The Only 7 Spices You Need to Create a Million Flavor Combinations

Photo: Stocksy/Nataša Mandić
Salt and pepper are irreplaceable—but as creativity goes, we can do better. If you build a small kit of top spices designed for fast, healthy, and flavorful meals, you can expand your repertoire in the kitchen without buying so many that you end up tossing them before they expire. (Yes! Spices go bad!)

Kate Jenkins, MScN, blogger and home chef behind VeguKate, knows first hand what's it's like to try to whittle down a spice cabinet to the bare necessities. "I have so many spices. It's a bit embarrassing, but there are a few I return to again and again and again," she says, noting that she uses just seven often enough to merit buying in bulk.

The 7 top spices for healthy, tasty weeknight meals


"Cinnamon is my favorite spice of all time," says Jenkins. "I love cinnamon because it's considered a warming spice in Ayurvedic medicine and helps to boost circulation and improve digestion. I also am a fan of cinnamon for it's blood-sugar stabilizing abilities; so many studies have shown that consuming cinnamon with a high-insulin meal can help stabilize intense spikes and crashes." She sprinkles the aromatic spice in smoothies, in the batter of sweets, in oatmeal, and on top of sweet potatoes.


"Well, everyone and their mom now stocks turmeric in their kitchen—but for good reason! Turmeric is another warming spice in Ayurveda and is clinically studied to possess anti-inflammatory abilities. I love turmeric in golden milk, smoothies, sprinkled on chicken before grilling, and added to bone broth," says the blogger.

She's right. Turmeric has many benefits: 

3. Chili powder

"This is my go-to for more than just chili! I always look for a no-salt and no-sugar organic version and add to soups, stews, and marinades," says Jenkins.


Jenkins loves cayenne pepper in just about any dish. "It goes in practically everything I make! Cayenne tastes amazing in bone broth, soup, hummus, marinades, and sprinkled on top of eggs," she says. Ever wonder what is Tajín? Say no more. It's the tangy and hot condiment that spicy lovers need in their lives.


"Not only do I sprinkle dried oregano on pizza, but I put it in everything else, too. Oregano is my go-to seasoner for spaghetti sauce, soup, and all things Italian, and works wonders in salad dressings too. Plus, oregano contains antioxidants as well as trace amounts of vitamins C, E, and K, folate, vitamin B6, iron, calcium, magnesium, and potassium," says the blogger.


Chinese 5 spice powder is a mix of cinnamon, fennel, cloves, star anise, and white pepper.  "It's one of my top spices for marinades, some baked goods, soups, stews, curries, and on roasted sweet potatoes," says Jenkins.


"If I don't have fresh ginger on hand, dried ground ginger is a delicious option! I love it for its warming properties, endless recipe uses, and anti-inflammatory properties," says the blogger.

Here's what a dietitian thinks about ginger:

How to combine the very best spices for even more complexity

1. Cinnamon + Ground ginger + a dash of chinese Five spice powder

Jenkins says it's "warming blend" that's perfect for oatmeal, baked goods, pancakes, and smoothies.

2. Oregano + Chili Powder + cayenne

Mix these three together and you have the perfect chicken marinade.

3. ground giner + chili powder

Sprinkle these two on your salmon before roasting it for and omega-3-rich meal that smells as good as it tastes.

4. Turemeric + Oregano

Jenkins combines these two with a cauliflower (and a little ghee) for a side dish that keeps people coming back for seconds, thirds, and so on.

5. cinnamon + Cayenne

Sprinkle this paring on sweet potatoes and you'll end up with a smoky-sweet flavor.

6. Cayenne + Ginger + Cinnamon

For dessert, Jenkins loves to add these top spices to a cup of dark hot chocolate for a gourmet, rich twist that will send you to bed with very sweet dreams.

Now—go forth and make your own flavor combinations.

Cooking with veggies? Make sure to buy these varieties in the organic section: 

You can bring out the sweetness in veggies with this simple trick, and this spice gives cauliflower, broccoli, and more a hearty, meat-like flavor. 

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