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What would you consider are your 6 essential spices?

I had some new friends over the other evening for dinner and they were amazed by my collection of spices. Truth be told, I have gone way overboard but it started a good dinner table discussion about what we would consider our 5 or 6 essential spices.

What do you think? What are your 5 or 6 essential spices? Please keep in mind I am inquiring about spices not salt, for example. I look forward to hearing the replies!

I have edited the question so herbs are not specifically ruled out but what my guests and I were discussing were spices.

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  1. Cumin, white pepper, garlic powder are my favorites. My generic mixes are cajun and garam masalas. I'll vacate the last spot for my favorite pepper of the moment.

    1 Reply
    1. re: carrytheone

      In order (most to least) of amount used:

      Cumin
      Paprika
      Cayenne/chile powder
      Allspice
      Cardamom
      Pepper

      Cinnamon deserves an honourable mention.

    2. Cinnamon, Nutmeg, Allspice, Cloves, Chili Powder, Curry Powder; and pretty much in that order.

      Okay, separate list for herbs: Thyme, Rosemary, Basil, Oregano, Tarragon, in no particular order.

      I couldn't possibly winnow these 11 down to six.

      1. So tarragon, sage and dill won't count because they are herbs? If not, I favor chipotle powder, garlic powder (although I usually use fresh), cayenne, white pepper, Rendezvous seasoning from Memphis, and Penzey's sweet and hot curries.

        3 Replies
        1. re: Veggo

          I like fresh garlic and powdered. I'm weird like that.

          1. re: Veggo

            Veggo, I edited the query. It is interesting that you mentioned dill because that can be either a spice (dill seed) or an herb (dill weed).

          2. I'm glad you clarified that "spices" didn't include herbs and salt.

            Hmmm...

            Pepper
            Cinnamon
            Cumin
            Paprika
            Cardamom (not essential except for the fact that I love it)
            And one good curry blend

            I was going to say cayenne, except then I realized I could get along without cayenne or red pepper flakes if I had hot sauce.

            3 Replies
            1. re: Ruth Lafler

              I almost put cardamon in my list but as you say, not an essential in my kitchen. Just a lovely spice.

              1. re: carrytheone

                From discussions I've read on this board, it seems that cardamom is one of those flavors you either love or you hate. I wonder if it's genetic, like loving/hating cilantro.

              2. re: Ruth Lafler

                Based on that list my spice drawer must look a lot like yours.

                Just have to add "nutmeg" since I use it often in sauces and such.

                Pepper and paprika: I have more than one variety.

                I like to buy my spices "whole" and grate/grind as needed.

              3. Cumin, cinnamon, ancho chile powder, cardamom seed, smoked paprika, black pepper .

                1. Ground cloves and ground cinnamon definitely #1 & #2 for their awesome antioxidant qualities...turmeric #3, dried leaf oregano #4, cumin & chili powder 5 & 6 for sure!

                  1. Cumin, coriander seed, nutmeg, pepper (black would be most used - but white & chipotle I use frequently), vanilla bean, mustard seed.

                    Hmm - guess my choice shows I'm more of a pickle maker than a baker!

                    1. In descending order:
                      Pepper
                      Fennel seed
                      Cumin seed
                      Nutmeg
                      Cinnamon
                      Cardamom

                      Herbs

                      Basil
                      Tarragon or Mexican mint marigold
                      Sage
                      Oregano
                      Thyme
                      Bay leaf

                      1. Tumeric
                        Black pepper
                        Garlic powder
                        Cumin
                        Saffron
                        Curry powder
                        These are must haves. Hard not to list other spices used in recipes including ginger, cardamon, cinnamon,allspice.

                        1. Black tellicherry pepper, the really spicy chinese cinnamon from penzey's, sweet spanish pimenton, and tumeric.
                          I most often use fresh herbs, especially cilantro, and i have more kinds of salt than i do spices in my cabinet.....!

