The key to a healthy, inspired kitchen is an organized one. While your pantry doesn’t need to be fully-stocked at all times, having a reliable set of go-to ingredients will at least enable you to throw a basic meal together. It’ll also reduce your last minute trips to the grocery store, allow you to take advantage of sales (because it’s fine to buy extras when you know you’ll actually use it) - and ultimately, your pantry will become one less reason why you just can’t cook dinner tonight.
Included below are items we stock in our pantry, tips on how to buy/prepare them, and specific brands we'd recommend.
GRAINS, BEANS, LEGUMES
If there’s one part of your pantry that’s totally indispensable, it would be this section. Grains, beans, and/or legumes help transform a random assortment of vegetables into a satisfying and sustaining meal. Because these dry goods tend to take up the most pantry space, we rotate through these pretty often - and also have a stash of “extras” sitting in a nearby closet.
Rice: We like to have both brown and white rice on hand. More often than not, I’ll make brown rice. But if we’re in a rush, then we’ll opt for white rice because it cooks in a fraction of the time (15 minutes vs. 40 minutes). We usually buy organic Lundberg rice, and specifically ones grown in California. As an added bonus, rice naturally pairs well with beans and legumes, providing an easy source of complete protein.
Quinoa: It’s helpful to have a batch of this protein-rich grain on hand to toss into salads and bowls throughout the week. Cooking quinoa in stock/broth (instead of water), helps add an extra boost of flavor. If you find your quinoa tastes slightly bitter, try rinsing it next time before cooking it. There's a natural coating on quinoa called saponin, which can lend to a bitter taste. Although many brands pre-rinse their quinoa, it doesn't hurt to do it at home - especially if you're still tasting it. We rotate through white and red quinoa, depending on what’s on sale.
Lentils: Lentils are delicious served hot or cold, which makes them particularly versatile during the work week. We always have at least two types of dry lentils on hand: red lentils and black (beluga) lentils. Red lentils are my go-to for soups and daal. I’ll use black (beluga) lentils when I want something firmer, for a dish like lentil salad. French Green Lentils (Lentilles du Puy) are also delicious.
Beans: We eat a lot of beans, so cooking up large batches from scratch is by far the most economical way to go. Since investing in a pressure cooker (Instant Pot), the process has become a lot faster (as in 30-40 minutes fast). But that’s not to say I never open a can. I’ll use canned beans if I’m in a rush, or if the dish calls for a type of bean that I don’t often use. If cooking your beans from scratch is something you’re interested in trying, then give it a go with the one kind of bean you eat most often. Then, use canned beans to supplement the rest. Eden Organics is my favorite brand of canned beans. They cook their beans with a bit of kombu (seaweed), which makes beans easier to digest.
Pasta: We usually stock a couple types of pasta - one short and one long. Some sauces work better with short noodles (like penne or rotini), whereas others better suit a long noodle (like spaghetti). Although it's often just your personal preference. In addition to different noodle shapes, I like one type to be a “healthier” pasta, such as lentil-based noodle, whole wheat or gluten free. The other box will be a run-of-the-mill Italian kind...because I have a tough time imagining life without it.
Asian noodles: We are a noodle-loving household, there’s no denying it. We’ll almost always have an Asian noodle on hand, usually either buckwheat soba or rice noodles. Buckwheat noodles are often cut with white flour, so if you’re looking for a fully gluten-free option, make sure you’re reading the label. Eden Foods is the only brand of 100% buckwheat soba noodles I’ve been able to find. They aren’t cheap, but they’re very filling and worth the splurge once in a while. For rice noodles, I prefer the brands sold at Asian grocery stores best. They tend to stock a much wider variety at lower prices.
OILS, VINEGARS, SPICES & SEASONINGS
Don’t let these supportive cast members go forgotten. They’re often what a ho-hum dish is lacking. If you set yourself up with a decent base of oils, vinegars and spices, you’ll be able to brighten up any dish in no time. And if you’re ever stuck on what your dish might be “missing”, try adding salt and/or an acid, like vinegar or lemon juice. It’ll usually do the trick.
