A well-stocked pantry is a cool-weather lifesaver. It means you always have what you need without having to make another trip to the store. Pull together a meal or a snack faster than a pit stop to the drive-through and save money while you’re at it. Here are some of our favourite must-haves for easy flavour boosts any night.
Oils & Vinegars
These key flavour-building ingredients are must-haves.
Good for frying, stir-frying or sautéing. Its smoke point is fairly high, so it won’t burn.
Extra-virgin olive oil
An ideal finishing touch, drizzled over flatbreads or pasta, or for use in vinaigrettes.
Sesame seed and nut oils
These have distinct flavours that can boost the taste of salads, noodle dishes and soups.
Balsamic, red wine and white wine vinegars
These provide a tangy flavour when added to dressings, vinaigrettes, marinades and easy no-cook salsas.
How to store oils
Oil and vinegar should be kept in a cool, dark, dry place in your pantry. Don’t store beside the stove or in front of a kitchen window, as the heat and light can degrade them. Nut oils are more perishable and should be refrigerated after opening.
Herbs, Spices, and Salts
Give meals layers of flavour with these suggestions and find more ideas in our handy guide to using herbs.
Dried basil, dill, thyme, and oregano
These add an aromatic note to everything from proteins to whole grains to vegetables to pasta dishes.
Dried ginger, Chinese five spice, and curry blends are good additions to your pantry to add to Asian and Indian dishes. Cumin, paprika, and chilies bring Latin American and Caribbean dishes to life.
A must-have (use a pepper grinder so it’s always freshly ground), along with crushed red chili flakes. Use to add heat and punch up flavour in everything from soups and stews to sauces, dressings, and marinades to omelettes to grain dishes.
Cinnamon, vanilla, and nutmeg are staple spices for baking, but can also be used to give savoury meat dishes an unexpected kick. If you’re a keen baker, consider whole versions of these spices. Freshly grated cinnamon and nutmeg and whole vanilla beans tend to have a fresher flavour than when you purchase them pre-ground or in extract form.
In addition to table salt, sea salt or kosher salt will help bring out the best flavours in your cooking and baking.
How to store dried herbs, spices, and salts
Dried herbs and spices can last for months, though the flavour does fade over time. Whole spices require a little more effort (grinding before use) but keep their flavour longer than pre-ground versions. Store all herbs and spices away from direct heat and light for optimal freshness.
Pasta, Grains, and Legumes
Easy to make, inexpensive, and crowd-pleasing. Keep a stock of your family’s preferred varieties, such as spaghetti, rigatoni, and macaroni. If gluten is a concern, have gluten-free options on hand — they cook up and taste just like the real deal.
A type of pasta, couscous is a Middle Eastern staple that’s easy to make. Dress it up by adding nuts, vegetables, or dried fruit for a flavourful side.
Asian rice noodles
These are essential for making a stir-fry or pad Thai. They cook quickly and provide a blank al dente canvas for sauces, herbs, and crisp vegetables.
Dried beans, chickpeas, and lentils
Inexpensive, nutrient-dense, and budget-friendly, these versatile ingredients are delicious in a variety of dishes. Dried beans and chickpeas need to be soaked for eight hours or overnight before use in recipes, while canned can be used right away. Try in dips, chili, soups, or stews.
Rice, Quinoa, and Barley
These budget-friendly grains can be quickly prepared and cooked in big batches, then frozen for easy reheating.
How to store legumes
If you buy dried legumes in bulk, store them in clear containers, such as large glass jars, rather than in plastic bags. Note on the container the date you bought them, and keep in a dry, cool place to extend shelf life.
Flours and Sweeteners
Even if you’re not a baker, having flour and sweeteners on hand can expand your meal options.
Key for whipping up baked goods, making roux for gumbo, and thickening sauces, gravies, or puddings. If you’re gluten-intolerant, cornstarch and rice flour work as solid substitutes.
White sugar, brown sugar, or raw cane sugar
Can be used in everything from salsas and sauces to condiments to pickling. They can also balance out vinaigrettes and marinades. In many applications, you can use maple syrup or honey instead.
How to store flour and sweeteners
Clean, dry containers with airtight lids are ideal for flours, sugars, and sweeteners, which should be stored in cool, dark cupboards. Pure maple syrup should be refrigerated after opening.
Sauces and Condiments
A good sauce or condiment can instantly turn a ho-hum dish into a crowd-pleaser. Mustard, ketchup, mayonnaise, soy sauce, tomato sauce, fish sauce, and hot sauce are must-have condiments for meals such as burgers, sandwiches, and sushi. Dijon mustard livens up vinaigrettes, fish sauce adds more savoury flavour to Asian-style stir-fries and noodle dishes, and hot sauces can be introduced into any dish where a little heat is desired. Mayonnaise swirled with a bit of mustard or hot sauce doubles as a dip as well.
Broth (vegetable, chicken, or beef)
An instant base for soups, stews, and chili. Used in place of water, it also adds flavour to rice and grain dishes.
How to store condiments and sauces
Most of the condiments mentioned can be kept in the pantry unopened for a year. Once opened, their shelf lives vary. Check the best-before dates on condiments and sauces regularly.
Nuts and Seeds
These tasty foods from plants give dishes textural interest and a nutty nuance. Almonds, walnuts, and peanuts make for easy snacks and add delicious crunch to Asian-style noodle dishes, rice pilafs, yogurt, and salads. Along with seeds, such as pumpkin, sesame or sunflower, they form the base for homemade trail mix and morning granola.
Almond and peanut butters are irresistible as sandwich spreads, blended into smoothies or mixed into sauces. Tahini, or sesame seed butter, adds essential depth of flavour to hummus.
How to store nuts and seeds
Keep nuts and seeds in clean, dry containers away from heat and light. Ground nuts and seeds have shorter shelf lives, so store them in the freezer, or buy whole and grind at home. A general shelf-life guideline: Store nuts and seeds for three months at room temperature; six months in the fridge; or a year in the freezer.
Canned fruit and Vegetables
Tomatoes (whole, crushed, diced, or as a sauce or paste)
A classic ingredient in pasta sauce, soup and chili.