I couldn't help but get excited by this Talk thread on the one spice Serious Eaters would keep if they could have only one. I couldn't answer for myself—even thinking about was too much like deciding which children to abandon—but it did get me thinking about the essentials of what spices are really about. What do we really use them for and how do they effect our experience of a food?
To answer the question I developed this list: ten spices* I can't live without, and that with nothing else you could command a kitchen of daring, exotic, and incredibly varied flavors. Though lists like these are inherently personal, I've specifically included spices that can be used alone or in tandem with a wide array of foods in the internationally-minded Western kitchen. It's a basic list, but diverse enough to get you making some delicious spiced-up chow. Whether you're starting a pantry from scratch or stacking things to make room, this list has something for you.
*Herbs and other seasonings will have to wait for their own day.
What Are Yours?
This list is designed to cover lots of ground, but it's undoubtedly shaped by my tastes. Think I'm out of my mind for leaving something out? Have other uses for these spices included here? Chime in below!