Doctors and nutritionists are urging everyone to moderate their salt intake these days, and with good reason. But low salt and salt-free foods can be disappointingly bland.
If you’re looking for a way to add some zing to your food without upping the amount of salt you use, spices are the perfect way to do it.
Using spices doesn’t have to mean your food is ‘spicy’ – they’re meant to add flavour to your food, not burn your mouth from the inside out. And if you’ve got a collection of essential spices at home – plus a few more experimental blends – you’ll soon find out how much spice you like in your food and moderate quantities to suit your tastebuds.
Must-have spices for any kitchen
You’ve probably already got the number one spice for any home kitchen: black pepper. Whole black peppercorns freshly ground give off one of the best aromas in the world and can be added to virtually anything. If you’re not a fan of chilli, black pepper is the perfect way to add a kick to Indian, Thai and Chinese food. If bechamel features regularly in your repertoire, consider investing in some white pepper powder too to add a peppery hint to a white sauce without ruining its milky colour.
Cumin is another must-have spice. Cumin can be bought as whole seeds or already ground. If you’re grinding your own cumin, be sure to lightly toast the seeds in a dry frying pan before they go into the spice grinder. If you regularly make curries or Mexican dishes like fajitas, cumin is an essential ingredient in your kitchen.
Cinnamon can also be bought whole (in sticks or quills), or ready-ground. Probably the most Christmassy of all the spices, cinnamon is a versatile ingredient that can be used in sweet and savoury dishes. It can be overpowering though, so always err on the side of caution when throwing it into the pot.
If you’re keen on making soups and stews, make sure you’ve got a ready supply of bay leaves. Dried bay leaves are easy to find in shops but if you’ve got a garden – or even a sunny window ledge – investing in a bay tree will ensure that you’ll never run out of this warming, aromatic ingredient.
Fans of Spanish, Mexican and South American food should ensure that they are well stocked with cayenne pepper and paprika (sweet or smoked), both of which add a rich, red depth to dishes from these cuisines. And curry fans will need a few extras too, including fennel seeds, turmeric, cardamom seeds, coriander seeds and whole cloves.
Keen bakers will also require all-spice, vanilla extract and nutmeg. Some of these ingredients – particularly vanilla, cinnamon and cardamom – can be on the pricier side, but won’t need to be replenished regularly.
Where to find out more about spices
For more details on spices, The Kitchn’s guide to every spice in the cupboard is indispensable reading. And for some spice blend inspiration, The Spicery is a great website. You can buy spice blends and recipe kits from this online shop and there’s plenty to choose from, from a straightforward jalfrezi mix to the more unusual Ethiopian Doro Wat. You can also buy single herbs and spices in relatively small quantities, so it’s great for experimenting with new and unusual blends.
What are your favourite spices to cook with?