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10 essential spices that every kitchen needs

Addie Broyles
Austin 360

If you could only have 10 spices (and herbs), what would they be?

I started thinking about this after writing about the Kemp family, which has been running Southern Style Spices since 1983. Ian Kemp is a second generation CEO whose parents founded the business because they fell in love with the flavors of Mexico and Central America. 

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Their company has been busy since the coronavirus pandemic began and everybody started cooking at home more. At the beginning of the pandemic, I did a huge pantry purge and then a few months later did the same thing with my spice cabinet. 

I'm always adding new spices, herbs and spice blends I find at various grocery stores, including those bulk sections where Southern Style Spices are sold, but I got to thinking, what if I could have only 10?

I made my own list and then called Ian Kemp to ask for his. They weren't that far off. 

1. Vietnamese cinnamon

2. Cumin

3. Smoked paprika

4. Garlic (fresh or granulated)

5. Oregano

6. Turmeric

7. Chile (or chili) powder

8. Herb seasoning blend (mix of basil, thyme and other herbs)

9. Onion salt

10. Tellicherry peppercorn

Ian's list starts with Vietnamese cinnamon, a high-oil cinnamon that might be the most fragrant of all of the options out there. Then cumin, smoked paprika and garlic (preferably fresh minced, but dried is OK, too). Kemp then specified a high-oil oregano, which, like the cinnamon, gets a boost in flavor from that extra oil. You can't have a spice cabinet without turmeric, an essential for curries, and chili powder. (If forced to choose between a chili powder blend and a straight ground chile pepper, like chipotle, Kemp says he'd pick the blend.)

Lastly, Kemp wants an Italian herb seasoning blend with dried basil and thyme, onion salt and Tellicherry peppercorn, an Indian peppercorn with "a bolder stronger bite to it."

I picked an almost entirely similar list, but instead of the onion salt, I picked ground coriander, which has become a go-to spice for me in recent years. I also wouldn't mind having ground ginger, but I prefer fresh. 

With all these individual spices, Kemp says there are countless spice blends you could make with them, "That's the fun thing about spices,' he says. "It's like an artists' palette. There's no limit. You can come up with so many things with all those colors, flavors and smells. It's really magical."

As a bonus, if you're stocking your pantry with oils and vinegars, here are my top five of both: 

Oils: 

Olive oil

Coconut oil

Grapeseed oil

Sesame oil

Ghee

Vinegars:

Red wine vinegar

White wine vinegar

Rice wine vinegar

Fish sauce 

Soy sauce