Coconut Oil: We stock two kinds of coconut oil: refined and virgin. For savory applications, I reach for refined coconut oil. It’s flavorless and odorless, meaning it won’t overwhelm a dish with coconut-y flavor. When you want to actually taste coconut, that’s when you reach for the virgin (unrefined) coconut oil - desserts being the perfect example.
Grapeseed Oil: One of our other “everyday” oils is grapeseed. It has a neutral flavor, is liquid at room temperature, and has a moderately high smoke point. It’s great in dressings, if you want a more subtle flavor than olive oil. When cooking at high heats, I tend to reach for coconut oil, but if in a pinch, grapeseed will also suffice.
Olive Oil: Look for an unrefined, cold-pressed olive oil. Try to choose one in a dark bottle and store it in a cool/dark place to prevent the oil from going rancid. Typically, I’ll reserve olive oil for raw dressings and uncooked foods, but I do use it occasionally in cooking when a dish requires olive oil’s unique flavor.
Apple Cider Vinegar: This vinegar has a great tang, without being quite as sharp as some of the other vinegars out there. Opt for a brand that sells unpasteurized (raw), unfiltered apple cider vinegar. Bragg's Raw, Unfiltered Apple Cider Vinegar is what I usually buy.
Rice (Wine) Vinegar: For Asian dishes, I’ll reach for rice vinegar. It works in Asian salad dressings, sauces or to add a little zing whenever you need it (such as in a stir-fry). In the store, this vinegar may be labelled as rice vinegar or rice wine vinegar. Either are fine. However, note that rice (wine) vinegar is different than rice wine or a cooking wine, like Mirin.
Tamari (or Liquid Aminos): Tamari is one of the most well used ingredients in our kitchen. It’s made with either no (or very little wheat), which makes it a great gluten-free alternative to soy sauce. Check the label if you need to confirm it’s certified gluten free. Tamari can be used well beyond Asian cooking. I’ll often add a splash to soups and sauces to add more depth of flavor. San-J Organic Gluten Free Tamari is what we're currently using. In addition to tamari, we also buy Bragg’s Liquid Aminos because it’s what I grew up with. Although I find myself using Tamari more often, Liquid Aminos is another good option for adding umami flavor.
Vegetable Stock: For practical purposes, I usually rely on bouillon concentrate rather than buying containers of liquid stock. Bouillon concentrate takes up less cupboard space and results in less packaging waste. It's also a lot cheaper, because you aren’t paying the company to package and transport water. I then use some of those savings to upgrade to a higher quality bouillon. My favorite brand, hands down, is Better than Bouillon. They have not one but three options of vegetarian stocks. I use the Seasoned Vegetable Base most often, because Costco sells big jars for a decent price. If I need a very specific “beefy” flavor, then I’ll selectively use their No Beef Base.
Sriracha: We are obsessed with hot sauce, so Sriracha is by no means the only hot sauce in our fridge. That said, it’s the one I call for most often in the recipes on this site - because almost everyone has it at home. The flavor is also fairly consistent across brands. We buy Natural Value Organic Sriracha or Simply Natural Sriracha because the ingredients are a slight upgrade from the classic bottle with the green top.
Because I’m always developing recipes, I need access to a lot of different spices. That said, there’s really just a handful of spices we use most often in our day-to-day cooking, which I’ve highlighted below.
Salt: Salt is absolutely key to good at-home cooking. It’s the ultimately flavor enhancer, and while you don’t want to go overboard, salt is often underutilized by home cooks. It helps to season your food with salt as you cook, rather than all at the end. I use fine grain salt most often (usually Himalayan, sometimes sea salt). A flaky Maldon salt comes in handy for garnish whenever you want to see the salt on your food (like on these Chocolate Peanut Butter Bars). Flaky salt is not essential, but rather a "nice to have", when aesthetics really matter. It's important to note that 1 teaspoon of flaky salt will taste less salty than 1 teaspoon of fine grain salt. Most recipes are referring to a fine grain salt in their measurement.
Black Pepper: Freshly ground, all the way. Get yourself a pepper grinder and you’ll have it with you for the rest of your life. Black pepper itself is a pretty strong spice, especially when freshly ground, so use care when adding so it doesn’t overwhelm a dish.
