13 Spices Everyone Should Have in the Cupboard
The Irish palette is changing. We are moving on from paninis and bagels to a much healthier diet as an influx of foreign foods and spices as well as cooking techniques are slipping into our world. The fitness craze, running, gyms etc is growing on a daily basis and so is the hunger to eat healthier, cook clean and be more adventurous in the kitchen. This is a most welcome change.
Cooking at home for a lot of people these days has been made easier with the amount of online recipes and youtube videos directing and helping people create healthier restaurant style meals in quick time. And with that has come an open mind and welcome to many different types of spices and herbs we are now using to create much tastier meals. Gone are the days of cheap salt and white pepper, well, almost.
Recently, a lot of Asian and African stores have opened up nationwide and these places for me are my go-to for nearly everything spice-wise I need to have in my cupboard. You can get nearly all the spices for cheap, and if you use jars (I keep and sterilize all my jam and honey jars to fill up with spices) you can build up a good collection.
Also, if possible, buy your spices whole and not in powder form, it’s not always necessary but with whole spices your spice is fresher and lasts longer (ground your own cumin seeds to see the difference between the seeds and the powder form) and you do not even need to buy a pestle and mortar; I bought a spice/coffee grinder from Argos for 20e and it is a brilliant tool for grinding spices from whole nutmegs to cinnamon sticks which brings us on too…
what spices to have in your cupboard. Apart from the obvious black peppercorns and seasalt, here are some spices to go buy and start a collection. Now, there is a whole world of herbs and spices out there, the majority of herbs are from local producers and a lot of spices imported, hard to choose them all of course, but here are some I love to use and if you have any you like to use, mention and share in the comments below.
1.) Turmeric – Turmeric may treat colon cancer, Alzheimer’s, sore throats basically everything if you are to believe the latest in research. Regardless of the many research papers out there, Turmeric has amazing health benefits, but it’s the flavour I love, the subtlety, the distinct mildness. I love it in root form and use it a lot, though the powder form is gorgeous too. Great in tea, curries, for colouring dishes, a must for any house hold.
2.) Cinnamon – I use this in nearly everything…such an addict. In tea, all over my breakfast, in curries, on ice-cream, in most desserts, in marinades and apparently it helps reduce blood glucose and bad cholesterol. You can buy it in stick form or powder, but it is a must, damn tasty.
3.) Paprika – Smoked or regular, paprika can be a spice associated with over use, yet used wisely it can be an amazing spice to use, especially in coating meats or veg or in sauces. Made from air-dried chili peppers and coming in mild, medium or spicy, it is rich in vitamin C and carotenoids and meant to be good for the skin. By eating…not rubbing.
4.) Saffron – Show me a chef that does not love saffron. The Assyrians wrote about it, the Greeks used it in scented water and perfume, and now the Iranians produce most of the worlds produce. Saffron has a distinct beautiful aroma with a light sweet-ish taste and is gorgeous in sauces when used correctly. Yes, decent saffron can be expensive but you can (and I do) buy the cheaper Spanish version which still works a treat. Saffron is said to have a therapeutic effect with some ancient Minoan frescos portraying its use as a drug hmm.
5.) Nutmeg – I love nutmeg in my porridge along with cinnamon. So good. It is used in many desserts because of its unique nuttiness and when put with potatoes, along with pepper; it really gives the spuds a gorgeous lift. Nutmeg is said to be good for the kidneys and liver as well as help with digestive problems. Buy the spice whole and grate it or use the spice grinder for full flavour.
6.) Cumin Seeds – or the powder form, either way, cumin is a monster of a spice. Versatile, sweet and sour, great with most savory dishes, exceptional in an apple pie (trust me) and perfect for curries. I prefer to buy cumin in seed form. You will get more use out of it this way as with a lot of Indian foods you need to use them whole. Pan roasted they are delicious. Very easy to make into powder using the spice grinder or pestle and mortar. Apparently, great for diabetics too.
