20 items that should be on your pantry essentials checklist

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New to the kitchen? We've got you covered! Here’s everything you need to have in your pantry if you want to start cooking at home.

As an aspiring home cook, I can totally relate to that overwhelming feeling of not knowing where to begin. What recipe should I try first? What pantry essentials do I need to have on hand at all times?

There are many recipes, and countless ingredients to choose from out there, but I soon realised that one of the vital first steps on your quest to becoming a home cook is having a well-stocked kitchen pantry.

In no particular order, here are the pantry essentials you should have on hand to make cooking at home easier. Because when you have the basics covered, you can be more confident to explore, experiment, and truly savour the joys of cooking.

Pantry Essentials Checklist for New Home Cooks

1. Spices

Having spices like oregano, thyme, cumin, basil, paprika, turmeric, rosemary on hand can liven up any recipe. Make sure to keep a spice rack or cabinet in your kitchen.

2. Pasta

Keeping pasta or macaroni stored in your pantry can be helpful, especially when you’re fond of whipping up easy meals! Practically any type of meat goes with pasta, after all.

3. Oils

A well-stocked pantry means having at least one type of cooking oil, like canola, vegetable, coconut, and olive oil. So whatever recipe you decide on, you’ll have the right type of cooking oil to suit your needs.

4. Rice

More than just a staple in Asian households, uncooked rice is one of the most basic pantry essentials for beginning home cooks. Rice can be eaten with a variety of dishes and even on its own, specifically when making porridge or risotto.

5. Canned Tomatoes

Canned tomatoes is a pantry essential because it can really brighten any soup recipe or enhance the flavour and texture of pasta sauces. Tomatoes can also provide contrast to starchy and savoury dishes.

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Having pantry essentials on hand, stored and organized properly, can make cooking and experimenting in the kitchen all the more fun! | image: shutterstock

6. Flour

Flour can be used for pancakes, waffles, or cakes. To make flour last longer, store flour in jars or heavy duty storage bags and keep it dry and away from the heat.

7. Cornstarch

This pantry essential is used in both savoury and sweet recipes because of its thickening and binding capabilities. It is used in many recipes—from stir-fry pasta to baked pies.

Cornstarch can also be used as a gluten-free alternative to flour.

8. Soy Sauce

This condiment has a number of varieties—dark, light, thick, dark—that bring umami to a wide array of recipes. You can use it to marinate meat, stir-fry vegetables, and even to add colour and flavour to noodle dishes.

9. Vinegar

This pantry staple can infuse flavour into many dishes. Like soy sauce, vinegar has many varieties: distilled white, balsamic, red wine, apple cider, sherry, rice, or malt. But if you’re stocking up on the basics, you can start with distilled white vinegar.

10. Salt

Salt is one pantry essential we can’t do without. It brightens up many recipes by enhancing flavour and even reducing bitterness. You can store rock salt, sea salt or kosher salt, depending on your preference.

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Once you have the basics covered, like having pantry essentials on hand, then you can start levelling up your kitchen skills and confidence! | image: shutterstock

11. Pepper

Pepper is one of the most popular spices used to deepen the flavour of practically any dish. You can stock up on ground pepper or white peppercorns.

12. Sugar

The great thing about sugar is that it can be used for both sweet and savoury dishes. For instance, sugar can enhance the texture and colour of canned fruit or even keep baked goods fresh as much as it can add flavour to a dish of glazed meat.

You can either buy refined white sugar, granulated sugar, or brown sugar, which some view as the healthier option.

13. Cheese

Okay, maybe this isn’t exactly one of the pantry essentials, as many types of cheeses have to be refrigerated. But there’s no denying that one can never have too much cheese (at least in my opinion).

Aside from being great snacks when you’re feeling peckish, melting cheeses like mozzarella, brie, gruyere and camembert can help make scrumptious snacks. As much as there are types of cheeses out there, there are even more culinary possibilities to explore.

14. Butter

Like cheese, butter is just divine, not to mention essential to any kitchen beginner’s arsenal.

Keep butter in an airtight container in a cool, dry place (at room temperature) but not for long. You eventually have to move butter—covered—into your fridge to maintain its freshness.

15. Peanut butter

Whether you like it smooth or nutty (or with a hint of jelly), there’s no denying that many dishes owe its flavour to this beloved spread.

Aside from the go-to sandwiches that we all love and often crave, you can use peanut butter in oatmeal, smoothies, pancakes, cookies, salads and even chicken dishes.

16. Beans

Keep a can of beans, like lentils, chickpeas or kidney beans. This vegan-friendly ingredient can be used in soups, salads, pasta, and burritos.

17. Cereal

Boxed cereal is the serial snacker’s best friend. Best paired with milk or even enjoyed on its own, there are a wide array of boxed cereals to choose from. But I prefer corn flakes as well as whole grain oats, like almond butter clusters.

18. Eggs

Eggs are possibly the most versatile pantry essential on this list. Commonly known as breakfast entrées, eggs bring many recipes to life.

When baking, for instance, eggs help enhance the flavour, freshness, and nutrients in baked goods. They can improve the texture of salad dressings and other condiments and bring together the ingredients of meat and fish cakes.

19. Corn

This popular crop can be a newbie cook’s best friend. Aside from its amazing health benefits, corn can be used in delightful dishes like fritters, soup, and fried rice. Best of all, corn on the cob can be grilled, buttered, and enjoyed on its own.

20. Broth or stock

Keep low-salt options of canned stock or broth to add deep flavour and richness to soups and stews. Chicken broth, for instance, can be used in noodle soup, tortilla soup, and miso soup.

We hope these basic tips help you on your way to stocking up and levelling up your kitchen skills.

Would you like to add anything to the list? Let us know in the comments below.