What spice(s) can you absolutely not live without? Also known as the easiest pickle question ever...

I am making a spice rack for my mother for her birthday. I bought some small clamp top glass jars from Crate and Barrel so whole spices or ground will work. She has ground spices from stores that have been out of business for 15 years. I am looking for about 10-15 spices that you all just can't live without. And/or any spice blends that you like and what is in them. No family secrets, or responses that will get me killed after reading. Don't worry about salts. She has a salt gift set from Williams-Sonoma. Thanks.

  • Posted by: jjbski
  • March 15, 2011


PieceOfLayerCake July 23, 2017
I love me some cardamom. I use it all the time in baked goods and it adds a citrusy warmth to things without being heavy. It has a synergy with lemon and orange, in my opinion and has the ability to stand on its own when in a sweet baked good. I normally always add it to my cut-out sugar cookies. Its the spice people didn't realize that they liked!
Nancy July 23, 2017
Another way to approach this:
• omit a spice if the person hates/just doesn'the use it (even if it's a list of so-called essentials)
• include spices for a regional or national cuisine the gifted likes (for example epazote for Mexican, star anise and szechuan pepper for Chinese, za'atari or Bahar at blend for Middle East).
Nancy July 23, 2017
Gift recipient
(Not gifted)
foofaraw July 21, 2017
- Spice: nutmeg and ground ginger, great for savory and sweet food. White pepper - fruitier than its blacker cousin and indispensable for most Asian food. Smoked paprika. (Since this is for gift), 'true' cinnamon.
- Herb-y spice: thyme, rosemary, oregano.
- Not spice but indispensable for me and always in spice rack: iodized sea salt (elderly tend to lack iodine, even though it helps thyroid), and vanilla paste.
BerryBaby July 21, 2017
Celery seed, onion powder, freshly ground black pepper and sea salt...in that order.
Mandi L. July 13, 2017
Turmeric and saffron
Sadassa_Ulna April 13, 2011
Just curious as to what you ended up with for your Mom's gift . . .
AntoniaJames March 19, 2011
What does she like to cook? What does she like to eat? Answer those questions, then imagine yourself going up to the mountains for a week, where you'd be making those kinds of foods. What would you put in your suitcase to get you through the week? (Consider also breakfast and baking . . . the most likely there being cinnamon, nutmeg and/or allspice, etc.) Then -- for the killer touch for a gift like this -- give her thirty terrific recipes that use the herbs and spices you're thinking about giving her. (As you do the project, you might revise the list.) Now that would really be something. ;o) P.S. There are a couple of cookbooks with a spice theme to consider in this regard as well.
Denise March 18, 2011
A few of my favorites -- whole nutmeg, cardamom, and cinnamon.
AlexValich March 18, 2011
Here is my list...
Sea Salt
Ancho Chili Powder
Smoked Paprika
Garlic Powder

That's usually a safe bet for me
Summer O. March 17, 2011
Top 5 - Smoked paprika, cumin, sea salt, herbs de provence, nutmeg seed.
Couldn't B. March 17, 2011
The spices I use the most are cumin, cinnamon and curry powder. I also absolutely love smoked paprika.
Sadassa_Ulna March 16, 2011
Such a fun question, it sounds like this is all dried spices you are. . . "curating?" My top 15 votes (based on usage) for dried spices would be cinnamon, cumin, sweet paprika, bay, oregano, basil, rosemary, sage, nutmeg, clove, thyme, cayenne, ginger, cardamom, and coriander. I feel like I should do this for my mom too! Maybe you could write on little cards which spices you need to make your own blends (for garam masala, herbs de provence, Chinese fivespice, etc.)
aargersi March 16, 2011
You might also think about getting her a nutmeg microplane (and whole nutmeg) I use the heck out of cumin, assorted chili powders, whole coriander and fennel, brown mustard seed and ... well to be honest I probably have 40 tins and bags of spices and blends - do you have a Savoury Spice Shop nearby? That is BIG fun.
pauljoseph March 16, 2011
my favorite spice blends https://picasaweb.google.com/paulvj000/SpiceCompination#
Helen's A. March 16, 2011
Allspice & thyme....
healthierkitchen March 16, 2011
I use a lot of cumin, coriander and Aleppo pepper. Also turmeric.
SKK March 16, 2011
Berberé (or Berbere) is an Ethiopian spice mixture that is the flavoring foundation of Ethiopian cuisine. I fell in love with it while when I had the privilege of working in Ethiopia. Friends in Ethiopia supply me with it. Berbere uses are infinite!

