If you are going to start cooking more at home, there are some common cooking ingredients you are going to want to have on hand. And you are going to want to know their shelf life, so you know when to buy them and how long to keep them.
Stop and think for a moment of some cooking ingredients.
If you actually stopped to think about it, you might have realized that there are thousands of cooking ingredients out there.
That can be overwhelming if you are just learning to cook. But do not worry.
You don’t have to keep your kitchen stocked like you see on cooking shows.
I am going to walk you through the most common cooking ingredients you need and their shelf life. This includes herbs, spices, and other typical ingredients.
Why Keep Common Cooking Ingredients On Hand
I want to take a moment to talk about why you should keep these common cooking ingredients on hand.
You might be telling yourself that you will just pick up the ingredients as you need them.
That is always an option, but from experience I can tell you it is easy to overlook an item. Especially when you do not take enough time to read a recipe.
Unless you are great at double checking you have each ingredient that you need for every recipe you make, and writing down what you are missing or low on, you are bound to have to run to the store in the middle of cooking.
I know I have been there. I have been at the store and decided to make a certain meal and told myself I should have that ingredient at home. Only to find that I did not have that common item and had to make a second trip.
The point is, it is so much easier and more enjoyable to cook when you have what you need for the dish you are making.
Again, these are common ingredients that you find in a LOT of recipes.
So, having them on hand is smart.
And many dried herbs and spices can last a few years so worrying that you won’t use them within a week or so isn’t a concern.
Finally, these items are great for a dinner back up plan.
I’m sure this has happened to you where you get home, and everyone is asking what’s for dinner.
Only to realize that nothing was actually planned. (If you have this problem and do not already meal plan, check out this post! Meal planning has been a lifesaver for me).
By having these ingredients, you will be able to whip up dinner no problem and will have multiple options on how to season it.
We are first going to talk about the common cooking ingredient, herbs, and their shelf lives.
I am going to go over the most common herbs you should keep on hand, what dishes they are used for, and how long you should keep them.
Fresh herbs have a much shorter lifespan than dried herbs, but fresh herbs can be more flavorful.
Typically, fresh herbs are added at the end of cooking while dried herbs are added at the beginning to help draw out the flavors.
For each tablespoon of fresh herbs, you can replace it with 1 teaspoon of dried herbs and vice versa.
To properly package fresh herbs, you want to use a damp paper towel and place that with the herbs in a plastic bag. Then store in the refrigerator.
To properly store dried herbs, you want to make sure they are kept in a container with a tight-fitting lid. Make sure to store it at room temperature in a dry place. Also, keep them out of sunlight as the sun will make your herbs less potent.
I do want to point out that there are times that you might want to use fresh herbs over dried, and vice versa.
For some dishes, the herb is going to stand out more.
For example, if you are making salsa you would want to use fresh cilantro because it is going to give you more flavor and a better texture than dried.
This herb has a peppery flavor. To get the most flavor out of it, it is best to rip up the fresh leaves rather than chop it.
It is used in many different kinds of dishes from Italian to Asian. Basil is commonly found in pesto, tomato sauces, and vinegars.
The shelf life for fresh Basil is 5-9 days and dried Basil will last 2-3 years.
Cilantro is also commonly known as coriander. This has a tart and citrus like taste. Some say it is a stronger version of parsley.
It is typically added towards the end of cooking a recipe.
The most well-known use of cilantro is in salsa. You will also find it in salad dressings, stir-fry, rice, and coleslaw.
Interestingly, the dried form is used to make tea, which helps sooth the digestive system.
The shelf life for fresh cilantro is 7-10 day. For dried cilantro it can last 1-3 years.
Dill has a very unique smell and taste. It has a grassy flavor with notes of anise or licorice.
Dill is commonly used in pickling liquids, dressings, and egg dishes. It also gives great flavor to seafood and soups as well.
Fresh dill will with have a shelf life of about 10-14 days, while dried dill lasts 2-3 years.
This has a sweet and slightly peppery taste with a strong odor.
It is typically used in dry form and is used in tomato sauces, pizza, and Italian vinaigrette.
Oregano will last 10-14 days when it is fresh. Or 1-3 years when it is dried.
Parsley has a slightly bitter flavor but really brightens other flavors in a dish.
This is typically added at the end of the cooking process or as a garnish.
