January 9, 2018

Must Have Spices For Great Flavour and Easy Meals

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Life can be busy, and time is limited! It is not always possible to look for inspiration and cook exciting meals every day. Keeping a stock of these basic must-have spices not only adds more flavour but comes handy to stir up some easy meals in minutes. 

list of must have spices for better cooking tips







Must Have Spices For Great Flavour and Easy Meals

Everyday meal planning …… few may find it helpful but for me it’s yet another thing to add to your to-do list.

You need to set a good 2 hours aside for searching new recipes, think about each meal you want to make every day of the week and write ingredient lists.

To avoid stressful cooking, many of us fall back to make dishes we are most comfortable with, like pasta, rice, soups and curries.

Of course, there is nothing wrong with this.

Our lives are too busy to cook fancy dishes every day, but monotonous cooking and same tastes do have a tendency to make mealtimes predictably less interesting!

On my quest to learn to make tasty food at home and add flavour to meals without much effort I discovered the simple technique of basic spices to have on hand to instantly enhance flavour and also add variety to your home-cooked meals.

There is no dearth of recipes to find these days with the internet swamped by food blogs and websites (including mine), cooking shows, magazines even newspaper publishing recipes.

You think of an ingredient, google it for recipes and voila …. there will be pages and pages for you to look at.

But sometimes it’s not just about following a recipe as you may not have all the listed ingredient to make a dish which can be rather frustrating.

Cooking or making a dish taste better is an intuitive way of cooking.

Intuitive cooking is when you start experimenting with combinations of ingredients to make something delicious without the need to always follow recipes.

The focus of this post today is to encourage intuitive cooking and change the way you cook.

These are my recommended list of 12 must-have spices to instantly jazz up your meals with better flavour and different dishes.

The 12 Basic Spices To Have In Your Kitchen Pantry

There is no magic or a set rule for good cooking.

Each of us has our own way of cooking and methods we use.

But there sure are tricks to make bland food taste better.

The one universal element of cooking is TASTE!

If the food you cook is tasty, it’s good cooking!!

Even if it involves adding the correct amount of salt! (which  BTW is extremely important to make food taste better instantly)

Seasoning is what makes food taste good.

We normally use salt and pepper to pep up our dishes.

Imagine if we broaden our scope of seasoning and bring in more exciting flavours ……. again in a dash !!???

You may already be using the basic two seasonings, aka salt and pepper! The more adventurous may also use a few other spices,

Through personal experience, these 12 have become the must-have spices in my kitchen.

They not only make it easier to elevate the taste of dishes but also help in cooking new meals at least once or twice a week without having to follow lengthy cooking procedures.

The idea is to start by adding just one spice each month of the year, (hence a 12 spice list)  and work with different suitable combinations before you introduce another spice!

Slowly but Surely these little culinary experimentations will change how you perceive spices and the way you cook with them.

So here is the list with cooking tips and recipes:

1. Nutmeg

nutmeg -whole-jaiphal-indian-spice buy indian spice online spiceitupp
Click image to buy nutmeg online

Nutmeg is a seed kernel used to flavour sweet and savoury dishes, popularly used in Middle Eastern, Indian and European cuisines. It is a delicate spice with a strong flavour.


Nutmegs are sweet-scented and pungent.

How to use Nutmeg

The popular form of nutmeg is the whole seed. You can freshly grate nutmeg with the help of a grater into the dish.

It can also be used to delicately enhance the flavour of meat dishes and sweet or root vegetables such as potatoes, carrots, turnip etc.

Compliments best with

Nutmegs go well with dairy products such as cheese sauce and is added to many desserts such as apple, rhubarb or pumpkin pie, custard, rice pudding etc.

Other warm and sweet spices such as cloves, cardamom, cinnamon

Recipes to Cook with Nutmeg

Roasted Squash 

Moroccan Meatball and Couscous Soup 

2. Italian Mixed Herb

Click image to buy Italian seasoning online

An Italian herb mix is a mix of dried Oregano, Basil, Marjoram, Rosemary and Thyme.

Just a sprinkle of a teaspoon or two of this mixed herb adds a rounded flavour to any pasta, fish and chicken dish.



How to use Italian Mixed Herb

Mixed Italian Herb is very easy to use. You simply need to add a few teaspoons directly to the dishes such as tomato-based sauce, cheese-based sauce.

You can also use it to make dressings, salads, stews, marinades and rubs.

Compliments best with

Pasta, fish, and white meat.

Also combines well with dairy and tangy based sauces such as tomato sauce, lemon garlic sauce etc.

Recipes to Cook with Italian mixed herb

Cranberry Roasted Chicken 

Garlic Parmesan Roasted Sweet Potatoes 

3. Chinese 5 spice

Click image to buy Chinese 5 spice online

Bring in an oriental twist to your meals by adding a bit a Chinese 5 spices to your meats and veges.