                          1. Cumin, paprika, chili powder, curry, pepper, garam masala.

                            3 Replies
                            1. re: letsindulge

                              I love, love, love garam masala. I don't use it often, but I do love it... especially sprinkled on sweet potato pie. Mmm...

                              1. I go through obscene amounts of sweet paprika, dried dill weed, cumin, Aleppo pepper, Vietnamese cinnamon, and whole nutmeg.

                                If I rounded it out to a top 10, I would include ajwain seed, bay leaves, dried thyme, and toasted onion powder.

                                1. Pepper
                                  Cumin
                                  Coriander
                                  Nutmeg
                                  Paprika (pimenton)
                                  Turmeric

                                  1. I guess that more often than not, I am either cooking something with a Mexican bent or a French bent. So the spices are garlic powder, chili powder, cumin, fresh cilantro, fresh basil, fresh tarragon, and thyme.

                                    Lots of the dishes which I cook are not identifiably from either country, but these are my "go to" spices.

                                    1. Smoked paprika
                                      Cumin
                                      Curry powder
                                      Turmeric
                                      Pepper
                                      Chili powder

                                      1. Black pepper
                                        Garlic powder
                                        Cinnamon
                                        Nutmeg
                                        Cumin
                                        Cayenne

                                        1. Black pepper
                                          Red pepper flakes
                                          Chile powder
                                          Cinnamon
                                          Cumin
                                          Coriander

                                          1 Reply
                                          1. re: firecooked

                                            This^^^ though I think I'd sub out nutmeg for cinnamon.

                                          2. Daily: Cinnamon, pepper, ginger, turmeric

                                            There are 2 large drawers of herbs and spices that get used regularly from baking to savoury dishes. Our diet is pretty global, so narrowing it down to 5 or 6 essentials is impossible. Just as an example, last week I used: star anise, fennel, saffron, Italian oregano, Mexican oregano, basil, cayenne, bay, thyme, parsley, tandoori masala (home blended), cumin, kashmiri chilis, espelette pepper, cinnamon, ginger, turmeric, nutmeg, rosemary, cilantro, mint, sawtooth herb, coriander, garlic, paprika, cardamom, chipotles, mustard (brown and yellow), vanilla beans...you get the picture.

                                            When I can get snappingly fresh produce, sometimes it's nice to simply taste the fruit/veg on its own, but most of the time we love a little spice.

                                            1. I am amazed to see all the cinnamon lovers out there. I use quite a bit myself but would have trouble claiming top 6 usage.

                                              2 Replies
                                              1. re: carrytheone

                                                Ground cinnamon is so easy to add to my blended up dark berries for breakfast 4-5 times each week...and also to my oats on the "other" breakfast days. Also lovely on a baked sweet potato!

                                                1. re: carrytheone

                                                  unlike a lot of spices cinnamon is great for sweet and savory (so is cardamom, cloves and nutmeg - but cinnamon is more popular) so I can totally see how it dominates everyone's list. I make a lot of Syrian food and boy do they love cinnamon in everything

                                                2. Great topic. It's really hard to narrow the list down to top 6. Here is probably what I use the most, in descending order:
                                                  Black pepper (Tellicherry)
                                                  Cinnamon
                                                  Paprika (Hungarian)
                                                  Chipotle chile powder
                                                  Nutmeg (whole)
                                                  Caraway seeds

                                                  1. In order of volume...

                                                    Cumin, freshly ground black pepper, paprika, granulated garlic, red pepper flakes, and cinnamon and cardamon (which get used for both savory and sweet)

                                                    For dried herbs, it would be thyme, bay leaf, rosemary, oregano.

                                                    1. MSG
                                                      Sumac
                                                      Horseradish Root
                                                      Pepper
                                                      Five Spice

                                                      5 Replies
                                                      1. re: ipsedixit

                                                        Great list, ipsedixit. I am wondering though why you included MSG. From my understanding, MSG is not a spice or even more broadly an herb. I thought MSG otherwise known as Monosodium Glutamate is a salt of the amino glutamic acid family and definitely not a spice or even a herb.