A well-known sauce that has parsley as a main ingredient is chimichurri, but it is also great in other sauces, soups, and with veggies.
When parsley is fresh it can last anywhere from 7-10 days. In its dried form it will last between 1-3 years.
This is an earthy tasting herb with notes of lemon and mint.
This common cooking ingredient can be used throughout the cooking process.
It is excellent for meats, in soups, with vegetables, and can be found in many seasoning blends.
If you watch any cooking show, you will notice they often throw thyme in the pan when cooking chicken.
Fresh thyme has a shelf life of 10-14 days and dried thyme will last 1-3 years.
This has an oniony flavor with a hint of garlic.
It is commonly used in Asian dishes and added at the end of cooking.
Chives are great as a garnish and in cream cheese or sour cream-based dips. Many people add them on omelets, soups, potatoes, and fish.
In its fresh form it will last 10-14 days. If it is dried, the shelf life will be 2-3 years.
You might be wondering what the real difference is between herbs and spices. Don’t they go hand in hand?
And the answer yes, they go hand in hand, but there is a distinct difference.
Herbs come from the leaves of plants, while spices come from the non-leafy parts like the roots, berries, and seeds.
As I mentioned earlier, cilantro is also known as coriander. Cilantro is from the leaf of the plant and coriander is from the seeds. So, cilantro is an herb and coriander is a spice.
You want to store spices much like you do dried herbs.
They should be stores in airtight containers, away from heat and moisture. You also want to keep them out of sunlight, so they keep their flavor.
Now, let’s get into the common cooking ingredient, spices!
The has a very sharp flavor and adds spice.
Be sure to invest in a pepper grinder. You can get a nice one for cheap. Check out the link below. Peppercorn included!
I love using my pepper grinder. Not only do I feel more like a chef when I use it, but I feel like it gives you more of a fresh pepper flavor. Try it and you will understand what I mean.
You can use it for pretty much any savory dish that you want to add a little spice to. A lot of people like to put some on their meats before cooking it, so the flavor blends into the meat.
The great thing about black peppercorn is that is has a shelf life of 3-4 years. That gives you plenty of time to test it out on different dishes without it going bad.
Cayenne is hot and spicy. It has a strong bite to it, but it can enhance the other flavors in a dish.
It is most commonly used in Mexican, Asian, Indian, and Southern food, such as enchilada sauce, fried chicken, and dry rubs for meat.
This spice can last 3-4 years before it needs to be replaced.
This is a sweet and savory spice. It has a very distinct aromatic smell.
Cinnamon does a great job enhances the taste of fruits and even vegetables. And it always pairs well with chocolate.
You will find this common cooking ingredient in cakes and cookies as well as savory chicken and lamb.
Most commonly you will find it with apples because it mellows the tartness of apples. Just think of an apple pie.
Cinnamon has a shelf life of 2-3 years before it should be replaced.
The taste of cumin is described as earthy, nutty, and spicy.
It is commonly used for chili, meat, and stew. I always like to add it to my chili to help develop more flavor. And my husband is a fan of adding it to rubs he makes for meat to give it a subtle spice.
This spice will also last 2-3 years and can be found in a small amount.
Garlic powder tastes like the name implies. Like garlic, but not as potent as fresh garlic.
This is a great common cooking ingredient to use when you want a subtle garlic flavor in your dish. By no means is it overpowering.
You will see this used most often with pizza, pasta, and chicken.
If you store garlic powder right, it can have a shelf life of 3-4 years. But if you are like me and enjoy this spice, you will not need to worry about the shelf life.
Like the name implies, it has a sweet and nutty flavor.
You will see nutmeg used on baked fruits, in curries, pasta, and with vegetables.
And interestingly, nutmeg has powerful anti-inflammatory plant compounds that act as antioxidants. That means you could experience improved mood and maintain better blood sugar levels and heart health.
Just keep in mind that too much of this spice can be toxic for you!
The shelf life of nutmeg is 2-3 years, when stored properly.
This is another spice that tastes like its name.
It is made from dehydrated onions, so if you are looking to get a little onion flavor without using fresh chopped onion, this is the way to go.
I have used it in pasta sauce for spaghetti when I have not had fresh onion on hand. Onion Powder is also a common cooking ingredient in seasoned salt and other spice blends.
This is another spice that will last you 3-4 years, which is plenty of time to use it up if your cooking homemade meals routinely.
