Spice support: Ottolenghi’s pantry essentials

Usually in our Spice Support columns we focus on a particular spice, diving deep into its history and culinary uses. Today we are taking a broader approach, and talking about your overall spice collection. Some of us have a limited selection of pantry staples like cinnamon, black pepper, and a few assorted herbs, while others have a sprawling assortment of spices that (let’s face it) probably could use some culling.


It pays to think critically about how you cook now and what you would like to experiment with in the near future when developing your spice collection, as getting the right combination of items will make your cooking sing without hopelessly cluttering your cabinets. Tody we are going to share advice from two culinary legends: one no longer with us and one who currently inspires millions of cooks around the world.

The late James Beard offered a lovely assessment on the use of spices in Beard on Food, imploring us to think critically about how we use our collections. The essay tells us to avoid buying a spice for one recipe and then shoving the seasoning to the back of the cupboard where it will lose its pungency and flavor. Beard asks us to think about new ways to use those spices, and imparts sage advice on periodically going through our spice cabinets. “Take regular inventory, smelling, tasting, and throwing out those that have gone stale and flat from age,” he says. 

James Beard’s legendary status notwithstanding, arguably no one has as much culinary influence today as Yotam Ottolenghi, who also offers excellent advice on developing a spice collection. His list of pantry essentials differs greatly from the spices Beard discussed, but it will allow for endless creativity in the kitchen. Adding items like barberry, za’atar and harissa to your spice drawer opens new worlds of flavor. Ottolenghi recommends first trying a new seasoning in a dish that is specifically made for it (hint: you’ll find those recipes in Ottolenghi Simple), and then branching out to incorporate the flavors in new foods. He promises that all of the spices in his essentials list work well in many different contexts. 

These are 11 essential flavors that Ottolenghi thinks you should have in your spice collection:

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