May 4, 2009

No matter where you are in the process of building your spice cabinet & pantry, there are a few basic things to keep in mind:

1) For some herbs & spices, a higher price does equal higher quality.  I’ve put a star (*) here next to items worth splurging on.

2) Buy in small quantities whenever possible, especially when trying something new–quality does go down as the shelf life lengthens.  Try to find a grocery store that sells spices in bulk; usually they’ll be cheaper this way, too.

3) If you’re going to get really serious, invest in a spice grinder and buy as many spices as you can whole.  For example, I buy whole cumin seeds, toast them in a skillet, and grind them to make my own cumin powder.  I know, I’m hardcore like that.

By no means is this list comprehensive or ideal; it’s just a glimpse inside my kitchen cabinets.


Basil (this one we actually grow in the front yard)
Mint (it’s totally taking over the back patio)


Bay leaves (most chefs I know recommend California over Turkish)
Bouillon (vegetable—Knorr is a favorite brand)
Chili powder (Mexican)
Cumin powder
Curry powder*
Garlic powder
Herbs de Provence*
Italian seasoning
Parsley flakes
Peppercorns (in a grinder)*
Red pepper flakes
Spike seasoning (a really flavorful blend, an easy “add” for veggies, soups)
Tony’s Creole seasoning (perfect on breakfast potatoes & grilled meats)


Anise seed*
Almond extract*
Baking cups
Baking powder (make sure it’s new!)
Baking soda
Cardamom (ground, whole)
Cloves (ground)*
Cinnamon (ground, sticks)*
Fennel (ground, whole)
Food coloring
Ginger (ground)*
Honey (local wildflower)*
Molasses (mild)
Nutmeg (ground, whole)*
Sea salt (flaky, so delicious on chocolate chip cookies)*
Vanilla extract*


Chili powder (Indian red mirchi)
Coriander (ground)
Cumin seeds
Curry leaves
Dill juice
Dry mustard powder (great in marinades & deviled eggs)
Fenugreek seeds
Garam Masala (spice blend)
Green peppercorns
Mustard seeds
Paprika (regular & smoked)
Za’atar (a Mediterranean spice blend, excellent in hummus)


  1. Why don’t you grow parsley in your backyard? I grow regular and flat leaf and mix with Basil in pestos and fresh pastas. Yummy.

    You should suggest NEVER using pre-ground spices unless absolutely necessary. Your pre-toat and grind tip works for everything. Including nuts and chiles.

    Toss the pre-made chili powder in the trash. Make it yourself from dried chiles (seeds removed), cumin seeds, dried oregano, garlic powder and coriander seeds. Toast and spin it in a blender and POW! The best chili powder in the world.

    Also having whole coriander around and using it any time you grind some cumin adds a great note. I suggest an old $5 coffee grinder for spice grinding. Works great.

    Comment by Jon — September 30, 2009 @ 2:35 pm

  2. Jon, thanks for your tip about home-ground chili powder–I’ll have to give that a try! Unfortunately, I’ve not had much luck growing fresh parsley–I think it’s a curse–so I just end up buying it.

    Comment by bluejeangourmet — October 1, 2009 @ 8:43 am

  3. Try growing parsley in a planter vs. the ground. I just use a plastic one the hangs from a deck or railing (then the bunnies can’t get to it). I keep it well watered and add some miracle grow once in a while. My kids nibble at the leaves. Lets just say they have terrific breath!

    The chili powder recipe is from Alton Brown’s Good Eats Chili episode. It’s like nothing I have ever used and it’s spicy with powerful flavor. You can also make variations very easily.

    I need more spice recipes so keep posting.

    Comment by Jon — October 1, 2009 @ 8:54 am

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