Building up a spice cabinet from nothing can be challenging—not to mention expensive. How do you decide what are the spicy essentials that will give you the most flavor for your money? We’re taking the guesswork out and going straight to a reliable source—the always lovely and talented Jessica Merchant of How Sweet It Is. Here are the spices she uses in her kitchen to whip up all the delicious looking recipes you see each day on her blog:

Disclaimer: While it might be tempting to buy a spice blend to get more for your money Jess doesn’t advise it. “Spice blends are challenging because you can never be a hundred percent sure of what you’re getting in each shake. Maybe that Italian variety is sprinkling on more oregano than you need and not enough garlic. So stick to separate spices when possible,” explains Jess.

Salt and pepper: Yup! Totally obvious but completely necessary and worth mentioning. “I use kosher salt for everything except for baking. When I bake I use fine table salt. I also like to have a smoked salt on hand.  It adds great flavor. I don’t ever use garlic salt or onion salt. Again it’s hard to figure out what percentage is salt vs. garlic or onion!”

Garlic powder: “I put garlic powder in everything, I’m not kidding I use it constantly. Most recipes call for garlic and it works with a variety of food types. I use the dehydrated ground garlic, which has wonderful flavor.”

Smoked paprika: “Probably the second most used spice in my cabinet. I love the smoky, complex flavor it adds to anything I sprinkle it on. I use it everything. I use it to roasted veggies, potatoes, different sauces, and even mac n’ cheese. I have no limits on this spice!”

Cinnamon: Comforting and familiar cinnamon works in both sweet and savory foods. “It goes on anything sweet in my house: a variety of breakfast, oatmeal, cookies, or any baking project. I use it if I’m making Moroccan food too.”

Fresh nutmeg: “The fresh version is so much better! It looks like a little acorn and it comes with maybe five or six in a jar. You have to microplane the nutmeg. Just like cinnamon I put it into anything sweet, but I also use it to round out any kind of cream sauce, alfredo, or béchamel sauce.”

Chili powder- “I like chili powder better than cumin. Cumin can be very overpowering so I use chili powder instead. I use it just as much. It’s perfect in rubs, for grilling and marinades. I also sprinkle it on roasted potatoes and all of our sweet potato fries.”

Crushed red pepper: “Perfect to add a little heat to any dish. It works with a lot of different cuisines too. So you’ll get plenty of use out this one.”

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