This spice can vary from mild and sweet to hot depending on the type of peppers used.
It is always best to add it near the end of cooking.
It goes well with any savory dish, such as eggs, meat, and seafood. You will recognize it from topping off classic deviled eggs.
Paprika also has a shelf life of about 3-4 years and can be found in a small container.
Red Pepper Flakes
Red pepper flakes will add a little spice to your dish. It has a somewhat peppery flavor.
If you add it early on when cooking, it will make you dish spicier. Adding it at the end will give it just a subtle heat.
I do want to point out that a little goes a long way. My husband likes to use this when cooking and the first time he used it, well we had to use a lot of sour cream to cut down the heat.
You will find this most often in chili, soups, pizza, and sausage.
Red pepper flakes are good for about 2-3 years before they should be replaced.
This common cooking ingredient has an interesting lemon-pine flavor.
Rosemary doesn’t lose its flavor and can be added early on when cooking.
It is used for BBQ dishes, soups, chicken, steak, and fish.
Fresh rosemary will last 10-14 days while dried will last 1-3 years.
Everyone knows what salt is and how it tastes.
This is a spice that can be added to really anything you want to add it to.
A mistake many people make is just salting their food at the end of cooking, so it hits your tongue right when you take a bite.
You want to add it at the beginning so it can immerse itself in the dish, subtly seasoning all your food.
Salt typically lasts 5 years. Try adding dried rice to your saltshaker to absorb moisture and keep your salt from clumping.
This also has a flavor that most people recognize.
Seasoning salt is a blend of a bunch of herbs and spices. It typically contains onion powder, pepper, garlic, paprika, oregano, and of course salt.
This is a great all-purpose seasoning and it typically has a shelf life of 3-4 years.
When I say common cooking ingredients, herbs and spices are lumped in with them.
But this section contains items that are not considered herbs or spices. These are other ordinary ingredients you want to consider keeping on hand because they are used in a lot of cooking.
Herbs and spices are great, but there is so much more that makes up a dish. And when so many recipes call for these ingredients, I feel I would be doing you a disservice by not mentioning them.
I’ll admit I do not use baking powder all that often, but I am glad I have it when I need it.
It lasts a long time so I feel comfortable investing in some because I know there are times I need it. Plus, it’s pretty cheap.
If you decide to try your hand at baking a bunch of different items, then this is a must to have on hand. It is an extremely common cooking ingredient for baking.
You will use it for a lot of pastries and cakes. But, it can also be used to thicken sauces as well.
Baking powder has a shelf life of 9-12 months.
To test its freshness, stir half a teaspoon in half a cup of hot water. If it starts to fizz immediately, it is still good.
Baking soda is much like baking powder but there is a distinct difference.
You cannot substitute one for the other.
Baking soda is used to neutralize acid, which baking powder does not do. You probably put a box of this in your fridge to get rid of odors.
But, this is also a common cooking ingredient you will find in a lot of baked goods.
Baking soda is good indefinitely but will lose its potency over time. For best results, use it within 6 months if it is open. Unopened baking soda will maintain freshness for 2 years.
To me, broth is always something I overlooked before I really go into cooking different dishes. I think it is a common cooking ingredient that is often overlooked until you need it.
We try to keep at least a small container of broth in the cabinet because we found we use it more than we thought we did.
You will find broth in soups, creams, and sauces. But it is also used in many other recipes.
We love making egg rolls and egg roll bowls (just the filling to cut down on the carbs). And the filling requires broth.
Some people also like to cook their chicken in broth to help keep it juicy. Or they cook their vegetables with a little broth added to the water to add some extra flavor.
An opened container of broth will last about 4-5 days in the fridge. If it is unopened it can last 3-5 years. If you prefer broth cubes, they will last 6-12 months.
This is another ingredient that I think a lot of people overlook. They feel it is just used in baking and if they do not do a lot of baking, they choose to not keep it on hand.
I always keep a small amount of brown sugar on hand because it is amazing what recipes it shows up in.
This is one of those ingredients where a little can go a long way.
I actually came across a recipe I tried for the first time the other day. It was for BBQ chicken tostadas. The recipe called for making this great slaw to go on top just before serving.
It included coleslaw mix, lemon juice, mayo, salt, pepper, and you guessed it, a little bit of brown sugar. It turned out really good, but I can tell you, had I not used the brown sugar, the entire flavor would have been different.
