Thursday, August 12, 2010

All About Spices!

I wanted to answer a question from a reader today. I think it is something that may help a lot of you who are new to cooking and just building up your spice collection.

"Katie, I am trying to build a collection of spices in my pantry and it seems like every recipe I want to try out of a cookbook calls for a few I don't have. Is there any way you could post a list of some commonly used spices as well as maybe some common substitutions as well? My grocery budget can't handle a bunch of costly spices... :) -Thanks!"

Well, I totally understand where you are coming from. When I first began cooking I was completely overwhelmed by the lists of spices in my cookbooks recipes. I had a few basics that were given to me at a bridal shower, but besides that our spice rack was pretty bare. I tended to just overlook recipes that I really wanted to try because I didn't have everything listed.

Over time I added to my collection, but I still run into the issue sometimes. I have learned that not every spice called for is really necessary. For instance if a recipe calls for pumpkin pie spice...I have learned through experimentation that I can add in nutmeg and cinnamon instead and it works out just fine. Just the same, if a recipe calls for Italian seasoning which you don't have you could easily substitute any combination of Italian spices that you have on hand...such as, Rosemary, Oregano, or Thyme.

You will save yourself money just by making do with what you have on hand!

Below I have compiled my top ten must have spices. These are spices that I use the most frequently! Your list may be a little different based on your family tastes!

My Top Ten Spices

  1. Cinnamon - Used in cakes, cookies, and oatmeal

  2. Garlic Powder - Easy and frugal substitutions for fresh garlic

  3. Minced Onion - Easy and frugal substitution for fresh onion

  4. Chili Powder - Great for chili, taco seasoning, and meat rubs

  5. Italian Seasoning - Combination of several seasonings, often used in tomato based sauces and Italian dishes

  6. Bay Leaves - One jar will last a while, but well worth having on hand. Great in soups.

  7. Nutmeg - Used in baked goods as well as some savory dishes

  8. Rosemary - Used with meat and potatoes

  9. Cumin - Used in Mexican foods

  10. Thyme - Used with meats, vegetables, soups, etc.

Where To Buy Spices

Here are the most frugal ways I have found to purchase spices.

  1. Spice Rack - A few years ago I bought a spice rack that had about 20 different types of spices in jars. It was only about $30 and it was a nice stainless steel rack that looks nice sitting out on the counter. That is a great price considering all the spices it came with! To go to the grocery store and purchase each one separately would cost you way more than double that...and you would have to figure out storage! This would be a great birthday or Christmas gift idea!

  2. Bulk Stores - If you have a bulk foods store near you, you can really save! My mom recently picked me up some poppy seeds and sesame seeds at an Amish market in bulk. The product was triple the size for about the same amount of money!

  3. Dollar Stores - While they may not have everything there, they do carry most basic spices. Their containers are huge and everything is just a buck!!!

How about you...

Do you have any tips on spices?

This post is linked to Frugal Friday at


Sandy said...

Thanks for the list of spices and ideas on where to get them cheap! Slowly I have been collecting spices as well but as you stated in your post, sometimes I'll substitute something I do not have with another spice. Thanks for all the good tips!

Andrea @ Simple Organized Living said...

Great list. I often substitute spices for what I have on hand...they are expensive.

I did start growing lots of my own herbs and then I freeze them in ice cube trays to use later on. It saves me lots of money each year.

Misty said...

Thank you so much for this information. This is where I tend to get confused and seem to spend too much money. GREAT advice! :)

Katie said...

When I run out of a spice, I save the container and then do what you suggested...go to a store that carries spices in bulk, and buy a little baggie of it. Then I simply refill my old spice container. WAY cheaper! I've found, at least in the places I've lived, that the store that typically carry spices in bulk are the "higher end" stores. Recently, I ran out of chili powder and the cost to refill my container (plus I had enough leftover to refill it about halfway again) was 70 cents. Not too bad!

Katie said...

Andrea, that is a great idea. Through writing this I am not sure why growing my own herbs never came to my mine. I will have to try it...and freeze the extras.

Katie said...

Katie, isn't that funny how the higher end stores have things in bulk and it is cheaper.

Anonymous said...

I have great deals on spices and holiday sprinkes at the Dollar Store. I take a look down the spice isle on every visit.

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