Stocking a World Kitchen: Beyond the Salt and Pepper

My mom was a very good cook. However being raised in the northern Midwest, there weren’t a lot of spices used outside of the basics.

It wasn’t until I began cooking for myself and travel took me around the world that I had a new appreciation for spices. It’s so important to me that my children are exposed to other cultures and I have found one of the best ways to do this is through food.

To begin preparing foods from around the world it’s important to have the right tools.  On the front line of this is gathering the right spices. It’s perfectly fine to pick up spices from your grocery store but if you can try retailers like Penzey’s or My Spice Sage who make it their business to curate the freshest spices from around the world.

You don’t have to buy everything at once, add to your spice stock as you cook new meals. Spices lose their potency over time so keep in a tight container, in a cool location or in the freezer to maintain maximum freshness.

Spices on Spoons

There are multiple world cuisines but to begin I will focus on five major food styles and the spices that make them up. I am also listing some items that are herbs.  It is best to buy herbs fresh but the dried varieties work as well. Ready to get started?


  • Chinese 5 Spice
  • Cloves
  • Ginger
  • Lemongrass
  • Yellow Mustard seeds
  • Sesame


  • Cilantro
  • Coriander
  • Oregano
  • Turmeric

Middle Eastern

  • Cardamom
  • Cinnamon
  • Coriander
  • Fenugreek
  • Mint
  • Paprika (sweet and hot)
  • Sumac
  • Saffron


  • Caraway
  • Cardamom
  • Cinnamon
  • Dill

Central and South American

  • Allspice
  • Cilantro
  • Cumin
  • Dry and ground peppers (multiple varieties)

You will notice there is some crossover and in most cuisines garlic and onions are the base of the dish. I have omitted Indian spices from this list purposely.

This list is a big starting point and this is a fantastic base to start stocking your world kitchen!

Which spice is your favorite?  The most intimidating?


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