                                                        1. re: Fowler

                                                          I use MSG like I would most dried spices.

                                                          That's why I include, and consider, it as a spice.

                                                          In many ways, to me, it's the ultimate spice.

                                                          1. re: ipsedixit

                                                            No worries. If you consider MSG a spice I have no issue at all. I am sure there are plenty definitions of what is or is not a spice. I was just thinking along the more traditional terms and you referenced something outside of what some consider a spice. Nothing wrong with that and thanks for your list.

                                                        2. re: ipsedixit

                                                          How do you use horseradish root? I bought one on impulse and it is sitting there waiting to be used.

                                                          1. re: tcamp

                                                            Peel, shave into thin slices (either by hand/knife or mandolin) and mince.

                                                            In other words, grate it.

                                                        3. Sri Lankan "roasted curry powder" (the foundation of which is a 10:5:1 mix of roasted ground coriander seeds, roasted ground cumin seeds and roasted ground fennel seeds)

                                                          Dried chile (cayenne) powder and chile flakes

                                                          Whole cinnamon, cloves and cardamom

                                                          Ground dried turmeric

                                                          Mustard and fenugreek seeds

                                                          3 Replies
                                                          1. re: d_doubleyew

                                                            Do you make the roasted curry powder yourself or is that something you purchased? I would love to have something like that in my spice collection.

                                                            1. re: Fowler

                                                              Yes, I make it myself. Just pan-roast the whole spices separately until dark and fragrant, let cool and then grind separately before mixing together in the proportions listed.

                                                              The prepared curry powder mixes will not only use different proportions but will frequently have other spices like cardamom, cinnamon etc. I prefer to add whole cardamoms and cinnamon when cooking savory dishes.

                                                            2. re: d_doubleyew

                                                              Sri Lankan roasted curry powders don't all have the same ingredients or the same ratio of ingredients. There are huge variations. Unroasted curry powders likewise have significant variations.

                                                            3. Powdered mustard
                                                              tarragon
                                                              marjoram
                                                              paprika
                                                              Eryngium foetidum (culantro - I have to grow it in my garden because it's rarely available in the market)

                                                              1 Reply
                                                              1. re: i_am_Lois

                                                                If I didn't have to count black pepper, mustard would be in my top six too!

                                                              2. surprised thyme didnt make most lists. consider it key.

                                                                4 Replies
                                                                1. re: hyde

                                                                  I decided to limit my post to spices, not herbs.

                                                                  Thyme would always be in my top six herbs. I grow several - as with all of the herbs I have in the garden, they are planted in amongst the specifically decorative plants.

                                                                  1. re: hyde

                                                                    Thyme is my favorite herb/spice, but I can't claim to use it all that often.

                                                                    1. re: hyde

                                                                      Thyme is one of my top herbs! I grow several varieties and use it frequently. I stuck with just listing spices - which was a challenging exercise!

                                                                      For herbs my top 6 would be bay, marjoram, basil, thyme, parsley and cilantro. Oregano is a very close runner up.

                                                                      It was tough to leave fennel off of my spice list.

                                                                      1. re: hyde

                                                                        I use it a lot but almost always fresh.

                                                                      2. Spices:
                                                                        Cinnamon
                                                                        Cumin
                                                                        Chile powder

                                                                        blends:
                                                                        Garam masala
                                                                        Five Spice

                                                                        herbs:
                                                                        Tarragon
                                                                        Dill
                                                                        Oregano

                                                                        Intentionally omitted - black pepper, thyme

                                                                        1. I enjoy using a variety of herbs and spices-
                                                                          pepper-different varieties including long and pink,green,white,black peppercorns

                                                                          paprika-Hungarian and smoked
                                                                          chiles
                                                                          onion
                                                                          garlic
                                                                          pickling spices
                                                                          basil
                                                                          thyme
                                                                          oregano
                                                                          chervil
                                                                          tarragon

                                                                          1. Like others, it is really hard to just pick a few!

                                                                            I use all the "standard" herbs and spices, but I also consider a few other ones necessary (essential) for the foods I cook daily or weekly:

                                                                            asafetida
                                                                            Shrimp powder
                                                                            Dried chili powder
                                                                            Achiote
                                                                            Coriander
                                                                            Black cardamom

                                                                            These dried items really have no substitute, and leaving them out, would really change the dish significantly.

