In Italian gastronomic culture, there are spices and herbs of typical use.
Fixing our small spice cabinet we thought we’d do a quick summary.
In the picture there are little bottles of spices and dried aromatic herbs that normally accompany us in our kitchen.

Spices or Herbs?

Spices and aromatic herbs are terms often used as synonyms: if it is true that both the first and the second are widely used in the kitchen to flavor foods and dishes, spices and aromas are not interchangeable, that is, they are not exactly the same thing. So let’s see what differentiates spices and aromas and how we can best use them in our culinary preparations

Spices and aromas: characteristics and differences

The first difference to make between spices and aromatic herbs, concerns how they are used: aromatic herbs are used mainly fresh, often added to dishes towards the end of cooking or when cooked: think of basil or parsley that cover first courses and risottos or sage and mint that flavor roast meat and second courses of fish.

Of the aromatic plants, fresh leaves are usually used to give a certain aroma to food, while spices are generally dried: from chilli to pepper, from cloves to saffron to paprika, spices are obtained from the processing of shrubs, berries, seeds, roots, buds, leaves and fruits.

Another difference is that spices have mostly exotic origins as opposed to aromatic herbs,which easily grow in Mediterranean  vegetable gardens

Spices and herbs most used in Italian cooking

 In common, spices and aromas have instead the fact of containing very few calories, and the great advantage of different medicinal and phytotherapeutic properties, for vegetables containing various active ingredients, with digestive, anti-inflammatory and antioxidant properties.

Some grow spontaneously, others were imported a long time ago and today are part of the inevitable ingredients in regional cuisines.

Beyond adding the missing touch to each dish, to assign that heady scent that completes the satisfaction at the table, you must not forget that spices are also synonymous with health and well-being.

List of spices and aromatic herbs that should never be missing in an Italian kitchen

Black pepper very versatile spice, able to give the right spicy note to any dish. Let’s not forget the pink, green, white pepper.

Black Pepper & Black Mustard – Red Pepper & Thyme

Cinnamon is a spice that can lend itself to many sweet and savory recipes

Peperoncino,the red Italian chili ,grows luxuriant in our country where, especially in the South, it is the protagonist of many dishes.In powder, chopped or spreadable cream, it is versatile and adapts from pasta dishes, vegetables, meats,fishes, up to cured meats


NutmegFrom the Middle Ages to today, nutmeg has entered by right among the spices of Italian cuisine, where its use in sauces, fillings and pasta is widespread.

 Saffron It is still called red gold and is present in many traditional recipes, from Tuscany to Sicily, and used from pasta to desserts.

Cloves used to flavor roast meat and vegetables, to spice hot wine and to decorate desserts at traditional festivities

Juniper Much appreciated since Roman times, it finds its best use in meat dishes and soups. Due to its strong flavoring properties, it is also excellent in jams and liqueurs.

Juniper and Saffron

Wild fennel Spontaneous aromatic herb, it grows almost everywhere and is used both fresh and dried. In fact, its seeds  are perfect to flavor both meat and fish, to flavor desserts, hot drinks, and  taralli,

Wild Fennel Seeds

Vanilla essential for the preparation of many desserts. Often we use vanillin or essence , or vanilla yeast, but if you have the opportunity to use a real vanilla bean, you will be captivated by its flavor

Anise Very famous in the nineteenth century because it was the main ingredient of absinthe, today it is widely used in the preparation of various regional desserts.

Turmeric not traditional in Italy but nowadays extremely common

Ginger oriental spicy spice and very popular in recent years.

bayleaf and cinnamon

Bayleaf and Cinnamon

Aromatic Herbs

Parsley aromatic herb, which can be used both fresh and frozen

Rosemary Perfect fresh or dried

Basil is best used fresh, or alternatively you can freeze it

Sage with its strong flavor, also excellent dried

Mint with an enveloping taste, the ideal would be to have a little plant on the balcony.

Bay leaf perfect aroma to use even dry, and able to give a lot of flavor to various preparations

Oregano aromatic herb very characteristic of Mediterranean cuisines, perfect dry

Thyme often used together with rosemary and sage to flavor meats and vegetables of various kinds, perfect for mushrooms. Fresh or dried

Chives Fresh and very seasonal

Tarragon,especially traditional in Chianti for historical reasons

 Let’s just say that from the list we have excluded garlic, onion, and shallot which are naturally widely used spices, but they are ingredients that we always have available in the kitchen in their fresh version. Therefore they are spices to be considered separately.

The list is for what is  usual in Italian cooking but in our  spice cabinet we have  more spices as they  are a great help in flavoring our dishes

However, much depends on your habits in your cooking, and the traditions that each of us follows. But we believe that it can be a good starting point for those who have to start cooking, or for those who want to update their cabinet. Having spices and some of the herbs at home will surely come in handy.

We did not add photo for each spice or herb but -if in doubt-let us know and we’ll do it.

Note: the bottles with spices were fruit juices drunk by my daughter when a  baby and then I colored the caps with old blue nail polish. Zero waste everywhere.