My must-have spice pantry essentials

5 spices you need in your pantry right now
lab grown mea

I get it, the world of spice and cooking with it can seem overwhelming if you’re new to the idea, I mean visiting the spice aisle of a grocery store is stressful enough on its own if you don’t know where to start. There are so many different types of spice and even more uses for them depending on what you’re cooking. I find it usually helps to keep things simple if you’re not sure what you’re doing exactly, start with the basics and build from there. 

My top five must-have spices


An absolute essential for any pantry, cumin has a nutty, earthy and slightly peppery flavour that can add depth to any dish. To get the best flavour from this spice, try ground and roast it before use. Chefs often rely on cumin to accentuate the sweetness of root vegetables, like carrots, and to add complexity to vegetarian dishes. Dishes you’ll want to try are beef, lamb, bobotie, curry and garam masala.


More citrusy than fennel and sweeter than cumin, cardamom is made from seed pods of plants from the ginger family. Cardamom can be used as whole pods, seeds, or ground, and has a herbal warmth like a fragrant cross between eucalyptus, mint, and pepper. When referring to a recipe make sure you read the requirements correctly because there are two main types of cardamom: -black cardamom and green cardamom. There is also white cardamom, which is a bleached version of the green version.


An absolute deal breaker, cinnamon is one of the most significant spices in history, having been used for thousands of years for everything from healthcare to religious practices. Extracted from the inner bark of the tropical cinnamon tree you can buy cinnamon in whole sticks, ground powder and cinnamon extract. This versatile spice is used in both hot and cold dishes and is a core ingredient for a variety of dishes ranging from melkkos, melktert and pampoenkoekies to some lamb stews, along with drinks like mulled wine, spiced apple cider and hot chocolate.

Coriander seeds

Also referred to as ‘cilantro’, coriander is a plant that comes from the parsley family and whose seeds have multiple uses in the kitchen. These seeds have notes of sweetness and a slightly floral aroma if the oils in them is released. The bitter-sweet, orange-like flavour released by the crushed seed is associated with local delights like biltong, boerewors, curry blends and masalas. A tip to enhance their flavour for use is to crush and toast them in a dry pan prior to cooking with them.

Fennel seeds

Fennel is a flowering plant species in the carrot family that has a wide variety of uses thanks to its leaves, bulbs and seeds being versatile. With a sweet, aniseed type taste, fennel is a great aromatic spice to use with vegetable dishes like zucchini bake, pork belly and salmon. It’s also a key component of Cape Malay curry powder and is a flavourful addition to fish and seafood dishes.


Aniseed (not to be confused with star anise)

Aniseed has a distinct liquorice flavour and can be used either ground or whole. Sweeter than fennel seeds, but often grouped together, aniseed can be added to dough for baked goods, fruit fillings for pies, and ground meat before baking. Its extract can also be used to flavour drinks like coffee or hot chocolate. Despite its similar sounding name, aniseed is not related to star anise, which is another spice from a different family of plants.