Eventually every cook winds up with dozens and dozens of herbs and spices—some that are used just one time, then left to gather dust for a few years until it finally feels okay to toss them. It takes a while to discover which ones are going to play a big, and ongoing, role in one’s cooking repertoire.
Herbs come from the leaves of non-woody plants. Spices come from roots, flowers, fruits, seeds or bark. In some cases the same plant yields both an herb and a spice. For example, the dill plant produces both dill weed (herb) and dill seeds (spice). But since they are all lumped together in a “spice rack” rather than an “herb and spice rack,” many of us just lump them together in our minds. That’s okay—even the American Spice Trade Association does!
Here is a list—in alphabetical* order—of 14 that might be considered the foundation of the spice rack:
- Bay Leaves
- Chili powder
- Cinnamon, ground
- Cloves, ground
- Cumin, ground
- Dill weed
- Ginger, ground
- Mace, ground
- Mustard, ground
- Nutmeg, ground
- Red Pepper Flakes
Add to your spice collection as you add to your recipe collection. Besides individual spices, there are spice blends that are very convenient to use. Since the only thing I make with coriander and cardamom is chicken tikka masala, rather than buy a whole bottle of each, I buy a garam masala blend that includes both. Thyme and sage are two that I need only as part of a poultry seasoning blend. As your collection grows, you’ll see the wisdom of keeping your herbs and spices in *alphabetical order.
You're right... Not all herbs and spices are needed in the kitchen, just buy and store you'll know you need it most. - mollie
So many recipes call for thyme, that I would like to give it a mention here in the comments. I go through a lot of parsley, too. Maybe serious cooks only use fresh parsley. How can we forget our buddy the pepper mill? Maybe since it's usually sitting out in easy reach that it really doesn't have a home in the spice rack. Thanks for the info about the differences and where these things originate from :) - Thyme?
Nutmeg should ALWAYS be freshly ground from whole nutmegs. Ground nutmeg is useless. Thyme is an essential; ground mace is not. All spices should be stored in tightly-sealed GLASS jars in the freezer for longest life. All seeds have natural oils that go rancid at room temperature and ruin the flavor. Fresh herbs are usually a lot better than dried (except oregano). No serious cook can live without a spice grinder! - STUKIN