Maybe you’re setting up your first pantry, maybe you’ve decided to give up eating out or maybe you want to expand your culinary skills, but don’t know where to start when it comes to herbs and spices.

Herbs and spices bring food to life. With a little experimentation you’ll quickly learn how to go from bland to bold. You want to enhance the natural flavor of food. Many herbs and spices complement a dish and each other.  Avoid using too many at one time. You can experiment with the taste of different herbs and spices on something simple like eggs and you’ll know quickly what suits you.

As a starting point for you we’ve put together a top ten must have list. We hope this helps in getting you started.


Do yourself a favor and buy a pepper grinder. Fresh ground pepper is so superior. Once you try it, you’ll never go back. You can even buy disposable ones and they’re inexpensive.


Ginger has a sweet, slightly hot flavor. You’ll use it in Thai, Indian and Chinese dishes. You can buy it fresh or powdered. It may also help with nausea, heartburn and bloating.


Add this bright red spice to stews, soups, pasta sauces and meat dishes. It’s from the chili family so use sparingly.

Bay Leaves and Allspice

These two spices are often used together in soups, soup stocks and stews to enhance flavor. Allspice is also used in many cakes and cookies.


This is your go-to herb for Greek, Mexican and Italian dishes. Oregano means ‘mountain joy’. Just thought it was a fitting factoid. It adds a warm, balsamic and aromatic flavor to many dishes


This is a blend comprised mainly of chili peppers with other spices. Use it in chili con carne, sauces and stews. This spice increases in intensity as it cooks so use it carefully. It will also decrease your need for salt, if you’re trying to cut down.


Use nutmeg in vegetarian dishes, pasta sauces and baking. Add to smoothies for a sweet, nutty aroma.


Add basil to almost anything. It grows easily here on the west coast. Add it to salads, tomato or cream sauces. It has a strong, distinct flavor.


This is one of the most versatile spices. It can be used in cereals, warm milk, cakes, pies and marinades. Heat up apple juice with a cinnamon stick for a lovely drink.


This spice is used in Indian cuisine. It’s used for both flavor and its orange color. Turmeric is also known for its healing properties.

Spices and herbs release their flavors readily. In slow cooking dishes add these near the end of cooking time to maximize flavoring. If you’re mixing your own salad dressing, let it sit for several hours before using so that flavors blend.

Have fun experimenting. You’ll soon discover what works best for you. Just get started!