10 Super Basic Ingredients Every Kitchen Needs

If you want to start acting like a seasoned chef, learn how to use what you've got with these ten super basic ingredients sure to spice up your routine.

We would all love a kitchen stocked with everything found in your average food competition show. Unfortunately, most of us have to make do with fewer accouterments. The beautiful thing about creativity in cooking, though, is that the right ingredients can be useful in a variety of applications.

Everyone knows the feeling of staring at their pantry and wondering if there’s a meal there. While assuming you, at the very least, have the basic basics like oil, salt, and pepper, with these ten essential ingredients, you can say goodbye to ordering takeout and hello to flavorful adventure.

If you want to start acting like a seasoned chef, learn how to use what you’ve got to amp up flavors and spice up your routine.

1. Honey


“Pour some sugar on me…” or something. Photo: Pixtabay

Honey is like sugar with benefits. It helps with allergies, is perfect for a sore throat, and won’t spike your blood sugar like other sweeteners. It’s anti-bacterial qualities also make it great for your skin. Truth be told, honey is 100 % responsible for my youthful glow.

I like to add a little to my green smoothies to cut the bitterness without the guilt, and the same goes for Greek yogurt. Honey is also a great element in homemade vinaigrettes, cocktails, and has become a permanent replacement for sugar in my coffee or tea. Let’s face it, I grew a beard to look like a bear so that I could eat honey with my hands from a jar.

2. Whole Grain Mustard


Comes in handy when you randomly build a burger this awesome. Photo: jeffreyw / Flickr

Next time some fancy-pants rolls up in a Rolls asking for Grey Poupon, tell him whole grain mustard is where it’s at. No longer just for special-occasion hot dogs, whole grain mustard brings a tornado of flavor profiles to dressings, marinades, pan sauces, and meat glazes. Sweet, spicy, acidic, and earthy at once, whole grain mustard can bring new life to that frozen chicken or salmon in your freezer.

3. Lemons


If nothing else, because they’re pretty to look at! Photo: Pixtabay

Is your car a lemon? Great! Squeeze it on your fish, zest it on your asparagus, and make some homemade dressing with it. Mmm, mmm, metal-y goodness. Seriously, don’t eat your car, but do use lemons on everything – limes too for that matter.

Never underestimate the ability of a spritz of acid to add brightness to your vegetables and balance to your seafood. Lemon juice can even be added to other fruit dishes, like purees or salads, to make them pop. Plus, lemons are great for cleaning wooden cutting boards and getting stuck food off of dishes.

4. Coffee


And stay stocked up or else you’ll risk a sad, sleepy morning surprise. Photo: Pixtabay

You should have fresh coffee beans in your house just to make it smell better. Case closed. Need more reasons? Coffee is excellent in dry rubs for meat. It highlights the earthiness of prime rib, but you can use it for everything from salmon to turkey.

Of course, it pairs wonderfully with chocolate for your homemade desserts, and once again, is great to rub all over your body. No, really! Coffee helps increase circulation, exfoliates, and smells incredible.

5. Peanut Butter


Because this. Photo: Pixtabay

Okay, so peanut butter isn’t the healthiest food in the world, but it is versatile, and as opposed to many other palate-pleasers, peanut butter does have anti-inflammatory properties, an abundance of “good” fats, and a decent amount of protein.

Add a spoonful to fruit and veggie smoothies, use it to make a sauce for Thai dishes, or as an incentive dip for that fresh fruit snack you’re always making promises about.

6. Old Bay Seasoning


The magic spice! Photo: m01229 / Flickr

Marylanders have been known to sprinkle Old Bay seasoning on their children to introduce them properly to the world, but for the rest of us, we’ll have to settle for using this excellent blend of herbs and spices to top, well, just about everything.

Fries? Fish? Chicken? Guacamole? Leafy greens? Corn? Popcorn? Drinks? Yes, drinks. Next time you have a bloody mary, coat the rim in Old Bay and enjoy your life a little bit more.

7. Red Chili Flakes


Because red hot spice is super nice! (until it burns) Photo: Pixtabay

When’s the last time you just popped a red chili pepper into your mouth? Probably never. Not enjoyable for most. However, if you dry and crush those babies, they become an excellent vehicle for controlling the spice level of your dishes.

What’s more, they can add a great burst of flavor for those instances when you’re trying to cut down on salt. Tired of bland eggs on toast? Red pepper flakes. Just looking to put some zowsers in your trousers? Red pepper flakes. Next time the pizza guy asks if you want a few packets of crushed red pepper, ask him how many he’s willing to give and hoard those tiny sacks of gold heat.

8. Garlic Powder


These glorious little bulbs in powder form! Photo: Pixtabay

Fresh garlic is always preferable to dry, but I don’t always have time to mince cloves, or words for that matter! The desire is there, don’t get me wrong, but like many home cooks I just want my dinner to make itself some nights. On those nights, I toss some garlic powder into my leftover chili, mix it into my guacamole, add it to my quesadilla filling, and sprinkle it on my roasted potatoes. And you know what? It tastes better every time.

9. White Wine Vinegar


The white stuff is just as useful as the dark stuff. Photo: Pixtabay

A variety of vinegars are perfect for any pantry, but white wine vinegar may be one of the most versatile. It’s an ideal base for glazes, marinade, salad dressings, and even household cleaners. It’s magic!

Add a little bit to your water when boiling eggs and the whites won’t leak if a crack forms. Soaking wilted leafy greens in cold water and a little white wine vinegar (cool foodies call it “wut-wut-vee”) can breathe new life into them. Also, it cleans, deodorizes, and does your taxes. OK, maybe not the last one.

10. Chipotle Peppers in Adobo Sauce


Take your sauces to the next level. Photo: @mrs_j_jones / Instagram

We may as well throw you one curveball. Fresh chipotle peppers are great, but get a few cans of chipotle peppers in adobo sauce kept in your pantry, and you’ve unlocked a world of possibilities. Besides adding next-level flavor to tomato and enchilada sauces, salsas, and soups, chipotle peppers in adobo sauce are fantastic for controlling spice levels.

Need a zesty chipotle mayo sauce for dipping? For more heat, puree the peppers themselves. For less zing, just add a spoonful of the adobo sauce. It’s almost TOO easy.