Keep in mind, if you like meat or grilling out, brown sugar can be awesome to add to a rub. It gives meat a nice caramelization and give a little sweet to the savory flavor.
This has the same shelf life as granulated sugar and is best within the first 2 years.
If you are someone that is not much of a fan of olive oil, then better might be your best friend.
You can use it like you would olive oil, by heating it in a pan before add your food to cook.
If you do any baking, butter will most likely be in your recipes. And if you read, Basic Cooking How To’s Everyone Should Know, then you have seen how much it can be used.
Butter also stays good for a long time, so there is no reason to not keep some on hand.
The shelf life of butter is 6-9 months in the refrigerator. If it has a best by date on the container, it is typically good for about a month after that.
Chicken is extremely versatile and can be found in countless dishes. This is a good common cooking ingredient to keep on hand especially for nights when you did not have a meal planned.
Like I mentioned you will have a lot of options on what to make. It can be cooked and left as is. Or you can use it to make chicken salad, a chicken sandwich, or chicken strips, just to name a few ideas.
If you have fresh chicken, it will last 1-2 days in the refrigerator. But if you freeze it properly, it will stay good for up to a year.
If you are planning on doing any baking, this is always smart to keep on hand.
Chocolate chips are in pancakes, muffins, and cookies.
But they can also be melted and used for other savory recipes, like chocolate chicken.
Yes, that’s a thing!
If you store dark, bittersweet, or semi-sweet chocolate chips at room temperature, they can last up to 2 years.
Milk chocolate’s shelf life, however, is typically only 1 year.
Eggs are amazing because they can be a standalone dish. Fried, scrambled, poached, or as an omelet.
There are some people that just aren’t fond of eggs, but I will say they are a very common cooking ingredients where you might want to keep a few on hand.
They are not just eaten alone. You will find them used in a lot of baking.
But they are not just used in baking.
If you want to coat foods with breadcrumbs such as chicken, fish, or ravioli, you are going to use eggs. Eggs also pop up in other random recipes, such as fried rice.
Considering they stay fresh for 4-5 weeks in the refrigerator, eggs are a good idea to have even if you don’t use them every day.
Here is another common cooking ingredient, that if you do not typically keep on hand but intend on cooking more, I suggest getting.
You will see this commonly if you need to make a roux (pronounced ro͞o). This is a mixture of flour and fat (like milk) that are cooked together, then added to a sauce to help thicken it.
You will also find, if you are dredging any meats to get a nice color and caramelization on it. Or if you are trying to bread any foods. Most notably, flour is used in generally all baking.
In an airtight container, the shelf life flour will last is 1 year. You can get this in a small bag, so really no reason not to get any and test out some new recipes.
I know we talked about garlic powder earlier but there is a difference in taste between the powder and fresh garlic.
When you use fresh, it has a much stronger flavor. It is a great addition to any savory dish.
I love garlic so I am not shy about trying it in different recipes.
You will see it in soups, with meats, cooked with vegetables, and even in a lot of dips.
My husband and I make a simple garlic aioli (whip up mayo, garlic, lemon juice, salt, and pepper) which is great with fries and on burgers.
Don’t under-appreciate your garlic and keep it on hand. You won’t regret adding that extra level of flavor to a dish.
To make garlic stay fresh the longest, store it as whole bulbs. This will make it last 3-5 months.
If you have unpeeled cloves, they will be fresh for about 10 days.
Finally, peeled and chopped garlic will last a few days in the fridge. But the minced garlic you get in a jar from the store has a shelf life of about 18-24 months.
If you have never tried a little bit of lemon squeezed on your chicken or fish, you are going to want to try it.
Lemon can add a fresh citrus flavor to your dish without overpowering it.
You will find it on salads, in coleslaw, and some even add it to rice.
Some Chefs also say if you taste a dish and you feel it needs something yet but aren’t sure what, add a little squeeze of lemon. The acid and freshness is probably what you need.
Fresh lemons will be good for 1-2 weeks if they are kept at room temperature. If you store them in the refrigerator, their shelf life goes up to 6 weeks.
If you keep lemon juice, like you buy in the bottle from the store, it will be good for 12-18 months in the refrigerator.
Mayo or Miracle Whip
I am in a house divided when it comes to mayo and Miracle Whip/salad dressing. I love mayo but my husband prefers Miracle Whip.
