Spices are an easy way to take any dish to the next level—yes, even boring chicken breasts. But most aren’t cheap, and there have been too many times where we’ve found ourselves buying fancy spices (saffron, anyone?) only to use them in one dish before they disappear into the Narnia-like abyss that is our cabinet.
So we reached out to the experts—nutritionists and cooks—to learn which health-boosting spices are versatile and tasty enough to make them worth keeping on hand.
1. Kosher Salt
"Salt is the ultimate flavor enhancer, and kosher salt has the benefit of having coarser grains, so you don’t need as much to make a big flavor impact. Plus, a teaspoon of kosher salt has less sodium than the same amount of fine table salt. I recommend using a pinch when cooking to elevate your homemade dishes, but keep the shaker off the table to avoid going overboard." — Joy Bauer, R.D.N., health and nutrition expert for NBC’s Today show and founder of Nourish Snacks
2. Black Peppercorns
"Cinnamon is versatile and works great for breakfast sprinkled atop a fresh fruit salad, low-fat yogurt, oatmeal, or whole-grain cold cereal. Ground cinnamon is very high in antioxidants and studies suggest it can help regulate blood sugar levels Effect of ground cinnamon on postprandial blood glucose concentration in normal-weight and obese adults. Magistrelli A, Chezem JC. Journal of the Academy of Nutrition and Dietetics, 2013, Jan.;112(11):2212-2672. ." — Elisa Zied, R.D.N., author of Younger Next Week
"Thyme has better flavor than dried basil and is less polarizing than oregano. Add it to marinades for fish and poultry, and salad dressings and soups for an essence of lemon and mint." — Dana Angelo White, R.D., nutrition expert for FoodNetwork.com and sports dietitian and clinical professor at Quinnipiac University
5. Curry Powder
"The main ingredient in yellow curry powder is turmeric, which can be quite expensive if bought on its own. Not only does it lend an interesting flavor to many worldly dishes, but turmeric has anti-inflammatory properties Anti-inflammatory and anti-oxidant properties of Curcuma longa (turmeric) versus Zingiber officinale (ginger) rhizomes in rat adjuvant-induced arthritis. Ramadan G, Al-Kahtani MA, El-Sayed WM. Inflammation, 2011, Dec.;34(4):1573-2576. —perfect for helping with aches and pains for all you hardcore gym rats out there. I like to make curries and sprinkle it into chicken salad for times when my palate just needs something different." — Bauer
"Mix cumin with chili powder and salt, and you have instant taco seasoning (say good-bye to those little packets). It’s also great for chilies, enchiladas, and pretty much any tomato-based Mexican or South American dish." — Moskowitz
"Ginger seems to have positive effects on the stomach, protecting it against gastric ailments such as constipation and bloating A review of the gastroprotective effects of ginger (Zingiber officinale Roscoe). Haniadka R, Saldanha E, Sunita V. Food & function, 2013, Apr.;4(6):2042-650X. . It works well in Asian dishes and even in beverages and baked goods." — Zied
8. Red Pepper Flakes
"If you’re a spice lover like me, red pepper flakes are a must-have seasoning. They're a simple way to add heat without having to deal with chopping peppers (and then accidentally touching your eyes and making them burn!). Use them to kick up pasta sauce, stir into chili, sprinkle on pizza, or add to veggies. Plus, research has found that spicy ingredients can help suppress appetite and may even help boost metabolism too Capsaicin increases sensation of fullness in energy balance, and decreases desire to eat after dinner in negative energy balance. Janssens PL, Hursel R, Westerterp-Plantenga MS. Appetite, 2014, Mar.;77():1095-8304. Acute effects of capsaicin on energy expenditure and fat oxidation in negative energy balance. Janssens PL, Hursel R, Martens EA. PloS one, 2013, Jul.;8(7):1932-6203. ." — Bauer