                                                                            1. At a guess, and in no particular order:

                                                                              Garlic
                                                                              Cumin
                                                                              Powdered chile (at least a couple dozen different chiles)
                                                                              Italian parsley
                                                                              Oregano
                                                                              Cilantro

                                                                              PS--Didn't include black pepper because I consider it every bit as much a given as salt.

                                                                              1. Turmeric (you can't say "curry powder" because that's a blend of many spices)
                                                                                Black pepper
                                                                                Chilli powder
                                                                                Garlic
                                                                                Cardamom (just because I love the way it smells and tastes)
                                                                                Cloves (good for toothache in a post-apocalyptic world)
                                                                                On the herb side WHAT ABOUT MINT?

                                                                                1. Aside from salt and pepper-

                                                                                  Cumin
                                                                                  Oregano
                                                                                  Granulated garlic
                                                                                  Onion powder
                                                                                  Paprika
                                                                                  Thyme

                                                                                  5 Replies
                                                                                  1. re: monavano

                                                                                    Salt doesn't count as a spice as it is inorganic. Noone (including me) so far has mentioned mustard even though it is the second most used spice in the world (after pepper).

                                                                                      1. re: meatn3

                                                                                        My bad - I must have switched off before I got to you. You also picked vanilla - which is a good pick

                                                                                        1. re: kagemusha49

                                                                                          :-)

                                                                                          No problem...if we retained everything we read on CH there would be no brain space left for anything else!

                                                                                    1. I just have a general question for those who have listed "garlic" and "ginger".

                                                                                      Are you referring to the powder form of garlic and ginger, or the fresh iteration of those items?

                                                                                      Because if the latter, the I don't really consider either fresh garlic or ginger as "spices" per se, but more like ingredients.

                                                                                      If the former, then I just don't get using them in powder form. Ever.

                                                                                      3 Replies
                                                                                      1. re: ipsedixit

                                                                                        To a large extent I'm in agreement. But ground ginger is a great ingredient in baking. I have many cake and cookie recipes where fresh ginger would yield a very different result.

                                                                                        1. re: meatn3

                                                                                          As an ingredient in baking is pretty much the only time I use ginger powder. Otherwise, always fresh.

                                                                                        2. re: ipsedixit

                                                                                          I consider fresh garlic a spice because it I use it to flavor rather than to be eaten for its own sake.

                                                                                          I also use garlic powder without qualm or shame.

                                                                                        3. Mine are

                                                                                          chilli powder (as in ground red chilli peppers)(I go through about 250 grams or 1/2 a pound a month)
                                                                                          black pepper
                                                                                          turmeric
                                                                                          cinnamon - and by cinnamon, I mean Cinnamomum verum, not C. cassia, which is sold as cinnamon in most of the world and which I'm allergic to.
                                                                                          cumin
                                                                                          coriander

                                                                                          1. Considering what I use daily I think I get the most mileage out of:

                                                                                            Cumin
                                                                                            Coriander
                                                                                            Allspice
                                                                                            Aleppo pepper
                                                                                            Cardamom

                                                                                            I do a fair amount of South Asian and Middle Eastern cooking so I have need of several more spices if I want to cook with any breadth, but these five can get me through most of the mainstays of my repertoire.

