When storage space is limited, this is my essential spice and seasoning collection. With these, I can make almost any dish.

Favorite Spices

In the limited space in the galley, we can never have all the spices or seasonings we want.  And while the number you can carry will depend on the size boat you have and other trade-offs you’re willing to make, here’s my list of essential spices — or actually, herbs, spices and other seasonings beyond salt and pepper.

I chose these for the variety they offer.  Using these, I can create lots of different tastes.  Depending on your style of cooking, you may have other favorites . . . or you may have room for more or fewer.

So here’s my top 13 list, plus 4 liquids.  I tried to just make it a Top 10 list, but couldn’t figure out what to leave off.  They’re in no particular order!

  1. Garlic. Garlic is my go-to spice, along with pepper.  While I love fresh garlic, I usually keep garlic powder on hand for times when I can’t get garlic cloves.
  2. Cinnamon. Another great all-purpose spice for both cooking and baking.  And it makes the boat smell SO good!
  3. Chili Powder. In an ideal world, I’d have chili powder, red pepper flakes and cayenne pepper, for a variety of “spicy” flavors.  With limited space, I pick chili powder.
  4. Curry Powder. Purists make curry from a variety of other spices.  But when space is tight, a container of curry powder is wonderful both for making curries and for spicing up many vegetables.
  5. Cumin. Cumin is a basic spice in Mexican cooking, and adds a lot of flavor without adding heat.  It’s great with most meats, tomatoes and beans.
  6. Thyme. Thyme is a wonderful addition to most meats and goes with just about anything.
  7. Bay leaves. Bay leaves add their own unique flavor to soups, stews, pot roast and other dishes.  The few times that I’ve been out of them, I’ve definitely noticed the difference in taste.  Plus, you need them to put in all your dry goods to keep the weevils and other bugs out.
  8. Oregano or Italian Seasoning. It’s easy to make your own spaghetti sauce and pizza sauce with oregano and garlic aboard.  Oregano is also wonderful in salad dressings and many soups.
  9. Cloves. Cloves add just a bit of zing in Cajun foods and are also used in many baked goods.  And they repel ants!
  10. Ginger. Ginger helps prevent seasickness, and thus ginger snaps are a great snack to make for the first day of a passage.
  11. Old Bay Seasoning. Old Bay is a wonderful addition to almost any seafood dish . . . and it’s good with lots of meats, too!
  12. Poultry Seasoning or Sage. For chicken and turkey dishes, poultry seasoning is always a good choice.
  13. Caraway Seed. We love rye bread, but it’s almost impossible to find rye flour outside the US.  By adding caraway seed to whole wheat dough, I can make “almost rye” that fools most people — including us!

And now for the “liquids:”

  1. Hot Sauce. Even if you don’t like really spicy foods, just a drop or two of hot sauce can give a big flavor boost to many dishes.  Outside of Tabasco, good ones to consider are Cholula (from Mexico — readily available in the US, our Wal-mart just started carrying it ) and Marie Sharp’s (in the Caribbean, available from Amazon if not in a store near you, but it uses habanero peppers and is hot).  My favorite — which is more “flavorful” than “hot” — is PickaPeppa (if you can’t find it in a store near you, it’s sold online at Amazon).  Pickapeppa is great on crab cakes and fish!
  2. Worcestershire Sauce. Adds an indefinable flavor to so many dishes.  I use it all the time!
  3. Soy Sauce. If you like Chinese or Japanese food, soy sauce is an essential.  With it aboard, you can make your own teriyaki marinade, too!
  4. Balsamic Vinegar. Balsamic vinegar has a unique slightly sweet flavor that’s great for salad dressings and also many sauces (a teaspoon in pizza sauce is wonderful) and marinades.

And to keep all these tasting their best, be sure to read about storing spices.

There are lots of other spices that I love — and I did occasionally find ways to tuck a small bag of them on board — but these were my essentials.

Are they are starting point for you or do you think I missed something critical??  Add your thoughts in the comments.

