« Other People's Pantries #10 | Main | 13 pantry items every baker absolutely, positively, has to have »

23 pantry items you absolutely, positively, have to have

When the number of items in The Perfect Pantry's cupboards, spice rack, refrigerator and freezer hit 250, I started to think about what I really need, use, love, crave... and maybe, just maybe, what I could do without, if I had to.


The pantry items I absolutely, positively would pack if I were planning to be stranded on a desert island -- albeit one with running water and electricity, a gas stove, a refrigerator, a dishwasher, air conditioning, a stand mixer, an herb and vegetable garden, and satellite TV so I could keep up with Top Chef:

  1. Kosher salt
  2. Coarse sea salt
  3. Black peppercorns
  4. Soy sauce
  5. Honey
  6. Canned whole tomatoes
  7. Olive oil
  8. Peanut oil or grapeseed oil
  9. Balsamic vinegar
  10. Parmigiano-Reggiano cheese
  11. Eggs
  12. Lemons
  13. Onions
  14. Garlic
  15. Cinnamon
  16. Cumin
  17. Hot sauce
  18. Long grain rice
  19. All-purpose flour*
  20. Chicken broth
  21. Dijon mustard
  22. Dried black beans
  23. Dried pasta

*Though I am a confessed bake-o-phobe, I'd never plan to be marooned without a few ingredients for baking. Just in case.

Later this week: stranded-on-a-desert-island items for a baker's pantry, and some surprising must-have pantry items from last week's readers' poll.

Disclosure: The Perfect Pantry earns a few pennies on purchases made through the Amazon.com links in this post. Thank you for supporting this site when you start your shopping here.


Your desert island sounds very pleasant!

Is there a significance to the number 23 as opposed to, say, 25 pantry items? I'd want butter and sugar on my pantry list although I'm guessing these may show up on your baking list. And cream! I'd want to be on the desert island with heavy cream.

I'd probably trade out cans of chick peas for the black beans, and if I had to choose, I'd probably trade take red pepper flakes over hot sauce. But I could get by pretty well with the items you have listed. If I'm ever headed for a deserted island I'm definitely consulting your list first.

I've often been faced with a similar choice: equipping a temporary condo or apartment for cooking during a stay of 2 weeks to 6 months. It's prohibitive to lay in every item that's normally on the shelf -- also depends on local supplies and how well-equipped the rental kitchen turns out to be. From home I often bring a few spice blends.

In Hawaii I prepare to cook local tuna. In France I love the cheese, meat, and bread, so mainly get ready to make the side-dishes.

But I've discovered that with lemons, salt, pepper, fresh herbs, and olive oil I can improvise amazingly many things, and not spend too much on staples that will go to waste.

Ditto on all those! Our personal addition would be some dried noodles, fish sauce, star anise and hoisin (just to name a few).

Greek oregano and lemons would have to be in my pantry as well. I wouldn't leave home without them:D

It is kind of hard to pare down, isn't it? The fact that you kept the list to 23 is admirable. I'll come visit you on your desert island!

Great list! This is very close to what my own list would be too. I'd swap the honey for Agave nectar, and I believe I would have to have my Spike Seasoning.

I like your list. Don't forget to take a can opener for the canned tomatoes.


I definitely echo most of those! The olive oil especially can you imagine?!

I can't find anything wanting in your list, except maybe fish sauce?

Hi Lydia!
I'm with you, kiddo! Don't take my good olive oil from me! :)

Good list. I looked in my pantry and realised I have four different salts and thought "if my mum saw this, she'd shake her head" -- she has one...maybe two.

I don't know what would be on my list...should think about it...this would be a good meme...


I think we have everything on that list except the black beans. Have pinto beans instead. What about potatoes? Our family wouldn't last a week without those. For me, canned tuna has to be on the list. Funny, if you look in our pantry you'll see about 10 cans of tomatoes in various forms - whole, sauce, diced, fire-roasted, fire-roasted with chiles, and probably 5 cans of tuna, 3 cans sardines (I LOVE sardines). In the fridge, milk, cream, cottage cheese, cheddar cheese are must haves too.

I have just about everything, or variations of everything, on the list. I am ready for the island!

Our 23 would be almost a twin list, but I´d swap you four items. I can live without peanut oil, balsamic vinegar, coarse salt and cinnamon, but would be lost without ketchup, tinned tuna in olive oil, sherry and sherry vinegar.
I´m ready for the island, too!

Julie, there are definitely a few more things on the baking list (tomorrow). Red pepper flakes and chick peas are definitely in my pantry. I had to make some hard choices for my desert island pantry, though!

Mae, you've got it exactly -- when we pare down to essentials, what can we live without?

White on Rice, I wouldn't want to live without any of those items. Especially noodles.

B, I'm hoping that on my perfect desert island, I'd have a lemon tree and some scraggy Greek oregano growing in the herb garden (yes, that's cheating a bit!).

TW, you'd be welcome on my desert island any time. I guarantee we could have fun cooking with these ingredients.