Red Chili Flakes: Besides salt & pepper, red chili flakes are probably the most used spice in our cupboard. We sprinkle that stuff on almost everything.
Granulated Garlic: While I use fresh garlic most often, it has the tendency to burn at high temperatures and turn bitter quite quickly. And, a lot of people are sensitive to the taste of raw garlic. So, when I’m roasting things at a higher temperature, I’ll usually use granulated garlic instead. Same goes if I’m making an uncooked dish to serve a crowd (such as tzatziki), given there’s a good chance that someone doesn’t like raw garlic.
Granulated Onion: A sprinkle of granulated onion is a great flavor boost to homemade croutons or baked chickpeas. In these cases, it goes hand-in-hand with granulated garlic. At the store, sometimes you’ll only be able to find the granulated or the powder version (visa versa). Onion powder is finer grind and looks closer to a flour. I prefer using granulated (same goes with onion), but if you can’t find it, the powder is fine.
Cumin: A staple in Mexican and Indian cuisine. We reach for cumin whenever we’re whipping up a rice bowl packed with beans and roasted veggies or a fragrant curry. We use cumin quite often.
Smoked Paprika: We have both regular paprika and smoked paprika in our cupboard. The smoked paprika is however the superstar. A little goes a long way, but smoked paprika gives a hard-to-replicate smoky flavor to dishes. I primarily use it to marinate tempeh and tofu, when I want depth and smokiness (without using liquid smoke). It can be a harder to find smoked paprika in the store. I buy La Chinata brand - which is sold in red tins - and happens to be the only brand I can find. I buy their “sweet” smoked paprika, over the “hot” one, which gives me control to add extra spice separately. Note that if a recipe calls for paprika, assume it’s the regular/unsmoked variety; which is why it’s handy to carry both kinds on hand.
NUTS, SEEDS & SPREADS
Almond Butter & Peanut Butter: At home, almond butter is the nut butter we use most often. However, we also keep peanut butter on hand when the craving hits. Natural nut butter will separate from its oil, so a trick we’ve learned is to store the jar upside down. It makes mixing the oil back in a lot easier than having it all pooled at the top (where we inevitably spill some on the counter).
Tahini: Tahini is a luscious paste made from sesame seeds. It has the texture of a smooth peanut butter. It’s a key component to hummus, and can be used in a variety of other dressings and sauces. In Canada, our tahini selection feels moderate at best. Personally, I prefer lighter colored tahini (i.e. the seeds aren't as roasted); and the ones we buy from Middle Eastern shops seem to be less bitter than other mainstream brands sold in grocery stores.
Flax Seeds: To benefit from the nutrients inside the flax seed, it helps to consume the ground flax rather than the whole seed. However, once flax seeds are ground, they degrade quite quickly, so it’s best to grind them right before you need them. We use ground flax seeds as a binder in recipes; and they make a great substitute as a vegan egg, when combined with water.
Almonds: We almost always have almonds on hand, which we use for homemade nut milks, snacking and in baking. Most of the almonds sold in North America come from California - which means they’re pasteurized (even if they're labelled as “raw”). The bulk supplier I get my nuts from sells both California-grown and Italian-grown organic almonds for the same price. We use both kinds, but I tend to rely more heavily on raw Italian almonds.
Cashews: Not cheap, but a key staple for vegan cooking and baking. Cashews make for a shockingly good dairy replacement, whether it be yogurt, milk or nut cheese. We buy our raw, organic cashews in bulk. As with all our nuts and seeds, we store these in the fridge.
Pumpkin Seeds: One of our favorite seeds, so we usually stock them in our fridge for adding to salads, granola and trail mix. We buy raw pumpkin seeds and if we want to lightly toast them, then we’ll do it ourselves.
FANCY-ISH HEALTH FOODS
Everything on Instagram these days seem to be sprinkled with health food powders galore. While we’re totally supportive of people scooping whatever powders they’re into, our "fancy" health foods shelf is pretty minimal. These are the items that we actually use with regularity - and thankfully they aren’t a massive hit to your wallet.
Chia Seeds: We use these in chia puddings, as a vegan egg replacement/binder, in granolas, etc. Our pantry has two jars: white and black chia seeds. To be honest this is for aesthetics only. I’m not aware of any material health differences between the two colors, so if I had to choose one it would be white chia. I find the color is a bit more versatile across recipes.
