Essential Spices for First Time Cooks

Have you ever found yourself reading a very detailed recipe only to get to a section that told you ‘season to taste’ and wondered what in the world that meant? Seasoning is perhaps the hardest part of cooking a new dish or learning when to cook. All first-time cooks are a bit nervous to season without direction, but with the right spices and practice, you too can become an adventurous chef. Not only can herbs and spices be added to any dish to improve the flavor quality, they can be used for holistic remedies for colds and flu. In this article, we are going to take the mystery out of cooking by laying out our top ten spices that are going to be essential in your kitchen for making a flavorful and delicious meal.

Salt and Pepper

This classic combination of spice can make or break a savory meal or even when you start baking. Salt is more often than not used to help create flavorful dishes, tone down flavors, and create a fuller bodied meal. However, when overused, can create a drying taste and texture, especially on white meats and fish. The same can be said of pepper, with the right application you can get the perfect pop of flavor. But by overusing this seasoning you can find a nose crinkling spice that overpowers the dish.  So how exactly does a beginner figure out when to add more salt or more pepper? With all the herbs that we will list below, the best technique is to spice as you go. Adding smaller amounts as you start, especially with simmering dishes, is going to help you create a well-seasoned meal. Remember that as spices simmer they get a more pronounced flavor, so add a little wait, then taste.

Bay Leaves

When setting up your first spice rack, don’t leave out a jar of bay leaves! These leaves are essential for stews, soups, and everything that simmers. If your goal is to make your own marinade or a warm pot of minestrone then these aromatic leaves are going to be the perfect addition. Many simmering recipes call for only one or two bay leaves so a small container will last you throughout the winter.

Garlic Powder

Where would we be without the perfect flavor in a garlicky meal? If you are looking to add the aroma and flavor of garlic to any meal, then you are definitely going to need to stalk up on garlic powder. While fresh garlic will taste delicious, if you are looking for it to have a more prominent flavor than opt to use the garlic powder. Make sure to thoroughly read the label as you may purchase garlic salt or garlic powder with herbs if you are in a hurry!


A classic Italian herb that is a necessity in every kitchen. Oregano has a slightly sharp and bitter taste to it, but blends perfectly in sauces and goes well with vegetables, meats, and stews. While an oregano plant will give your garden a nice pop of green, there is more flavor and scent associated with dried oregano.


This spice will come in quite the variety of options, but the traditional paprika adds a little sweetness and balance to any dish. It is both deep red and very smooth making it brighten up a dish and blend very well. You can use it to season a meat or even use it as a garnish on top of any dishes. Adding even a little to a dish will help balance any acidic flavors.

Vanilla Extract

Have a sweet tooth? Or perhaps you love to bake, either way having vanilla extract in your pantry will help any cookie and cake recipe. We even love adding it to our pancakes in the morning for a perfect sweet taste. Try and get the pure vanilla extract instead of anything else, as the variation will add an odd flavor, especially when baking.

Crushed Red Pepper

Looking for spice, but not wanting to change the overall flavor profile of your dish? Adding in crushed flakes of a dried red chili will definitely heat up any dish. Just be careful because as the flakes cook or simmer they will get hotter and hotter, and your dish may end up being a bit spicier than you originally wanted.

Ground Cumin

While mostly associated with Middle Eastern and Indian food, this spice adds a complexity and deep flavor to almost any dish. While full-bodied, it is a mellow and highly aromatic spice that can be added to a dish to create an overall delicious dish. If you are looking into making curries or spicing up a white bean chili then you will thoroughly enjoy these tastes.

Ground Ginger

Not only will it add a bright and crisp taste to any dish, the spicy grinds have the ability to ease nausea when boiled into a tea. It has anti-inflammatory properties to it that also help with colds and have even been shown to help reduce arthritis pain. This spice is both tasty and healthy for you!


Wanting to make your own homemade bread or season a chicken? Rosemary is going to give you a smooth and strong flavor and smell. Not to mention, rosemary is antioxidant rich, making It both healthy and the perfect spice on poultry!

The cultivation of a spice collection can be a lifelong process that will help shape your overall cooking experience. These ten spices are going to help you create a full profiled meal, and liven up any of your favorite dishes. If you are avoiding salt for health reason, try using any of these other spices to create a flavor you are looking for while still preparing a low sodium meal. The more difficult the recipe the more exotic the spices often get, so you will soon have even more spices to add to your rack or pantry. Continue adding spices to your collection and always season as you cook the dish to get the perfect flavor for your taste buds!

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