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Spices 101: Chef Shannon Smith Gives the Scoop on Pantry Must-Haves

Spices can add layers of flavor to our meals, but where do you start and what should you always have in your pantry? Oklahoma native Chef Shannon Smith joined YurView’s Creative Living to give the scoop in Spices 101. Chef will show the spices you shouldn’t be without and answers standout questions to get you cookin’.

“Some of the spices I think you should absolutely have in your spice cabinet are cumin seed which is used in nearly every cuisine around the world. I use this probably the most in my cooking. Also coriander seed. This is the seed of the cilantro plant and it has a really nice sweet flavor that it gives to all types of different foods. Chili powder… I have lots of different types of chili powder and it’s wonderful for adding a little bit of spice as well as a lot of flavor to your food,” said Smith.

Chef also uses ground turmeric in a lot of her cooking. It has great medicinal effects. Not only does it help with inflammation, but it also adds color to your food. It’s what makes yellow curry, yellow.

Cinnamon is also a very important spice in many different cuisines. It’s not only used in baking, but also in savory dishes. And then there’s salt. Salt is an important spice to keep in your cabinet as well. There are many different types, so choose the one that you prefer in your food.

“Toasting your spices is very important because when the heat hits those seeds and pods, it releases the oils which makes them much more flavorful. And I do that in a dry skillet. I just put my whole seeds into the skillet, turn on the heat and wait for it to have a nice aroma. I shake it up a little bit. Once I start to smell it, I know they’re done and I take them off. After that, I put them into a coffee grinder that I use only for grinding spices,” said Smith.

Once they’re ground, you’ve got a beautiful toasted spice. Put that in the jar and it’s way more aromatic than what you would get at the grocery store.

The question that is usually asked the most about spices – How long can you keep them on the shelf? “When you buy a jar of spice at the grocery store like this, you don’t know how long these spices have been in here. So it’s important to take a Sharpie, write on the top of the lid the date that you open it. Six months later, if you haven’t used all that spice, you should throw them out and start over,” said Smith.

“If I only needed two spices in my spice cabinet, I think I would choose black pepper and red chili powder. Both of them are used both in baking and in savory dishes and they add so much flavor, a little bit of heat and sometimes a little bit of sweetness.

Hopefully you’ve learned a few things about spices. So now it’s time to get into your spice cabinet, organize it and start using them in your cooking.” – Chef Shannon Smith

Chef has traveled to more than 50 countries and is currently writing her first cookbook, a collection of stories and recipes from her adventures around the world. chefshannon.com