What you should have in your cupboard, how to store and when to use

I research an essential guide to spices & pairing with food because I realised how little I knew!

It’s been a bit of learning curve for me over the years, understanding the mind-boggling number of spices on offer and how to use them.

I’ve been lucky enough to travel and experience incredible spice markets and souks which have rich histories steeped in spice trade like India, Mexico and the United Arab Emirates.

But back home, I rely on my favourite little local shop, Peppers World Foods, in Dartmouth.

I often wander in, searching for a spice I’ve never heard of and like something out of the Matrix, they swiftly and ninja-like find it amongst their wall to wall spices.

Not only have a learnt from markets and specialised shops over the years but the good old inter-web is packed full of ideas and information on spices including Spice Inc who’s website is jammed packed with info.

So, now that I’ve begun this little spice journey and my kitchen drawers are overflowing now with amazing fragrances, I thought I’d start to share some of my faves with you.

I’ve been digging around for you to find simple tips on how to use them with different meats to enhance and intensify flavours.

Which leads me to a nice spice rub to marinade recipe you might want to check out, below, if you’re doing a lamb dish.

An essential guide to spices & pairing with food


All these spices that can be added to beef before cooking or added to braising pots, stews, curries and casseroles.

  • Cumin: Earthy, nutty flavour, it comes from the Middle East and the Med. Use it in stir-fry’s, chillies, marinades, stews.
  • Cinnamon: Good for both sweet and savoury dishes. Use in rubs and stews.
  • Chilli – Red pepper flakes: I use these A LOT to heat up red sauces, add flavour and a bit of punch to a chilli, pizza, stew, grilled meat, tacos… Use on anything you like really.
  • Cayenne pepper: Adds nice spiciness to many dishes. Good for steak rubs, stir-fry’s, spicy beef stew and Nick the Chef added it to a cheesy quiche crust and it was amazing!
  • Curry powder: Includes turmeric, coriander, cumin, fenugreek, and red pepper, but mixes can vary. Great for beef curries
  • Mustard powder: The classic for the mustard roast beef crust or add to a stew
  • Garlic Powder: Who doesn’t love garlic! Great for steak seasoning and can be added to many dishes for a savoury taste
  • Onion Powder: Similar to garlic powder
  • Sage: Fragrant and can add a bit of flair to your dish
  • Thyme: Has a lemon taste, great with all beef


The best spices for pork can vary so you need to think about which part your cooking and adjust dependent on fat content and method of cooking.

  • Allspice: Made from the dried berries of the plant, Pimenta dioica. The flavour of allspice is sort of like cinnamon, cloves, nutmeg and pepper – think classic Jamaican jerk flavours. It will go well with any cut of pork, both fatty pork cuts and lean ones.
  • Ground ginger: Made from dehydrated fresh ginger and has a spicy, zesty bite.
  • Caraway Seeds: Has a sweet anise-taste. Keep this spice with cumin and other similar as it doesn’t go well with other spices. Use in dry rubs or in a braising liquid.
  • Cumin: I love cumin! Has a lovely earthy, nutty flavour. Use as a part of a rub for a roast or barbecue or added into a stew.
  • Celery seed: Has a distinctive herbal flavour and has a mildly bitter quality that can help to enhance the flavour of pork. Use whole seeds for braising and ground celery seeds or celery salt for rubs.
  • Juniper berries: Gin lovers know this one well. It has a tart, sharp pine taste so it’s good to offset pork fattiness. It works best when added to a marinade.
  • Garlic tip: Use fresh garlic when braising and garlic powder when grilling or smoking your pork.


  • Smoked Paprika (sweet): Adds a lovely smokey flavour and an awesome vibrant colour to your dish.
  • Garlic: It’s a winner with all meat so chicken is no different.
  • Mace: A savoury spice which comes from the same plant as nutmeg – it’s the outer of the nutmeg stone. It has a subtle, sweet, delicate taste compared to nutmeg – a cross between nutmeg and coriander, with a touch of citrus and cinnamon.
  • Tarragon: Has a sweet and bitter combo so goes well with chicken


  • Baharat: Middle eastern spice blend, typically includes cardamom, black pepper, and cloves. Pungent but not overpowering. Use for slow-cooked lamb, stews and rubs.
  • Cumin: Earthy, nutty flavour. Use it in stir-fry’s, chillies, marinades, stews.
  • Cinnamon: Good for both sweet and savoury dishes. Use in slow-cooking, stews, braising and rubs.

