Gourmands! Don't waste any time to enjoy your cooking and use the January to get your stock of spice in order. The good news is that there are sales galore for some spices coming out of the holidays, the other is that containers and organizers are front and center this time of year.
We did the research so you don't have to. We went across five popular cooking sites and reviewed their list of the most essential spices to have in your kit. We then reviewed them in light of what we use here at ASG, including some speciality spices we must have. We clearly indicated each below and also distinguished having small amounts where having too much is unnecessary. Lastly, we looked at some essential Asian spices to make sure we represented them in basic dishes. (We did not include any vinegars, oils or other 'wet' flavor - these are all dry spices.)
What about you? What are the essential spices we may have missed? After our research over a day, we found roughly 40 overall...
In order of precedence and incidence, unless indicated, assume that you should have a standard 3 or 4 ounce spice bottle, where indicated as 'small', a 1.5 or 2 ounce suffices:
The Top 16:
Sea Salt - ASG tends to use more sea salt than table salt in its dishes, Maldon Sea Salt is our choice
Black Pepper Grinder - there's nothing like fresh black pepper; yes, it may be a pain to grind, but the results are worth it; best for your own kitchen grinder (not table) as we use this a lot
Garlic Powder - not garlic salt, but ground or powdered garlic; quality has been consistent even with low-end spices (plus we tend for fresh garlic where we can sneak it in, with powder additative)
Onion Powder - same as above, but we have tasted premium ones like Morton & Bassett that definitely have a taste to match its price
Cinnamon - again, depending on your needs is where quality of cinnamon comes in; most of our applications don't require going overboard, but we know we've tasted the difference, especially where the cinnamon is a prominent spice
Oregano - definitely taste the difference, where low-quality oregano has virtually no flavor, a passing price with enough flavor for us is Simply Organic
Basil - same as oregano, but we found, for most applications, you can go lower-end; watch your recipes though, we find fresh basil enhances and elevates compared to dry
Cumin - ASG doesn't use cumin as much as is listed on most sites, but cumin we encounter, going above the bagged aisle, suffices; but, as above, you get what you pay for
Chili Powder - surprisingly used in more recipes than we expected, chili powder is used in everything from soups, stews, salads to cocktails; we have not experimented with higher end, but we land in the middle with solid results
Ginger Powder - our thoughts are developing on premium ginger powder, but, like garlic, we tend to cheat toward fresh ginger then use the appropriate portion of powder to round out the measure - what do you think?
Nutmeg (Small) - like chili powder, having at least a small spice bottle around is essential; nutmeg quality is definitely based on price
Rosemary - luckily we found fresh rosemary (which we grow) and store rosemary roughly on par, so no need to go overboard, just find one with enough kick and dial in its use accordingly
Crushed Red Pepper (Large) - like ginger powder, we find crushed red pepper to be fair at the low-end and haven't seen much difference when going up the price scale - we found staying low has worked out
Thyme - has been essential in many chicken and vegetable dishes for us, Simply Organic has sufficed for us
Cloves (Small) - low-end has been fine, because cloves are so fragrant; a small amount will do
Cardamon (Small) - we've used this only sparingly in our dishes, but they have been called on occasion; it made the incidence rate higher than we expected, so, yes, keep a small amount on hand
ASG Essentials - these are our must haves and in the majority of our recipes, in order of precedence and incidence with other sites:
17. Ground Mustard (Tin) - we like Coleman's hands down - plus we like consistency with tins
18. Smoked Paprika (Tin) - Pride of Szeged - that's our brand, you'll see a trend
19. Nutmeg (Small) - another spice that requires some research, we felt we can definitely taste the difference in quality by price, luckily, only a little is needed in the cupboard
20. Dill Weed (Small) - we like Spice Islands well enough and tend to use dill in dips, salads and canning
21. Coriander - we keep this on hand and it is used enough, but we haven't yet found going any more premium than what we find at the grocer's
22. Sage (Small) - like cumin, we found that the pugent nature of sage has been fine for most of the dishes we make, but I'd be interested in hearing if you found something specific to try
23. Bay Leaves - we cheat here a little - we like to get fresh bay leaves from 99 Ranch and let them dry in paper towels in a closed paper bag high up in the cupboard; we keep just a touch of green in the leaf that we don't get in the ones at the store
24. Turmeric - definitely higher quality will yield better dishes, there are partial to McCormick's; but we also like fresh turmeric where we can sneak it in and find it regularly at 99 Ranch
25. Cayenne - like other chilies, we found quality was standard enough, we'd almost say 'small', but we tend to go through this quickly
26. Italian Seasoning (Large) - this is on our list to either find a high quality one, because we are not happy with low-end packets; we are thinking of creating our own blend from fresh, or an intrepid Gourmand can let us know
27. White Pepper Grinder - we find these at our local Asian markets, and even then, are a bit hard to find, so we grab one when we are close to being out - ASG loves its white pepper to punch up amost anything
28. Curry (Tin) - we like Madras Curry Powder in a tin and insist on paying a little extra for it, they are hard to find at times, so keep a weather eye out
29. Parsley (Large) - we actually tested this out with our December Spice Box, but the only quality difference in parsley was freshness or color; after testing a few different ones out, we actually liked Simply Organic; we recently got a dehydrator, so we're going to test that out with fresh parsley
30. Himalayan Salt (Large) - we haven't gone too far with Himalayan salt then what has been available at the grocer, but, like many, we can taste the difference and less sharp tones of this pink salt; there are also more trace minerals that are good for the body 31. Malabar Pepper (Tin) - Pride of Malabar in a tin - enough said; give this as a gift and your loved ones will be in your debt
32. All Spice (Small) - don't need to much, and like other aromatic pungent spices, you only need a little
33. All Purpose Seasoning - not salt! We like Simply Organic All Purpose Seasoning, we use it when we feel we are missing a certain something, or if a spice is of low quality and we make up for it - sh*t happens 34. Montreal Seasoning (Large) - have to say it, CostCo's Montreal Seasoning is so consistent and widely used in our house - it goes on almost all proteins and amplifies it 35. Dried Gochugaru - it's bright red color and very low, very slow burn is our preference for many an Asian dish, it also pumps up proteins when you need that extra something 36. Saffron - ok, I'll get explicit, middling saffron should run you about $20 USD, you can go below and bet its not the good stuff - this is one spice you can easily taste the difference in quality - up to you, but if it is the star of a dish, go premium 37. Star Anise - like cumin or sage, we found low end suffice for the most part, but I have gotten my hands on high quality and it is more pungent and powerful - it depends on how you use it. For important soups, like many of the vegetable/vegan soups we like to make, a higher grade of star anise is essential
38. Pizza Seasoning - sounds funny, but, at least once a month, we look for some pizza seasoning for amping up vegetables or salads - try it and you won't go back
What do you think? Anything glaringly missing?
More to come in the coming months as we dive more into spices and how they affect solid cooking at home - that way you can 'spice' up your life...
We'll build a pdf 5x8 card for you soon!