It is a popular Chinese base seasoning for many Chinese/Oriental dishes. It is made with a mix of different spices such as star anise, cloves, cinnamon, Szechuan pepper and fennel


This spice mix falls between sweet and pungent.

How to use Chinese 5 spice

Use the spice blend directly into the dish you wish to cook.

It makes a very aromatic rub and marinade for meats such as pork, duck and beef.

You can also use it as a seasoning for making fried rice, noodles, stir-fries and also broth of soup.

Compliments best with

Since it already has different blended spices, its best to combine the spice with sauces such as tomato sauce, soya sauce,  and other oriental sauces.

It enhances the flavour of meats, vegetables, noodles and rice.

Recipes to Cook with Chinese 5 spice

Slow Cooker 5 Spice Pork Roast 

Orange Spiced Salmon with Spaghetti Squash 

4. Cloves

Nelken-ganz-Gewuerzland-com-2 Cloves7 Buy Spices online Switzerland
Click image to buy cloves online

Cloves are the aromatic dried flower buds from the clove tree. Popularly used whole, ground cloves powder can also be used.


It has a very strong sweet and pungent taste.

How to use Cloves

Cloves can be used to make both sweet and savoury dishes.

Whole cloves are commonly used to flavour oil, sauces or to add flavour to broths and curries.

You can also use it for making barbeque sauces, soups and pickles.

Use cloves for pies,  dairy-based desserts and also drinks.

Compliments best with

Cloves go well with almost any type of ingredient and other spices.

Few of the best combinations are red meats, nuts, sweet vegetables such as pumpkin, carrots, sweet potato, peas.

The best spice combination is cinnamon, cardamom and bay leaves.

Recipes to Cook with cloves

Egg Curry In Cashew Gravy 

Molasses Crinkle Cookies 

Adding flavour with spices to make food taste better

5. Smoked Paprika

Click image to buy smoked paprika online

Also called ‘pimenton’ its an aromatic Spanish red paprika powder that adds a subtle smoky flavour to dishes it is used in.

It can range from mild to hot depending on the kind of heat you choose.


Sweet, smoky and hot

How to use Smoked Paprika

Add directly to the dish you, however like most spices do take care not to add too much to the dish as a small spoonful render strong smoky flavour to the dish.

It can be added to roast vegetables, all kinds of meat especially sausages and also eggs.

Add a pinch to dressings or sauces. Use in marinades, dips or soups.

Compliments best with

Red meat and vegetables such as potatoes, zucchini, aubergine.

It combines well with spices such as cloves, cinnamon and cumin powder.

Recipes to Cook with smoked paprika

Roasted Red Pepper Tomato Soup 

Moroccan Braised Chicken, Lentils, Smoked Paprika & Tomato

6. Cardamom

green- cardamom-elaichi-image-indian-spice-buy-online-spiceitupp - Copy
Click image to buy green cardamom pods online

Known as the queen of spices due to its high price and aromatic properties.

Its a flower bud and is popularly used in many cuisines.



How to use Green Cardamom

You can either use the pods whole, crushed or in powder form.

Green cardamom pods are used for curry, rice or even to flavour coffee in Arabic style.

It can be used to make both sweet and savoury dishes.

Simply add it to the dish to enhance flavour and aroma.

Compliments best with

Green cardamoms go well with almost any vegetable or meat.

This aromatic spice is great for flavouring dairy based desserts.

Recipes to Cook with cardamoms

Warli Style Traditional Indian Lamb Curry 

Mango and Cardamom Chia Seed Pudding

7. Taco/Fajita seasoning

Click image to buy taco seasoning online

Taco or fajita seasoning is a popular Mexican inspired spice blend easily available in any supermarket.

You do not have to stick to making fajitas or tacos with this seasoning but use it to make different kinds of dishes.

Its a mix of garlic powder, chilli powder, red pepper flakes, cornstarch, oregano, cumin powder and salt.


Pungent and hot

How to use Taco/fajita seasoning

This versatile spice mix can be used to make curries such as chilli beef, roast vegetables, pasta sauce, marinade, dips and even soup.

Compliments best with

It goes very well with tomato sauce, yoghurt, lemon, mincemeat, couscous, legumes and many vegetables.

You do not need to add any extra spice if you are using a taco seasoning.

Recipes to Cook with Taco/fajita seasoning

Chicken Fajita Pasta 

Portobello Fajitas 

 8. Kafir lime leaves

Click image to buy kafir lime leaves online

A zesty aromatic leaf of kafir lime trees, the leaves are used in South Asian cuisine.

It has a very strong aroma and used whole to add a deep fresh flavour mainly to curries and broth.


