A Guide To Spices!

When stocking a kitchen, a good selection of spices and herbs is essential. However, if you ask anyone what the essential spices you should stock in your kitchen are, you are sure to get a different opinion from everyone. When checking out lists for essential spices, every list is different, and the spices you stock in your kitchen should be dependent on your style of cooking and what best serves your needs.

Fresh means flavour!

That being said, the most important thing is to ensure that your spices are FRESH! Spices and herbs will lose their colour, taste and aroma over time. Store herbs and spices in a cool, dry place, in airtight containers to protect against moisture and preserve the natural oils that give the spices their unique flavours! The shelf life of each herb and spice is different, so be sure to check them regularly -- they should look fresh (not faded) and should have a strong aroma!

Essential spices you may want to stock in your kitchen include:
Peppercorns A staple in every pantry. Grind whole peppercorns to ensure maximum flavour.
Oregano A robust, versatile spice common to Mediterranean foods; rub between palms before using to release more flavour.
Cloves Peppery, with sweet undercurrents.
Cayenne Pepper A hot pungent powder mix of several types of chilies.
Ginger A mildly flavoured spice that adds zing to recipes. Said to have strong medicinal uses.
Cinnamon Used especially in baking and curries.
Nutmeg Use to add a sweet nutty flavour to foods -- especially baked goods and desserts.
Thyme Features a fresh, lemon aroma; good with meat and poultry.
Paprika Available in sweet, smoked or hot; a red pepper known for its sweet yet warm undertones.
Basil A mix of flavours including clove, peppery-mint and anise-like aroma, particularly popular in Italian cuisine.
Rosemary Part of the mint family; with lemon and pine undertones.

Interested in learning more?

Read Chef Rob's May 2007 article:
Herbs – A Cook’s Best Friend

Spice Facts

  • According to the American Spice Trade Association, a spice is defined as “any dried plant product used primarily for seasoning purposes.”
  • Many define spices (as differentiated from herbs) as fragrant, aromatic plant products like cinnamon, cloves, ginger and pepper.
  • The spice trade is said to have originated in the Middle East around 2000 BC.
  • Historians estimate that the first spice introduced to Europe was nutmeg, in the 6th century BC.
  • Statistics indicate that India produces 86% of the world’s spices.
  • The average person consumes about 4500 mg of salt per day (approximately 2 teaspoons); the human body requires only about 200 mg per day!
  • Garlic is a member of the lily family!
  • If your spices lose their flavour, try rubbing them between your fingers to refresh.
  • All spices should be stored in a cool, dry place -- away from the stove, microwave or exhaust fan!
  • Pepper makes up about 1/4 of the world’s spice trade production.
  • Cream will whip better if you add a pinch of salt!