He refuses to eat a sandwich with mayo on it. So, in my house we keep both on hand.
Mayo has a smooth creamy flavor, while Miracle Whip is tangy. You can find either in dressings or dips, as well as on chicken before baking. Some people even add mayo in cake batter to give extra moisture to the cake.
Even if you are not really a fan of either, they make them in small jars, so I suggest having a least one on hand.
If you are going to be doing most of your cooking at home, you are bound to come across a recipe that calls for it.
By storing your mayo properly in the refrigerator, the shelf life is around 2-3 months after the suggested expiration date.
If you are a miracle whip person, it will last about a month past the suggested use-by date.
Most people have milk on hand because they drink it, but if you are someone who doesn’t drink milk, but you want to cook, it is a good idea to keep some on hand.
At the very least, make sure that you are meal planning so you know if this is an ingredient you will need soon.
I say this because there are a lot of recipes that call for milk.
You will notice this if you do any baking, but you will also see it in sauces, mashed potatoes, or making chicken, just to name a few items.
An opened jug of milk will last around 5-7 days. That is not a long time, but you can get small containers of milk, so keep that in mind as well.
The trends of healthy cooking keep changing but it opened people eyes to see that olive oil is a much better option to cook with than many other oils, such as vegetable oil.
The majority of the time when you are going to cook, like making chicken or sautéing vegetables, you will use a little oil in the pan to keep it from sticking.
If you own an air fryer and make homemade foods like fries or egg rolls, lightly coating them with olive oil is going to get them nice, crisp, and golden brown.
This is a must have when home cooking and you will find that you use it a lot more than you thought.
The great thing about olive oil is that it has a shelf life of 18-24 months. You can get them in a smaller bottle than the jug they sell vegetable oil in, so there is no need to worry about it going bad.
Onions are an awesome common cooking ingredient because they can add so much to a dish, both in flavor and texture. They can be raw, sautéed, and caramelized.
Plus, there are different kinds of onions, such as yellow, sweet, and red, that each bring their own flavors to the party.
Now, I’m not saying you have to keep a bunch of different kinds of onions on hand, but just realize that yellow onion is very popular in dishes and you can add it for more flavor even if its not called for.
For example, there are a lot of tomato sauces that will ask onion. Make that a lot of sauces in general. You will also find it in soups and a lot of people like adding it with over vegetables they are sautéing to add that extra flavor.
If you keep your onions in the refrigerator, they will last 2-3 months. Just be sure to store them in a basket or mesh bag so they have some airflow.
Keeping them in a plastic bag will reduce their shelf life.
If you have chopped or sliced onions, they will last about 7-10 days if they are kept in a sealed plastic bag in the refrigerator
Sugar can come in handy when you are cooking more at home. When you think of baking, such as cookies or pie, sugar is a common cooking ingredient.
But what you might not know is that sugar can be found in savory dishes as well. It can be used to help balance acidic foods, so you will see it used in tomato-based sauces and coleslaw. You can even find it in some meat rubs.
Sugar technically never goes bad, but it is recommended that granulated sugar be replaced after 2 years.
However, you can still bake with old sugar and it will taste the same.
I want to start by saying I love vanilla extract. It has such a distinct smell and it makes me think of making cookie with my mom as a kid.
It gives your food a homey feeling.
And if you have never made pancakes or waffles with a little bit of vanilla extract in the batter, you have to try it!
But, keep in mind I am not saying this is a common cooking ingredient just for baking. You will find it used on a lot of meats and fish as well to help bring out their natural sweetness.
Some recipes will even call for it in tomato sauces and salad dressings.
Plus, the fact that vanilla has a long shelf life should make it an easy choice to keep it on hand. A bottle of vanilla extract will stay good for about 5 years.
Common Cooking Ingredients and Their Shelf Life
If you are going to start cooking more at home, there are many common cooking ingredients you want to consider keeping on hand.
This included everything from herbs and spices, to foods you would find in your refrigerator.
We also covered what you can expect their typical shelf life to be if you store your foods correctly.
It is always important to carefully read over a recipe and double check to see if you have the right ingredients to make the dish, especially if you aren’t going to keep common items on hand.
But if you do keep these foods on hand, you won’t be running out to the store to buy so many extra items to cook what you want.
Keep in mind that a lot of these ingredients can last a substantial amount of time.
SO, stock up, get prepared, and start cooking!