Aromatic and pungent

How to use Kafir lime leaves

You can either choose to cut the leaves or use whole in the dish and simmer for the leave to infuse their aroma.

Use it for making curries and flavoured broths for noodle soup.

Compliments best with

Chillies, ginger, shallots, fish and chicken.

Recipes to Cook with Kafir lime leaves

Red Thai Curry with Shrimp and Mango 

Thai Chicken Kebabs with Oriental Flavour 

9. Cajun seasoning

Click image to buy Cajun seasoning online

Similar to a taco seasoning but uses additional spices such as cayenne pepper, garlic powder, sweet paprika, dried oregano,  dried thyme, ground black pepper, onion powder.


Mildly hot and sweet

How to use Cajun Seasoning

Cajun seasoning can be used directly in the dish as a marinade for making rubs, dips or flavouring rice dishes

Compliments best with

Meat, chicken, fish, rice, legumes and almost all vegetables

Recipes to Cook with Cajun Spice

Cajun Spiced Flounder with Tomatoes 

Cajun Potato Salad 

10. Curry powder

Click image to buy curry powder online

Perhaps the most popular Indian spice mix used to make a basic curry. There is no set recipe for a curry powder mix but primarily has turmeric powder, cumin powder, coriander powder, ginger powder, curry leaves powder and chilli powder.


Hot and pungent

How to use Curry powder

Curry powder is added directly to the dish and is best when sauteed with other ingredients in oil to remove the strong raw smell of spices.

It can be used to make curries,  marinades or stir-fries.

Compliments best with

Whole spices such as cloves, cinnamon, cardamom, bay leaves

Goes with any kind of meat, vegetable, legumes, rice and rice noodles.

Recipes to Cook with curry powder

Singapore Noodles 

Coconut Curry Lentil Soup

11. Za’atar 

Za’atar spice blend buy International spices blends online
Click image to buy Za’atar online

Za’atar is a traditional Middle Eastern seasoning that typically includes a blend of dried thyme, oregano, sumac, toasted sesame seeds and salt.


Sweet and sour

How to use Za’atar 

Zaatar is used as a seasoning just like salt and pepper; that is,  it is added to a finished dish such as salads, steaks, bread.

You can also use it for making dips and rice-based dishes.

Compliments best with

Fish, chicken, any vegetable, olive oil

Recipes to Cook with za’atar

Mediterranean Vegan Wraps with Cauliflower and Tahini

Yogurt-Marinated, Grilled Za’atar-Rubbed Lamb

12. Flavoured Salt

Click image to buy flavoured salt online

When in doubt with lifting flavours instantaneously, add a dash of any flavoured salt to your dish.

There are many different kinds of flavoured salts available in the market these days such as garlic and herb salt, chilli salt, curry flavoured salt, Chinese salt etc.

How to use flavoured salt

Since it is a seasoning its best to add a dash of salt to the finished dish or while sauteeing and even directly in any broth or liquid used to boil to retain maximum flavour.

Add flavoured salt to salads, marinades for grilling or steaming, stir-fries and chips.

Compliments best with

A flavoured salt goes well with any vegetable, meat, chicken, fish or legumes, eggs.

Recipes to Cook with flavoured salt

Salmon Fillet with extra sea smoked sea salt

Assorted recipes using flavoured sea salt 

12 Must have spices to have in the kitchen and make food taste better

Where to Buy Spices From

Now that you have the list, where do you go looking for them?

All the 12 spices listed above can be bought from any supermarket near you.

If you like to avoid walking through the long shopping aisles and standing in checkout queues then its the online world of shopping for you.

In case it has slipped your attention, there is a direct link to buy the listed spices simply by clicking on them.

Or you can visit the British Corner Shop , search for your products and get everything delivered to you anywhere in the world!!


For US Readers

For more exciting meal ideas and a range of spices to buy, I wholeheartedly recommend Raw Spice Bar.


There a huge range of freshly ground spices, dips, herbs, flavoured salts and many more products that make cooking easy and flavour packed.

To Conclude 

Flavourful meals does not necessarily mean a lengthy ingredient list and hours of standing.

You can prepare exotic, great tasting food in minutes with this list of basic spices for cooking.

You do not need to buy all of them, just start with few and make some easy dishes.

It could be as simple as using them for a marinade, adding a spoonful to your casserole or stir fry.

Seasoning food is one of the first step to great cooking!

Let me know if you have been using any of the above spices already or other spices that you enjoy.

Share your favourite spice or trick you use to lift the flavours of your meals. It’s always fun to learn from others.

More Cooking Tips 

Cooking Spices – A 5 Step guide to cook with spices 
How to cook Indian food so that it tastes right each time 
Top 10 Spices to make 30 – minutes meal that feeds a crowd

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