15 Essential Ingredients You Should Always Have in Your Kitchen

For some of us, grocery shopping can be a struggle. It’s easy to skip over making any kind of shopping list and instead choose to just wing it, and with markets like Trader Joe’s (and its frozen bags of garlic fries, prepped lasagnas, and caramelized onion feta pastry bites), it’s pretty hard not to pick up a few pre-made meals or frozen entrees that simply require you to turn on the oven. But hear me out for a second, because as much as I love a good pre-marinated skirt steak, eventually my palate is going to want to try something new — and that’s why it’s important to keep a few essential kitchen ingredients on hand for when you feel like whipping up something truly delicious.

The following 15 ingredients will up your recipe game from basic to beyond noteworthy. Whether you're a meat-lover, veggie-addict, carb-fanatic, or simply love a little bit of everything, these essentials will offer you options when it comes to adding flavor to whatever you just picked up from the grocery market. So say goodbye to store-prepped foods — it's time to get cooking.

Virgin Olive Oil

Olive oil is basically at the base of any stovetop sauté, salad dressing, or sauce masterpiece. At least, it can be. The more virgin, the better.

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Chicken Stock

Chicken stock is another great base ingredient to always have around. Use it to create a flavorful soup base, sauce base, or to give your cooked veggies an extra kick.

Salt & Pepper

There is a reason salt and pepper are a staple on restaurant tables. Almost anything can prosper with a little shimmy and shake from these two flavorful ingredients. Seriously, have you ever sprinkled a little salt on your salad? Try it.


Eggs have the potential to be so much more than just scrambled, over-easy, and hard-boiled. Eggs are binding agents, meaning they can help hold together a recipe. Need to coat and bread your chicken? Done. Making a meatloaf? Perfect. French toast for breakfast? Sure thing.

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Bread Crumbs

Speaking of breading your chicken… as any kitchen enthusiast will tell you, breadcrumbs are a pantry necessity. And it doesn’t just stop at chicken. Breaded fish, casseroles, and red meats can make for delicious recipes with full and rich flavors.

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Beer & Wine

Beer and wine are something you probably want in your kitchen for reasons other than cooking, but guess what — they’re amazing ingredients, too! Wine adds some serious flavor to any stove-stop sauce, while beer works as a tasty marinade for meat and veggies. That’s right, stock up on booze my friends.

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Raw Honey

An organic, raw honey is the perfect natural sweetener for close to anything. From the morning’s tea and oatmeal, to the afternoon’s grilled cheese and blue cheese salad, to the evening’s pepperoni pizza and sliced fruit dessert. Seriously, this stuff is amazing on most things, savory or sweet, so be adventurous.

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While the real stuff is the best, a refrigerated jar of concentrated minced garlic will work too. Garlic, garlic, garlic. It’s hard for me to think of a recipe that can’t be improved with a pinch or two of this powerful ingredient. Also, this stuff is majorly good for you. Bonus!

Tomato Paste

Tomato paste is excellent for quickly adding body and flavor to any sauce. I’m talking pizza, pasta, parmesans, and dressings. Using a tomato paste allows for robust flavor without turning your recipe into something watery and mushy.

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While milk is an excellent purchase for when it comes to dunking your Oreos and inhaling your cereal, it is capable of so much more. Milk is a key ingredient in creating creamy sauces, fluffing your scrambled eggs, and baking cookies. It can also be used to make ice cream. Oh, and it’s good in coffee and tea. Basically, you can never go wrong with buying a fresh carton of milk.

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Italian Seasoning

Thyme, rosemary, sage, basil, oregano… have them all. These well-blended herbs add delicious flavor to savory meat, sauces, breads, and more. If you can’t get your hands on the fresh stuff, pick up a dried, mixed bottle in the spice aisle. You can shake this stuff on close to anything and have it end happily.

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Balsamic Vinegar

Balsamic vinegar adds a nice bite to most salads, sweet glazes, and cooked vegetables. If you’re feeling adventurous, you can use it in a million other things as well… pizza, polenta, black cherry pie, and the list goes on.

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Brown Sugar

Brown sugar is mostly known for baking, but when it comes to cooking it can be just as useful to have in your closet. Acting as a crystalizing sweetener, brown sugar can add the right amount of sweetness to savory dishes. (Brown-sugar glazed salmon anyone!?) It can also be used in place of sugar for your more habitual meals (coffee, oatmeal, and roasted nuts just got a little healthier).

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Ketchup & Mustard

Along with being delectable toppings for hotdogs and hamburgers, ketchup and mustard can also be used for cooking. Using ketchup as a key ingredient makes for a sweet meatloaf, baked beans, cocktail sauce, and pork chops. As for mustard? Potato salad, marinade, and barbecue sauce can all benefit from a little yellow spice.

Soy Sauce

Soy sauce complements just about any Asian dish beautifully. It also complements a lot of other things. Fried and breaded foods taste great with it, and it can be used to make a mouth-watering marinade or glaze for meat, fish, and vegetables. This stuff is like a secret weapon in the cooking world.

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