Let’s be honest. There’s no possible definitive list of must-have spices. The truth is, the selection of spices that you keep in your kitchen will depend on your taste preferences. However in the interest of offering perhaps one tiny nugget of enlightenment, we’ve compiled a list of the items that most home cooks should have on hand.

Crucial Spices (in no particular order):
Black peppercorns
Red pepper flakes
Dried oregano
Vanilla extract (OK, technically this is a flavoring rather than a spice, but still)
Bay leaves
Curry powder
Chili powder
Cayenne pepper
Ground ginger

Now here’s what I would add to the list (and please keep this in mind: Simple and quick is my motto—which doesn’t preclude tasty and healthy):

Garlic salt–Sheer laziness on my part really, not wanting to deal with fresh garlic sometimes.

Sesame seeds–They can be thrown in, or on top of, so many things, and they contain calcium!

Some kind of premixed spice blend–I like Cajun seasoning.

Old Bay–I’m originally from Maryland; nuff said (though there is more to be said: Here’s how to use Old Bay beyond blue crabs).

Turmeric–Really I just use this for its purported anti-inflammatory properties, mixing it into scrambled eggs, for example.

Of course, if you didn’t want to go out and buy a ton of spices just in case you might need them (hey, spices are expensive!), and you maybe wanted a big corporation to do the thinking for you, you could try McCormick’s new Recipe Inspirations, premeasured spices and a recipe to go along with ’em. Personally, I think the concept’s a small stroke of genius. (And before you pillory me for that statement, see my earlier note about simple and quick)

If you wanna explore spices further on CHOW.com, here are some stories to check out, and here are some videos.

So what do you keep in your kitchen?

Image source: Flickr member Michael Cavén under Creative Commons

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