7.) Mustard Seeds – come in black and white form but here I’ll be speaking about yellow seeds. Very similar in use to cumin seeds as in the process – you can roast them till they pop, grind them to powder form, use them to spice your dishes. Such a unique beautiful flavour, that just by roasting them you can change the flavour to make it more pleasant. Use them in curries, stir-fries, for coating meats and vegetables or to add to a pickling agent; very versatile and a must for the cupboard. High in protein and it makes a great oil (also made into a massage oil in parts of India to apparently keep the body warm.)
8.) Ginger – is used a lot these days, and this is a good thing because it has so many good properties and health benefits. I love grating it into my herbal tea along with a slice of lemon and re-using it. Ginger may be one of the most versatile of all spices. It can be used in both savory and sweet dishes, made into tea, used in soups, curries, stir-fries, pies, ice-creams…the list goes on. Great for colds and flues, and said to be able to fight cancer cells. I’m not a fan of the powder form though it has its uses. But as a root, what a distinct amazing piece of nature we have to use.
9.) Cardamom – How can such a small little pod when cracked have such a powerful beautiful scent? One of my favourite spices, an aromatic beast it is used in a lot of Indian cooking because of its sweet-spicy aroma and flavour but also used in baking especially in Scandinavia. Try cardamom ice-cream, it is outrageously delicious. Make sure to buy it in pod form as the ground cardamom soon loses its flavour. It is said to be great for heartburn and indigestion.
10.) Thyme/Rosemary/Sage – Three monsters of herbs, each distinctively different in flavour and scent, and all very versatile in use. Nothing beats buying fresh herbs, nothing. But, though I’m not a fan, the dried herbs unfortunately are still in use and for me, they are basically only useful for stuffings or marinades. But using the fresh herbs is a whole different matter. Apart from using them for marinade, meat and fish dishes, stocks, sauces, soups, the list goes on and on, these herbs work wonder with desserts, ice-creams and cakes etc. All have great health benefits, and you can easily grow them especially rosemary, so off with you and get planting.
11.) Chilies – Though I have a very low tolerance to chilies, I still love and appreciate the power and unique ability a chili has to change a dish. I buy different types of dried chilies which have different levels of strength and have built up a collection, using them for stocks, soups, broths, curries even desserts. You can also add chili flakes, cayenne pepper and paprika to your collection, all made from chilies as well as a good chili oil or hot sauce.
12.) Curry Powder – Yes, having a type of curry powder in your cupboard is essential and a must. As curry powder is a combination of many spices it all boils down to preference and taste, but always have a curry spice on hand. There is so much you can do with it and apart from the obvious of curries, you can coat meats, fish, potatoes, vegetables, sprinkle in and use in soups, ice-creams, the list goes on. Have a mild, medium and hot in your cupboard or better still, create your own. Curry powder is known to have anti-inflammatory benefits so get sprinkling.
13.) Bay leaves – When used correctly, bay leaves have an ability to add subtle character to the dish you are creating. Using the dried version and adding in a few can really bring a dish or sauce alive. They are also excellent for using in pickling or marinating. Bay leaves are said to help stimulate the appetite, reduce fatigue and assist with digestion as well as an excellent skin re-generator.
So, these are just a hand full of spices or herbs you should start adding to your cupboard. There are of course tons more. Slowly start building up a collection and you will have power on hand to up your game and make better dishes for you or if you want to impress. Go to a local store, I use the local Asian stores and buy them there. If you have any you like to use, mention them below. I’m always looking for new spice and herbs to add to my collection.
About the Chef
You wouldn’t know by looking at him, but Stephen Byrne likes to eat, a lot. He has cheffed worldwide; Canada, Australia, San Francisco, Dublin and now resides in Galway. Not afraid of the unhealthy appetite, he has a keen interest in simple whole foods, a love for Asian flavours and an awful sweet tooth. With years of experience, he will create weekly recipes of meals he devours regularly, and hopefully inspire people to cook at home and embark on a healthier lifestyle.
He writes on his site: http://therantingbeast.com/