The Ten Herbs and Spices I Use the Most and the Reasons I Can’t Live Without Them

 “Spices, of course, are essential” – Marcus Samuelsson

I have a multitude of spices and dried herbs. I have an entire cupboard jam packed with jars, packets, and containers all filled with a different, exciting culinary experience.

Below is a list of ten of these spices and herbs that I use in everyday cooking and can’t live without (well I could live, but what would be the point?!).

1. Salt

Salt is a magical substance. It enhances the flavours of savoury and sweet things, it brings out the aromas of foods and it combats against the taste of bitterness (try adding a pinch to your coffee before brewing and your mornings will be forever changed). We, humans, adore the taste of salt because we need it (sodium) to live.

There are so many different varieties (click here to find out more) but even if you only pick one to have on hand (I suggest kosher or sea salt) remember to season in layers. Start off with a little, you can always add more, and watch how your food transforms!

What To Use It On: Everything. Simple as that.

Why I Can’t Live Without It: It makes all food taste better, what more do you want!

2. Black Pepper

First let me be a little unconventional here…while I mentioned above that you should put salt in everything, the same isn’t true for pepper. Black pepper has a pungent heat and surprisingly bold flavour but it doesn’t need to be conjoined to salt. I do use it a lot (hello, I’ve yet to meet a peppered steak I didn’t like) however it shouldn’t be added as an afterthought simply because you’ve added salt to a dish.

Have you ever wondered why it makes you sneeze? It contains piperine which is an irritant to your nose.

My advice is to use freshly ground black pepper instead of that fine powdery stuff. It has a more intense heat, and you use less of it. Try buying peppercorns and bashing them up in a mortar and pestle – best stress reliever.

What To Use It On: meats, pastas, maple and pepper bacon (recipe here)

Why I Can’t Live Without It: It just adds a depth of flavour that you miss when it isn’t there.

3. Paprika

A combination of dried and ground peppers (or as Hungarians would say paprikas) that can range from hot to mild. Depending on the peppers used it can be anything from a bright red to a light russet colour.

Used in cooking not only for it’s vibrant colour but for it’s earthy taste. It’s flavour really comes out when you cook it but be careful, it burns quickly and becomes bitter. Try it in it’s arguably most famous dish – chicken paprikas.

What To Use It On: stews, marinades, dressings, deviled eggs

Why I Can’t Live Without It: My grandma makes a Romanian version of chicken paprikas with dumplings and it’s one of my favourite foods of all time. Even after all these years, I still don’t make it taste as good as hers. The smell of paprika reminds me of her.

4. Oregano

A staple of Mediterranean cooking. Oregano is both bold and gutsy. It has a strong aromatic taste with citrusy notes and a slight bitterness.  It is best friends with garlic. Because it contains a number of essential oils, rub it between your palms to release them before adding to a dish. If you’re feeling adventurous, try tossing it over your shoulder too.

What To Use It On: fish, marinades, salad dressings, chicken, grilled vegetables, chilli

Why I Can’t Live Without It: I adore Greek dishes and oregano is featured in pretty much all of them. Here’s an amazing recipe for Greek salad.

5. Basil

The mother of all herbs in Italian cooking. The name itself means royal and I dare you to find an Italian Nonna that doesn’t use it in all her sauces. Go on, I dare you! It has a strong aromatic flavour, with hints of anise (that liquorice flavour that is found in fennel and Sambuca), and mint (it is part of the mint family after all).

What To Use It On: pasta sauces, pizza sauces, dressings, soups, all Italian food

Why I Can’t Live Without It: Evan loves Italian food. I love Italian food…enough said.

6. Cayenne Pepper

Named after the capital of French Guiana, this spice is the ground up version of cayenne peppers. These peppers are high in capsaicin which is responsible for that blow your head off fiery taste. Used sparingly it has a pleasant heat that rounds out many dishes.

Not only that, but it’s really good for you! It has anti-inflammatory properties as well as being and excellent source of vitamin A, E and C. It even provides dietary fibre!

Be warned though – when I was about 13 I made a pasta dish that called for 2 Tbsp of paprika, we didn’t have any in the house. The budding chef in me thought, I’ll just use cayenne instead. The result? An evening of coughing and spluttering, drinking milk and silently crying.

What To Use It On: meaty fish, stews, soups, Creole dishes

Why I Can’t Live Without It: I love spicy foods. I like the fact that it’s a powder so you’re not biting into a spicy red pepper flake. Used sparingly it’s delicious. Plus the health benefits are awesome too!

7. Curry Powder

Invented for the busy or novice cook. Curry powder is a combination of up to 20 different spices. Each brand is different so I urge you to try many in order to find the one you love. You can buy mild or spicy versions and if you love curries you need it in your life. (Have you read my Exquisitely Easy Eggplant Curry recipe?)

What To Use It On: curries (duh!), soups, roasting vegetables, curry sauce for your chips (wow, I never thought I’d become this British)

Why I Can’t Live Without It: It’s complexity of flavours, the fact that no two are alike and it’s versatility in the kitchen.

8. Rosemary

One of the most aromatic and fragrant herbs, rosemary has a lemon-pine flavour that works well with garlic and is often used in Mediterranean cooking. Its strong flavour also lends itself well to BBQd meats.

What To Use It On: lamb, dressings, roasted new potatoes.

Why I Can’t Live Without It: The smell of it reminds me of Christmas trees and while a little goes a long way, it adds a woodsy quality to dishes that I love.

9. Turmeric

A staple of Indian cuisine, it’s famous for it’s dark golden colour (often used in ball park American mustard to give it that distinctive hue). It’s mild and aromatic with a taste reminiscent of ginger (which makes sense as it’s part of the ginger family). This is another spice with many proven health benefits that you can read about here.

What To Use It On: eggs, rice, soup, anywhere you need a yellow colour (think nacho cheese)

Why I Can’t Live Without It: I love Asian cuisine and it plays a crucial role.

10. Garlic Powder

Now before you go and say anything, I know that fresh garlic is where it’s at. I’m not advocating that you use garlic powder instead of the fresh stuff. But I’m all for adding it alongside it. Or using it in dishes where you want the sweet, savory taste of garlic without the huge flavour that comes from fresh cloves.

What To Use It On: in dry rubs, in your gravy (it’s my secret ingredient),

Why I Can’t Live Without It: maybe it’s the Romanian in me (something about the need to ward off vampires) but I base my life on the following meme and the same is true for this powdered version.

garlic meme

Now that you have my list of 10 spices and herbs I can’t live without, stock up your spice cabinet and experiment with them next time you make a dish.


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