Cacao Nibs: These taste reminiscent to bitter dark chocolate, without the sugar. We usually sprinkle these on top of breakfast bowls (smoothies, granola, yogurt) for a bit of crunch. They’re also great in raw desserts - and if we’re really getting specific, as a sugar-free “chocolate chip” doppelganger.
Coconut Butter: Addictive stuff, we’ll tell you that. Coconut butter is made from pureed coconut. While it looks similar to coconut oil, it’s slightly different because it contains coconut mass (not just oil). We add a spoonful to smoothies, matcha lattes and other drinks. The only brand we’ve tried is Nutiva’s Coconut Manna, but we really like it so have no intentions to switch at the moment.
Hemp Seeds: We sprinkle hemp seeds into most of our breakfast dishes, be it smoothies, oatmeal, granola. They’re a great source of omega fatty acids and have a relatively mild flavor.
SWEETS & BAKING
I bake often - and usually late in the evening - so I like to keep my baking supplies stocked out of sheer convenience. That said, if you bake only occasionally and are tight on storage space, then consider buying what you need/when you need it. To many people’s surprise, baking supplies like flours, baking soda and baking powder, also have an expiry date. So, make sure you’re working with fresh stuff (or, at least stuff that hasn’t been sitting in your cupboard for years).
Oats: Regular, rolled oats aren’t just for breakfast. They’re also a powerhouse when it comes to baking, especially in better-for-you desserts and/or gluten-free baking. Rather than buying oat flour, you can use a food processor to pulverize oats into a fine powder. It tends to be much cheaper this way.
Spelt Flour: One of my go-to whole-grain flours for baking. Spelt is not gluten-free, but some people with gluten sensitivities find they can tolerate spelt. Many brands offer a sprouted spelt flour, which can be better for digestion and nutrient absorption, so I usually opt for this when available. We’re super lucky that our local Costco sells Anita’s Sprouted Spelt flour, which is milled literally an hour away from our home. Light spelt flour would produce “lighter” results in baked goods, compared to whole-grain spelt; however it’s not as accessible to us, so we use whole-grain spelt flour exclusively.
Whole Wheat Pastry Flour: I use whole wheat pastry flour as my “white flour” substitute. If I’m finding that a recipe is too dense with spelt flour, then I’ll opt for this flour instead. It has a lower protein content, meaning it results in a more tender baked good. It can be a bit harder to find this flour (although thankfully, more stores are stocking it) - but we always have luck at Whole Foods. We usually buy it in the bulk aisle, but if not available, then the pre-packaged 365 Everyday Value bag.
Arrowroot: Sold as either arrowroot powder or arrowroot flour. It’s a great alternative to cornstarch (for example, as a thickener in desserts), and also adds some lightness to gluten free baked goods.
Buckwheat Groats: While buckwheat groats have many savory applications, I use them primarily for gluten-free baking. Used whole, buckwheat groats can add crunch to granola; or can make a porridge-like breakfast after soaking. The buckwheat flour sold at the stores is made from toasted buckwheat (Kasha), and has a very intense flavor. Making your own flour, using untoasted buckwheat (groats) in the food processor, will result in a milder buckwheat "flour".
Maple Syrup: I’m probably a bit biased, being from Canada, but maple syrup is my favorite natural sweetener. You should buy pure “real deal” maple syrup and not bother with anything artificial. Here in Canada, Costco sells big jugs of Kirkland Brand maple syrup and it’s the best value I’ve found.
Raw Honey: We buy local, unpasteurized honey - and use it to sweeten drinks, as a spread on toast, and in recipes. Unpasteurized honey can sometimes crystallize, so if that’s the case, simply submerge the honey jar in warm water until it liquifies.
Dates: I use two types of dates (Medjool and Deglet Noor), depending on the purpose. Medjool dates are plump, moist and have a yummy caramel-like quality. They’re also quite a bit more expensive. You can often find them in the produce aisle of your grocery store. I’ll use Medjool dates to sweeten nut milk because they blend up nicely; or when needed in raw desserts. However, if I’m baking, then I’ll usually reach for Deglet Noor dates instead. Deglet Noor still impart date-like flavor into a dish, but doesn’t add as much moisture. In contrast, the high moisture content of Medjool dates can be unpredictable in baking, unless the recipe has been specifically developed for them. Deglet Noor are significantly cheaper in price, and are often sold in large resealable bags or in the bulk section of your store.