When storage space is limited, this is my essential spice and seasoning collection.  With these, I can make almost any dish.

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  • ben
    Posted at 14 September 2011 Reply

    I like having dry onion flakes and/or granules around. They can often be an appropriate replacement for full-blown onions in cooked dishes, especially soups and sauces. They don’t take up as much space as whole onions, you don’t have to worry about chopping them, and they have a much longer shelf life.

    Also, I prefer garlic granules to garlic powder. While powder may be great for custom made seasoning salts, in wet applications granules won’t clump up the way powder usually seems to. And if you get small enough granules (I’ve seen granules as coarse as rock salt and as fine as fine table salt) they can fully replace garlic powder.

    • Carolyn Shearlock
      Posted at 14 September 2011 Reply

      Thanks for the ideas Ben! I’ve never seen the garlic or onion granules, so I’m going to have to look for them and try them.


    • ben
      Posted at 14 September 2011 Reply

      Also, as you list “italian seasoning” as an alternative to oregano, and “poultry seasoning” for sage, “herbes de provence” might be a good alternative for thyme. It is a balance of thyme, basil, savory, and a few other traditional French herbs.

      • Carolyn Shearlock
        Posted at 14 September 2011 Reply

        Great! If you’re cruising where stores are tiny, the selection usually isn’t large . . . so knowing some good alternatives is handy.

  • Donna Lynn Cantwell on Facebook
    Posted at 23 February 2013 Reply

    I just transferred mine to Tupperware spice containers….you can shake, pour or keep nearly indefinitely in this cool container with a lifetime warranty…..
    What other live aboards love Tupperware (must admit….I finally started my own business because I so believe in the product and its lifetime warranty.

  • The Boat Galley on Facebook
    Posted at 23 February 2013 Reply

    Donna Lynn Cantwell — can you post a link to the containers you’re talking about? I’d love to see them!

  • Paul J. LeMesurier on Facebook
    Posted at 23 February 2013 Reply

    My desk at work contains pepper, garlic powder, cayene pepper, crushed chillies, and soya sauce.

  • Peggy Droesch
    Posted at 12 November 2013 Reply

    I don’t have any arguments with this list, but I’d include nutmeg, packed whole with a grater. Can’t live without it for beverages, but it also works well with sweet & savory baked items (think mac cheese) & a number of different vegetables.

  • Leap Of Faith / Quit Your Job And Live On A Boat
    Posted at 12 November 2013 Reply

    Old Bay is a must have for us.

  • Jody Fortuna
    Posted at 09 October 2014 Reply


  • Sherri Brenner
    Posted at 09 October 2014 Reply

    I keep freeze dried garlic onboard. It has been working really well when I don’t have fresh garlic. I would also add Italian seasoning.

  • Dan N Jaye
    Posted at 09 October 2014 Reply

    I’ve gone more to blends than individual spices to save space: blackened fish rub, chili powder, curry blend, Italian blend, sweet baking blend (cinnamon, allspice, nutmeg, ginger, cloves), etc. and a big container of bay leaves to ward off weevils!

  • Elizabeth Aristeguieta
    Posted at 10 October 2014 Reply

    I have to have sherry vinegar for salad dressing. That’s one o can’t live without. Also pepper, I love pepper.

  • Dave Skolnick (S/V Auspicious)
    Posted at 21 July 2016 Reply

    I have an entirely opposite approach to my friend Jaye Lunsford on S/V Cinderella. I generally avoid blends and mixes and stay with core spices. What I have found is that the components of mixes like Italian seasoning, poultry seasoning, herbes de Provence, and taco seasoning (see http://theboatgalley.com/taco-seasoning/ ) are spices I carry anyway. Making my own is fast and easy and saves storage space. It also means I turn over my core spices more often which means fresher product on the boat and therefore in our food.

    Some commercial products like Old Bay have huge amounts of salt. Mixing my own version is easy and allows me to better manage salt content. Y’all know Old Bay was invented to increase beer sales, right?

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