Editors’ Picks: Pantry Staples That Are Worth Upgrading

Keep these stocked for five-star meals, no matter what else you’ve got on hand.

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August 18, 2022

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Photo by: Kort Havens

Kort Havens

School is back in session, which, for many of us, means busier weeknights and less time to cook. Keeping a well-stocked pantry is a trusty way to get something on the dinner table, even if you forgot to pick up a couple groceries on your way home. And part of a well-stocked pantry means filling it with items that can take your thrown-together meals from passable to “Wow! That was so good!” Upgrade your staples with some of our faves, and you’ll have five-star meals whether you spent three hours over the stove, or pulled something together in the mere 15 minutes you could squeeze out of your day.

Well, you haven’t really tasted black pepper until you’ve tried the Aranya Black Pepper from Diaspora Co. Truly, this stuff is that good. One of our favorite things to do is smell the pepper right after grinding it up in a pestle and mortar. With heavenly notes of nutmeg, citrus, jam and fig, you won’t believe that a single spice can carry so much depth (and that you’ve been cooking this long without it!).

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If you’re looking for a seasoning that can take your mundane chicken breast, potatoes and veggies (just to name a few foods) to the next level, this blend of garlic, onion, pepper, citrus, oregano, mushroom and chiles always does the trick. The brand has a wide variety of sea salt and cane sugar blends, including the popular Unicorn Salt, which is a blend of paprika, garlic, rosemary and celery seed, that can truly transform any dish.

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If you’re using the same oil for every step of cooking, this brand is ready to fix that. With three different varieties, one for cooking, one for blending and one for finishing, these oil blends eliminate the confusion and intimidation around knowing which oil to use. The cooking oil is a blend of avocado, olive, sunflower and grapeseed oils, crafted for high-heat cooking, while the blending is designed specifically with vinaigrettes and dressings in mind.

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Good olive oil can make or break a dish, but it’s no secret that getting a higher quality bottle isn’t exactly cheap. That’s why we love Graza – a company that prides itself on serving freshly picked, processed and bottled Picual olive oil from Jaen, Spain. This isn’t just a blend of old, low-quality oil, like many you’ll find on store shelves. Best of all, Graza is on the more affordable side, and comes in an easy-to-use, unfussy squeeze bottle, so you can enjoy all the upsides of good olive oil, without having to be too precious about it.

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Kosterina started out as an olive oil company and has quickly expanded into complementary vinegars. If you love balsamic vinegar for salads, chicken marinades and even quirky, “healthy” Coke, this trio deserves a spot in your pantry. The classic flavor is a bottle you’ll reach for regularly, but don’t sleep on the fig and dark chocolate varieties. (Try the dark chocolate vinegar on vanilla ice cream — trust us!)

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Flavorful rice, beans – or both – are literally just a couple microwave minutes away with A Dozen Cousins’ packets. Start with the variety pack so you can sample the company’s wide variety of seasoned beans inspired by Black and Latino cuisines (we’re partial to the Mexican Cowboy Pinto Beans and Trini Chickpea Curry) and cooked-in-bone-broth rice. These packets have got the sides covered and let you focus on dishing out a simple main (like a chicken thigh or two), shave some time off of taco night or deliver a quick channa for Doubles.

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Three of our favorite brands – Fishwife, Graza and Diaspora Co. – teamed up to make one heck of a tinned fish, perfect for the end of summer. This limited-edition batch from Fishwife gives your typical can a run for its money with ethically sourced wild-caught cod that’s been smoked and seasoned with Diaspora Co.’s famous Aranya Black Pepper and a zing of lemon. The fish sits preserved in Graza’s olive oil, and makes for a refreshing base for tinned cod salad (just mix with minced celery and red onion, a few squirts of Kewpie Mayonnaise and a squeeze of lemon juice) and spoon over your favorite crusty bread. In no time, you’ll be transported to a late-summer sunset on the beach.

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Fly By Jing’s chili crisp pretty much pairs well with whatever you can think of. Spoon this beloved Chinese condiment over dumplings, cucumbers, scallion pancakes, noodles, meats, fish or even ice cream for a punch of heat and texture. The company’s original Sichuan Chili Crisp put Jing’s personal recipe on the map, but if you love things dialed up even higher, reach for Fly By Jing’s latest launch: the Xtra Spicy Chili Crisp.

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Honey is one of the most-faked foods in the world, so when we’re looking for true pots of gold, we opt for jars from Zach & Zoë Sweet Bee Farm. This New Jersey-based business prides itself on selling nothing but pure, raw honey – and trust us, you can taste the difference. The farm sells a wide variety of honeys, but our personal favorite is its real lavender bud-infused jar. Spread a couple spoonfuls on fresh baguette or serve with your next charcuterie board to take your spread to the next level.

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While classic grape jelly is delicious and offers a healthy dose of nostalgia, upgraded jams and preserves can elevate anything from morning toast and PB&Js to desserts and cheeseboards. V Smiley Preserves, which are honey-based and include inspiring flavor combinations including Raspberry Redcurrant Geranium, Cherry Rosehip Hibiscus and Lavender Blackberry Rhubarb jams, are some of my favorites to keep stocked in my pantry.

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Nut-free spreads now go beyond sunflower seed butter. Female-founded Oathaus granola butters are oat-based spreads designed to work just like your favorite nut butters or chocolate spreads. The all-natural ingredient lists are short and contain foods you’ll recognize. In fun flavors like Strawberry Shortcake, Cookie Dough and Chocolate, there’s sure to be a flavor every kid (and adult) will enjoy. Add these butters to oatmeal for a flavor boost, spread on toast or even eat them right off the spoon.

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If you rely on instant ramen on nights when cooking is just too much, these packs from acclaimed New York City-restaurant Momofuku are sure to give your weeknight dinner an upgrade. Created in partnership with A-Sha Noodles, these packs come in three flavors: soy and scallion, spicy soy and tingly chili. All you have to do is boil water and drop them in for 3-4 minutes, drain and add the sauce to taste. For a protein boost, I add shredded chicken or tofu.

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While everyone has their preferred brand of dried pasta, when you’re looking for a step up, Sfoglini pasta is the way to go. These dried pastas come in delicious flavors and unique shapes you won’t find at the grocery store. (The company even invented a new pasta shape in 2021!) Sfoglini pastas are made in New York using a variety of grains, including classic semolina. When you cook up a box, you can taste the difference. The pasta has more heft than your average grocery store variety and the flavor is, well, actually there. Snag a box or two for your next pasta night, and you won’t be disappointed.

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Founded by a mother-daughter duo, Bean & Bean Coffee is one of our new go-to coffee roasters. We love the company’s flavor varieties, but most especially that the decaf bags don’t skimp on quality either. Whether we’re looking to make a latte at the end of the night or a cup of decaf in the afternoon, Bean & Bean offers multiple flavors to choose from where many other top-shelf roasters don’t. Start with a bundle to try a variety.

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