Here’s some other essentials to have in your spice cupboard or in my case, messy drawer

  • Black peppercorns: It’s best to have them in your kitchen whole and invest in a really good pepper grinder – it makes a huge difference
  • Sea salt or Kosher salt (the latter is used more in the US): Both have chunky particles that give the salt a better distribution and make it more suitable for seasoning meats. I personally prefer Maldons Sea Salt
  • Chilli powder: Made up of ground chillies, cumin, oregano, cayenne. Use in chillies, stews, grilled meat, tacos…
  • Dark chilli: As above but roasted for a bit longer giving a smokier note
  • Coriander seed: Has an earthy, lemony flavour. Use it in Mexican and Indian dishes.
  • Fennel seed: Delicate sweet, liquorice flavoured. Great with chicken, pork, sausages.
  • Sumac: A Middle Eastern spice with a zingy, lemony flavour. Use in marinades and spice rubs. I was also told by a friend recently that sumac is a good replacement for salt… the jury’s still out on that one though
  • Dukkah: Usually made up of hazelnuts, sesame seeds, coriander, and cumin. Use as spice rub for lamb or chicken.
  • Za’atar seasoning blend: An all-purpose Middle-Eastern seasoning made up of thyme, sumac, and sesame seeds. Use on grilled meats.
I need a good spice rack. It’s on the ‘To Do’ list..for Tim 😉

How should I store my spices?

  • Cool, dry place.
  • Away from any direct heat sources.
  • In a dark place

What should I store my spices in?

  • Jars with airtight lids or sealable bags.


You can bring back life to whole spices by toasting or frying them in some oil.

BUT, note… Ground up spices that have lost their flavour or scent can’t be saved – throw them away. 6 months is about the longest to store to get the best taste out of your spices.

How to toast spices

Toasting spices in a dry pan draws out their flavour and are usually best used in curries. Toast your spices before grinding and don’t let them burn!

5 Simple Steps:

  1. Turn on a medium heat
  2. Sprinkle your spices evenly across the frying pan
  3. Gently shake the pan for even cooking of the spices
  4. Listen and smell – once you hear the spices start to pop and you smell a strong aroma, they are toasted
  5. Transfer the spices into a bowl and to cool before using

How to bruise spices and why?

Bruising spices helps release their flavour and aroma from the inner seeds and adds texture to your dish.

Simply use a pestle and mortar and in a downward circular motion move the pestle over the spices to gently bruise them and not completely crush them.

How to grind spices

Gone are the days where I stood over my pestle and mortar getting arm-ache to produce a powder according to a new recipe I’d found.

I now use our coffee grinder to whizz them into a powder or if you want you can get spice grinders.

My husband doesn’t seem to notice the slight spicy notes in his coffee (nor will he ever find out that’s what it’s used for)

How to make a spice rub

It’s a good idea to do this well in advance to ensure the flavours fully impart into the meat.

There are all sorts of rubs to make (check out my post, here and here) but here is one I found on the GreatBritishChefs.com with a spice rub from an incredible Chef, Geoffrey Smeddle, that he uses on a pot-roast lamb.

If you have any other spices you want to add to this list or would like to share a great recipe for a rub, drop me a line or leave a comment.

How to make a spice rub

Course Main Course
Prep Time 10 minutes
Marinade time 1 hour
Total Time 1 hour 10 minutes


  • 4 tsp black peppercorns
  • 2 tsp coriander seeds
  • 2 tsp fennel seeds
  • 1 tsp paprika
  • 1 tsp chopped thyme
  • 1 tsp chopped rosemary
  • 1 lemon zest
  • olive oil


  • Place all the ingredients into a pestle and mortar (or my husband’s coffee grinder!) and grind until a paste
  • With your hands, coat the meat the rub
  • Cover the meat in cling film and place in the fridge to marinate for a minimum of 1 hour (or for longer to gain an even stronger flavour)
  • TIP
    Add olive oil to create a wetter marinade that sticks to the meat more easily.

Spices Inc
Great British Chefs
Serious Eats
The Kitchn