                                                                                            1. In order of use in my kitchen:

                                                                                              black pepper
                                                                                              thyme leaf
                                                                                              oregano
                                                                                              basil
                                                                                              onion powder
                                                                                              Old Bay

                                                                                              1. Black peppercorns
                                                                                                Cayenne
                                                                                                Hungarian hot paprika
                                                                                                Oregano
                                                                                                Rosemary
                                                                                                Thyme

                                                                                                1. My go-to spices that appear in almost everything are

                                                                                                  black pepper
                                                                                                  ground coriander (I never use the leaves but the powder is essential)
                                                                                                  smoked paprika
                                                                                                  onion powder
                                                                                                  garlic powder
                                                                                                  and ground oregano

                                                                                                  DH doesn't like curry so I use very little cumin/turmeric etc.

                                                                                                  And for baking:
                                                                                                  cinnamon (by the quart)
                                                                                                  nutmeg
                                                                                                  ground cloves
                                                                                                  allspice
                                                                                                  pumpkin pie spice
                                                                                                  ginger

                                                                                                  1. This is tough! Probably:
                                                                                                    smoked paprika
                                                                                                    cinnamon
                                                                                                    cumin
                                                                                                    red pepper flakes
                                                                                                    allspice
                                                                                                    a curry blend (yes, I realize this is not a single spice, but it's stored in a single container in my spice cabinet, so I'm including it)

                                                                                                    1. 1. Smoked paprika
                                                                                                      2. Chili powder
                                                                                                      3. Cumin
                                                                                                      4. Nutmeg
                                                                                                      5. Oregano

                                                                                                      1. 1cumin
                                                                                                        2garlic powder I use fresh but always add some of the powdered. Same with onion powder
                                                                                                        3onion powder
                                                                                                        4thyme
                                                                                                        5 oregeno
                                                                                                        6 red chilli flakes
                                                                                                        I know that is 6 but I had to add it.

                                                                                                        1. I am Indian, so cumin, coriander, black pepper and red chile powder are no-brainers. With these, I can make simple chicken curry, chhole, rajma, that sort of thing.

                                                                                                          That leaves me with two slots. I guess I'll go with cardamom for one of them -- I should have at least one of the three essential garam masala spices (the others being cinnamon and cloves). Besides making savory dishes aromatic, I use cardamom in tea and desserts.

                                                                                                          For my last slot, turmeric would be an obvious choice, except that I don't really use it all that much. So I guess I'll go with smoked paprika, because I've been putting that stuff on everything lately.

                                                                                                          1. smoked sea salt
                                                                                                            coarse mixed peppercorns
                                                                                                            fine white pepper
                                                                                                            saffron
                                                                                                            five spice
                                                                                                            star anise

                                                                                                            2 Replies
                                                                                                            1. re: alliegator

                                                                                                              Great list, alliegator. But no Czech spices for Pap? :-)

                                                                                                              I know you are going through a tough time but I really hope you are making the best of it. You are a good person and I think you will get through it relatively unscathed.

                                                                                                              Saffron would be on my list as well but it is so darn expensive!

                                                                                                              1. re: Fowler

                                                                                                                Thank you kindly Fowler. It takes a lot to wipe off my silly grin :D
                                                                                                                The pepper comes into play for Czech food. It's a relatively spice free cuisine, save for some paprika. I've got plenty of that on hand, too!
                                                                                                                Saffron is a must have $plurge for me. I get grumpy without some sunny saffron every so often ;)

                                                                                                            2. Black pepper, white pepper, cumin, cinnamon, smoked paprika, fennel seeds (or fennel pollen).

                                                                                                              Runners up would have to include: ground cloves, whole nutmeg, red pepper flakes, saffron, and curry powder.

                                                                                                              1. Ok, without having looked at the responses so far...

                                                                                                                I'll include chili powder because it's easy

                                                                                                                black pepper (in all its variations) is an easy second,

                                                                                                                cumin could be my third spice (is there a pattern here?)

