! A friend was over when I was in mid-clean and she was able to detect that it’d gone back with one whiff – can’t recall which spice it was exactly.

  4. Years ago, I was not much of a spice user…that is until I married a chef. He used to drive me nuts because every single time I was cooking, I would find him standing at the stove adding spices and whatever else to my recipes. So, it was either back-hand him 😉 or turn to the old adage of ‘If you can’t beat’um join’um. So, I did and now I don’t have him standing behind me at the stove itching to add things….

    1. That is sweet, and how handy to have a chef in the house. A perfect teacher!! And yes, that annoys me too, people love to ‘spice’ on you! lol

  5. My spices don’t have expiry dates …. and believe, I have checked (I am phobic about using expired stuff)! In fact, I recenty threw out the cinnamon container that I stole from my childhood home, when I moved out. So the thing was easily 25 year old .. and the last time I used it, the cinnamon tasted fine. I’m so confused! What happens to spices when they, allegedly, expire!?! Do they taste stale? Or just less pungent? :S

    1. Well, A friend was over when I was in mid-clean and she was able to detect that it’d gone back with one whiff – can’t recall which spice it was exactly. Maybe after a while it changes scent? In any case, you should replace spices after so many years, though I think each one may be different.

    1. …hmmm… I don’t think I’ve EVER use tumeric. What do you use that spice for, Josie?

  6. Oh man…this post has just inspired me to visit my spice rack & container. I replace them not nearly enough. My go-tos are smoked paprika, curry powder, cumin, cinnamon and regular paprika. I have a lot of others that I apparently don’t use since I can’t recall what they are!

  7. I always have curry powder, tumeric and garam masala in the pantry for this nights I need something spicy!

  8. Cumin. It’s my must have. I am allergic to Cayanne, Paprika, Chili Pepper, and any other red pepper spice. Therefore, I use Cumin as a substitute for anything calling for those spices. I’m also allergic to Ginger, so I use a tiny bit of nutmeg and cinnamon to give a unique flavor to foods calling for ginger. My husband actually loves it all. He now uses cumin in all his tomato based dinners. (We are having to live an LDR while I wait to immigrate to Canada to be with him. I’ll teach him SO many uses for it.)

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