http://www.congocookbook.com/sauce_recipes/berbere.html gives the following explanation:
"Berberé is made from a cupboard-full of herbs and spices, fresh-ground, pan-roasted, and then packed into jars for storage. Among Ethiopian cooks there are many variations of which spices and what amounts... Basic berberé is made by combining roughly equal amounts of allspice, cardamom, cloves, fenugreek, ginger, black pepper, and salt with a much larger amount of hot red (cayenne) pepper. The combination of fenugreek and red pepper is essential to berberé; while one or two of the other ingredients may be left out, the fenugreek and red pepper are must-haves. Milder berberé can be made by substituting paprika for some or most of the red pepper. Berberé is sometimes made as a dry spice mix, and is sometimes made with oil or water to form a paste."

drbabs March 16, 2011
Such great suggestions. I can only add za'atar (a blend of thyme, sesame seeds, sumac and aleppo pepper), grains of paradise and--a recent re-discovery for baking--allspice.
ChefJune March 16, 2011
Essentials in my dried spice rack include Herbes de Provence, Saigon cinnamon, Ras el Hanout, rubbed sage, celery seed, ground mace, Szechuan peppercorns, coriander, oregano, cardamom, bay leaves, crushed red pepper flakes. These days, most herbs are too easy to find fresh, and I like the fresh ones much better.
innoabrd March 16, 2011
Good quality black pepper is just so key. I use a lot of Aleppo pepper as well, gives a nice bit of zing and flavour without too much heat. I also consider Spanish pimenton, both sweet and hot, to be kitchen basics. I also think it important to have a decent Garam Masala on hand, preferably one that contains a bit of amchur. I use it on all kinds of dishes. Other basics: cumin, coriander, turmeric, cinnamon, nutmeg.
Anitalectric March 16, 2011
Coriander (my favorite), paprika, black pepper, cumin, Chinese 5 spice. Caraway is an unsung hero. Two recent additions I love are whole chipotle peppers and dried shiitake mushrooms!
cookinginvictoria March 16, 2011
In addition to some of the savory/sweet spices that have been mentioned above, I would be lost without ancho chile powder and chipotle chile powder in my spice rack.
sfmiller March 16, 2011
Top 10: Black pepper, red pepper flakes (or Aleppo pepper), nutmeg, cinnamon, cumin, mustard seed, dried thyme, bay leaves, mexican oregano, Spanish paprika.

Top 15: add allspice, coriander, cloves, curry powder, ground chipotle pepper
Anncal March 15, 2011
Garlic, basil, turmeric, ginger
zametkin March 15, 2011
garlic..hands down....is that a spice?
boulangere March 15, 2011
Salt: French grey sea salt, Himalayan pink salt, Kosher salt; green, white, black peppercorns; pink peppercorns, while not a true pepper, are great with fish. What a wonderful gift! And why not search food52 for some recipes to include with your final choices.
puresugar March 15, 2011
I'm lucky to have good crops of thyme, rosemary, oregano, and sage, (yay For FL!) I love to use fresh, but are also essential in my 'dried' rack. I think some lemon basil or Thai basil (if you can find these dried might be good, too. Always on hand: peppercorns, grains of paradise, whole fennel, bay, whole coriander, red pepper flakes, cayenne, smoked paprika, saffron, mustard seed, turmeric, and a fave curry mix. For baking, mostly: cinnamon (ground & sticks), vanilla beans or paste, cardamom (seeds & ground), whole nutmeg, whole allspice, ground ginger, cloves, lavender. I guess I have a lot of 'whole' spices in there; nice for infusing, but I also often use a mortar & pestle--that or a spice grinder might be nice to include if you think she's inclined. What a great gift idea!
adamnsvetcooking March 15, 2011
Bay leaf! I absolutely love it!
littleknitter March 15, 2011
Oh,, I always keep parsley, basil, rosemary, thyme, red pepper, tarragon, sage, herbes de provence, dill, mustard seed, cloves, bay leaves, nutmeg, cinnamon, and ginger on hand at all times.
ellenl March 15, 2011
Yes, google serious eats 10 spices to have in your pantry march 10.
ellenl March 15, 2011
See serious eats 10 spices to have--think it must be a Max Falkowitz column from last week.
littleknitter March 15, 2011
Thyme! It's insanely delicious and although it's a strong flavor it can still be used in so many ways. It brings back so many happy memories (the lawn at one summer camp I attended as a 5th grader was not grass, but a bunch of thyme...the food at camp was horrendous, so all the campers used to sneak outside, grab a handful of thyme and go back inside to the dining hall to sprinkle it on their food). Good times (err..thymes?)
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