                                                                                                                1. I can't get it down to that few. It's just impossible.

                                                                                                                  1. cumin
                                                                                                                    paprika
                                                                                                                    cinnamon
                                                                                                                    dry mustard
                                                                                                                    Pepper (white and black)
                                                                                                                    cayenne

                                                                                                                    1. Cumin
                                                                                                                      Coriander
                                                                                                                      Turmeric
                                                                                                                      Fenugreek
                                                                                                                      Cinnamon
                                                                                                                      Pepper

                                                                                                                      1. I see some are including an herb list, so I'll throw mine in. I enjoy growing my own, so much fun!
                                                                                                                        cilantro (and lots of it)
                                                                                                                        standard issue basil
                                                                                                                        holy basil
                                                                                                                        mint
                                                                                                                        flat leaf parsley
                                                                                                                        dill

                                                                                                                        5 Replies
                                                                                                                        1. re: alliegator

                                                                                                                          Alliegator, You and I live in totally different climates so growing cilantro has never worked out for me. Even on the odd years when it will grow, it bolts within a few weeks and is done/dead for another two years.

                                                                                                                          If you like oregano, I would imagine that would really grow well in your climate.

                                                                                                                          1. re: Fowler

                                                                                                                            I will have to admit, I'm pretty lucky in the growing climate department. When I've been less lucky in that area in the past, the cilantro looks pretty battered in the stores:(
                                                                                                                            I don't have any oregano, but I should give it a go, one of my garden boxes happens to have a vacancy.

                                                                                                                            1. re: alliegator

                                                                                                                              That's funny -- here in HV, oregano grows wild everywhere. We have shit tons in our front lawn, having never planted it.

                                                                                                                              1. re: linguafood

                                                                                                                                No $hit. I had no idea. But, I wasn't a cooking person in those days. I'll have to ask my dad about this. He will utilize anything free in any way possible.

                                                                                                                                1. re: alliegator

                                                                                                                                  Alliegator, I have no idea where "HV" is, but oregano definitely does not grow wild everywhere else. It should be easy to grow in your climate though if you plant it.

                                                                                                                        2. Black Pepper
                                                                                                                          Cinnamon
                                                                                                                          Granulated Garlic
                                                                                                                          Parsley
                                                                                                                          Red Pepper flakes
                                                                                                                          Celery Seed

                                                                                                                          NEVER list:
                                                                                                                          Old Bay
                                                                                                                          Onion Powder
                                                                                                                          Cilantro
                                                                                                                          Ginger

                                                                                                                          1. Cumin
                                                                                                                            Smoked paprika
                                                                                                                            Ground coriander
                                                                                                                            Chile powder (right now I've got California)
                                                                                                                            Granulated garlic (for rubs, mostly)
                                                                                                                            Garam masala

                                                                                                                            1. Black Pepper
                                                                                                                              Star Anise
                                                                                                                              Allspice
                                                                                                                              Cumin
                                                                                                                              Lemongrass
                                                                                                                              Cassia

                                                                                                                              1. Great subject Fowler.

                                                                                                                                - Smoked savina pepper
                                                                                                                                - Cumin
                                                                                                                                - Chipotle pepper powder
                                                                                                                                - Tellicherry black pepper
                                                                                                                                - Saffron
                                                                                                                                - Smoked hot paprika

                                                                                                                                1. Black pepper
                                                                                                                                  Fennel seed
                                                                                                                                  Cumin
                                                                                                                                  Cinnamon
                                                                                                                                  Chile powder

                                                                                                                                  1. Peppercorn,
                                                                                                                                    Ginger,
                                                                                                                                    Garlic,
                                                                                                                                    Dried fish powder
                                                                                                                                    cumin,
                                                                                                                                    star anise,
                                                                                                                                    fennel (more like for snack as candy fennel :P)

                                                                                                                                    http://4.bp.blogspot.com/-FkOU9kVXWV0...

                                                                                                                                    5-spices mix -- if we count mixed spice.

                                                                                                                                    1. Black peppercorns
                                                                                                                                      paprika
                                                                                                                                      chili flakes
                                                                                                                                      garlic salt
                                                                                                                                      curry powder
                                                                                                                                      chilli powder

                                                                                                                                      2 Replies
                                                                                                                                      1. re: petek

                                                                                                                                        Hmm, I completely forgot about dry chili pepper as spices.