Though student cooking needs to be fast and on a budget, it does not have to be boring. To the inexperienced cook, the idea of adding spices without a recipe may seem a bit daunting. I am here to assure you that it is so much easier than you think. With these 5 essential spices and a little bit of taste-testing, you can add so much flavour and depth to everything you cook. While pre-made spice blends may be tempting, using your own fresh spices is a game changer. Here are 5 essential spices that every student pantry needs.

1. Flaked Salt and Whole Pepper

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I cannot stress enough the importance of good salt and freshly ground pepper. Together, they amplify the flavours of your ingredients and take your meal to a whole new level. There are numerous kinds of salt but an important one to have is flaked sea salt. Use this on top of freshly grilled meats and fish or on fresh salads to add tons of flavour. Secondly, freshly ground pepper has far more flavour than pre-ground and with very little extra cost. Using the two of these to season your ingredients helps to unify and enhance the dish.

2. Smoked Paprika

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Smoked paprika is made from pimiento peppers that have been smoked and ground into powder. This is very different from a typical chilli powder because it has less heat and more complexity. This spice can be added to basically everything but is especially good for rubbing on red meat or adding to stews and potatoes. It will bring a very tame heat, slight sweetness, and an inviting smokiness. It’s hard to go wrong when adding paprika but remember that a little goes a long way.

3. Chipotle Chile Powder

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Chipotle chile powder is quite different from smoked paprika as it adds more spice. Chipotle chile powder is made from dried, smoked, and ground jalapeño peppers and should not be confused with chilli powder, which is a blend of different peppers. This spice adds warmth, earthiness, and smokiness to dishes. It is a great addition to spice rubs for grilled meat, chicken, and barbecue sauces.

4. Dried Thyme

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It’s hard to get your hands on fresh thyme sometimes and it may seem like any time you do have it, it goes bad by the time you're ready to use it. A great remedy is buying dried thyme which will last much longer in your pantry than the fresh alternative. This spice is intensely aromatic and adds a great flavour to many dishes. It is a perfect addition to grilled fish or veggies alongside a bit of lemon juice or in pasta dishes.

5. Ground Cumin

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Ground cumin is a staple in cuisines across the world. It adds depth and nuttiness that complements ingredients well. This spice is great in combination with smoked paprika and works brilliantly in savoury dishes like chicken, tofu, and roasted veggies. For an added depth of flavour, toast the cumin to bring out all of its flavour and aroma.

BONUS: Cardamom

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Cardamom is a spice that is often forgotten about. It is mainly found in East Asian cooking and Middle Eastern desserts. Put a pinch of cardamom in your morning coffee for a burst of extra flavour. This spice adds a hint of mint and lemon and is an interesting addition to baked goods.

It is important to recognize that these 5 spices are just a starting point for your pantry. There are many more spices out there, ones that you'll definitely fall in love with. Go out there and experiment with them! And please, no more pre-made seasonings.

For more spice ideas click here.