Whether you're starting from scratch or trying to take stock of what you need, we've compiled a list of all the essential spice cabinet needs—plus, a few specialty splurges at the end.
December 04, 2015
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Time for a Spice Cabinet Makeover!
If you haven’t taken complete inventory of your spice cabinet in the last six months—and be honest, you haven’t—now’s the time. Whole spices stay fresh and potent for about a year; ground spices for six months. Start with the smell test: if their fragrance isn’t strong, or at least prominent, they’re stale and need to be replaced.
You’ll get the best flavor from starting with whole spices that you toast in a pan to boost their aroma and flavor, then grind in a dedicated spice grinder. Still, ground spices are convenient and important to have in your cabinet.
Buy spices in small amounts to reduce waste—you’ll rarely use an entire bottle of spice before it loses its potency. Keep them fresh longer by storing them away from light and heat. Here’s a roster to keep on hand.
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Salt and Pepper
Buy table salt for baking and savory recipes that call for it. Understand that there is a difference in size—and feel—between the grains of the major brands of kosher salt. It’s good to pick a brand (such as Morton or Diamond) and stick with it, so when you’re sprinkling it on food instead of using a measured spoonful, you’ll know by experience how much to apply.
Use whole peppercorns in a pepper grinder. Pre-ground pepper is flavorless in comparison and has unpleasant texture.
Splurge: Whole Nutmeg, Cinnamon Sticks, and Allspice Berries
The next few spices aren't necessary until you've built up your basic spice cabinet. Pick and choose the spices that will come in most handy for your everyday cooking. If you don't need a lot, remember to shop the bulk section so you can save money and prevent food waste.
Fresh grated nutmeg works wonders for potato gratins and egg nog. Whole cinnamon sticks and allspice berries are sometimes needed in braising liquids, pickling brines, and meat brines.