Coconut Sugar: This is the non-liquid sugar I use most often in baked goods. It has a caramel-like flavor that’s similar to brown sugar. It can usually replace white or brown sugar at a 1:1 ratio; however it will impart a darker color to your batter. I also rely on a sprinkle of coconut sugar in savory dishes, where sugar helps to balance out flavors (such as here and here).
Cane Sugar: I only occasionally use cane sugar, but keep it on hand just in case. I reserve it for recipes where the baked goods need to stay light in color - and my other options (coconut sugar, maple syrup) would make the batter too brown.
Vanilla: Vanilla is a quintessential baking ingredient. Keep a high quality, pure vanilla extract on hand. You may also wish to add vanilla bean paste to your collection, for added vanilla flavor, but this is entirely optional.
Dried Coconut: Dehydrated coconut is an affordable way to bulk up granolas, add a pretty garnish to smoothie bowls, or add some extra texture to muffins. There are a number of varieties of dried coconut, so pick the one(s) you’ll use most often. Coconut shreds are often sold as either desiccated coconut (very small bits), or as long, thin shreds. And, you can also buy much larger coconut flakes. We buy two types: the long, skinny shreds, as well as large flakes - both unsweetened. If we need finely ground dried coconut for a recipe, then we’ll run the long shreds through the food processor.
Cacao Powder: A less-processed, “raw” version of the cocoa powder you grew up with. We use cacao powder in smoothies and raw desserts. We switch up the brand we buy, depending on what’s on sale and what’s available bulk.
Cocoa Powder: We use old-school cocoa powder in baking, when we need large quantities and it’ll be going into the oven. While you could use cacao powder, it tends to be significantly more expensive, so we opt for the more economical route given we’ll be cooking it at high temperatures anyways.
Canned Coconut Milk/Cream: One of the most well used ingredients in our baking pantry, canned coconut milk/cream can be used in a wide variety of savory and sweet dishes (like here, here, and here). The flavor and consistency of canned coconut varies significantly by brand. Opt for brands with a high ratio of coconut to water. Cans labelled as “Coconut Cream” usually have a slightly higher ratio than those labelled as “Coconut Milk”, but not always. The ingredients label will often state the percentage of coconut extract (the higher number the number, the better). Or, if not, compare the fat content on the nutritional label. A higher fat content will mean more coconut. Don’t bother buying “light” coconut milk. Simply buy a full fat version - for the same price - and water it down yourself. If you’re making coconut whipped cream, or any recipe where you’ll be scooping out the coconut solids, then give the can a good shake before buying. If you can hear the insides of the can sloshing around, put it back and pick a different one. It’s best to buy a brand without any added preservatives or stabilizers. Savoy Coconut Cream is my favorite, followed by Aroy-D (note: both are owned by the same company). I used to love the coconut milk from Whole Foods 365 brand, but I’ve recently experienced a lot more inconsistency across cans. I’m not sure if they’ve changed their formula, but I now rarely buy their canned coconut milk.
Baking Soda & Baking Powder: Make sure these are fresh and not past their expiry dates. Keep a box of Baking Soda in your baking cupboard - and by all means, do not use the one absorbing the smells in your fridge(!!). When it comes to baking powder, buy one that’s aluminum free.
Cacao Butter: For an occasional baker, this is definitely not a necessary pantry ingredient. That said, if you’re into chocolate, especially raw(ish) desserts, then cacao butter is an excellent ingredient to have on hand. It does a better job at replicating homemade chocolate than coconut oil, as it melts at body temperature.
And there you have it! We hope this is a helpful guide to help you better understand what we stock in our pantry, and how to select and use these key ingredients. We included some brands/products we love, in case it's helpful to you in the store - but would love to hear if there are others you'd recommend. If you have any questions or simply want to share feedback on this resource page, please drop us a note. We'd love to hear from you!