Skip to main content

Get to Know Your Spice Rack

Contributors: Sharon Salomon, MS, RD

Reviewers: Academy Nutrition Information Services Team

Published: November 06, 2022

Reviewed: December 11, 2023

spices and seasonings
Svetl/iStock/Getty Images Plus/Getty Images

There are many delicious, fresh foods that require little tinkering with flavor. But, when it comes to lightening up recipes, it is important to understand how to keep flavor when reducing fat, sugar or sodium.

One way is through the addition of spices, herbs or other flavorings such as citrus juice or vinegars. Some dishes such as soups, stews, sauces and stir-fry recipes use chopped or diced aromatic vegetables — onions, garlic, shallots, scallions, leeks, peppers or celery — for a base flavor. Others add depth by adding seasonings such as herbs and spices to layer flavors.

How to Stock a Spice Rack

More intricate or advanced recipes may call for specific herbs and spices, but this list is a good place to start:

  • Ground black pepper (consider also having a pepper mill for freshly ground pepper)
  • Cayenne pepper
  • Oregano
  • Cumin
  • Garlic powder (not to be confused with garlic salt)
  • Onion powder (not onion salt)
  • Bay leaf
  • Curry powder
  • Thyme
  • Paprika (smoked paprika is an especially flavorful option)
  • Nutmeg
  • Turmeric
  • Clove
  • Cinnamon
  • Chili powder
  • Italian herb seasoning blend

3 Tips for Storing and Using Spices

  • Dried herbs do not always taste like their fresh counterparts, so they are not necessarily interchangeable in a recipe. But, in a pinch, try substituting one-part dry herb for three parts fresh.
  • Remember that dry herbs and spices have a shelf life. Most should not be kept for more than a few years, especially after they've been opened. Store dried herbs and spices in airtight containers and in a cool, dark cupboard or pantry.
  • Taste and season throughout the cooking process. It's better to under-season and add more spices, than over-season and be left with a ruined dish. Only add salt at the very end — you may find your dish doesn't even need it!

Find a Nutrition Expert

Looking for credible nutrition information and recommendations? The Academy of Nutrition and Dietetics' network of credentialed food and nutrition practitioners are ready to help!