Kalyn, you keep mentioning Spike seasoning on your blog. I'm really going to have to look for some. And I'm with you on agave, which is fast becoming my go-to sweetener.

Paz, thanks for the reminder! Of course I would forget it, and I'd be pounding my cans open with a rock...

Helen, Maryann: an island without olive oil would be unthinkable, wouldn't it?

Sher, fish sauce -- I could live without it, but I would never be able to make a proper nuoc cham.

Jasmine, you can see that I couldn't be stranded without two salts, and I suppose I could live with just kosher salt. If I had to.

Elise, we'd have to forage for potatoes (I've learned to live without them and their high sugar content, unfortunately). My pantry also has many tomato products, but I thought that if I could have just one tomato item, it would be the whole tomatoes, from which I could make all of the others -- sauce, paste, roasted, etc. Going with only one cheese would be tough for me, too.

Gretchen, I'd probably want to sneak in a jar of that wonderful Peruvian pepper sauce, too.

Lobstersquad, sherry vinegar is wonderful; I have two bottles of the really good stuff in my pantry at the moment.

Wow. I'd be hard pressed to make these choices! If I absolutely had to pare down to a very few things (assuming lots of produce could be grown and gathered, as well as fish caught), I suppose it would be oils, LOTS of spices, salts, red pepper flakes, garlic, flour, eggs and milk.

Great list. Perfect items. If I had to keep it to 23, I would take out one salt, and replace it with Italian Seasoning, and exchange rice for couscous. Oh, but where would I add the garbanzo beans? Oooh! This is a toughy. :)

Check to all 23! =)

A desert island with all those amenities -that made me a laugh... I would take a few Indian spices too.

I'm with lobstersquad, being one of those people that doesn't get balsamic, but adores the refined taste of Spanish sherry vinegar. It is my preferred ingredient for home made mayo. Oh God, only one type of bean? Maybe tinned flageolet beans for me.

Lydia, I am always mesmerized by your blog! I think I would have to add dark chocolate to that list. My sweet tooth really runs the show...

I agree with most of your items. I would bring fish sauce with me though...:)

Ann, it was so interesting to try to think of all the possible combinations. Of course my island would have abundant fish, produce, and the occasional hamburger!

Chris, I did think about couscous instead of the rice. In the end I thought I could do more with rice.

Kelly-Jane, amen.

Mallika, if you're going to get stranded, you have to be a bit picky about where -- and since I've just gotten a dishwasher in my kitchen, I'd hate to go back to not having one!

Neil, I can understand about the sherry vinegar; it's more versaile than balsamic.

Aimee, chocolate definitely -- it's on the baker's list later this week.

Veron, several people have added fish sauce. I'd have to give up a lot of Vietnamese and Thai cooking if I left mine behind.

I think I cannot live without sesame oil too!

I also am a bake-o-phobe and about the only use my flour gets is dredging.

Couple items I could not live without:
Dried chilis
Sour Patch kids
Coffee lots and lots of coffee

This is perfect for someone who is going to be moving out and living on their own soon! Thank you!

I'd really need my Aleppo Pepper, please.
And that would be the island I'd want to be stranded on indeed.

Tigerfish, sesame oil is wonderful and I always have it in the pantry. But could I live without it, if I had to? I think so.

Jeff, Sour Patch Kids? I'm giggling. But coffee -- definitely!

Hillary, glad this helps -- it was fun to make this list.

MyKitchen, I'd love to have Aleppo pepper on my island. It would make everything taste wonderful.

I'm late, as usual! If I'm stuck on an island: Coffee, milk, fleur se sel, pepper, cinnamon, oranges, lemon, lime, grainy mustard, olive oil, roasted red pepper, olives, tomatoes, garlic, onion, herbes de Provence, tuna, whole wheat flour, shallots, rice, lentils, black beans, bottle water - I guess that's it. I would forage for the rest.

And a basketball.

Black pepper, red pepper, onion powder, paprika, curry powder, nutmeg, vanilla beans, Worcestershire sauce, Greek olive oil, Smart Balance buttery spread, Smart Balance chunky peanut butter, Red Rose tea bags, Silk soy creamer. Silk soy milk (plain), brown rice (a mix of short & long grain), blue & yellow sugar (aspartame & Splenda), all-purpose flour, corn meal,baking powder,dried black beans & lima beans,steel-cut oatmeal.

if the kitchen has a dish washer, of course it would have openers, good knives, etc.

in the garden- herbs (esp basil), onions, garlic, bell peppers, tomatoes (big & little), carrots, yellow squash, zuccinni, sweet potatoes

if there's a garden, there's also an orchard- apples, peaches, oranges, lemons

also bushes- blackberry, raspberry

Mimi, as always I would want to be stranded on your island. Want to tell us about the basketball?

Krzktma, welcome to The Perfect Pantry. I'd want to be stranded on your island, too, especially if it had an herb garden, and blackberry bushes!

Can you really keep eggs & cheese in the pantry? I keep mine in the fridge.

Cindy, when I talk about "pantry", I include the fridge and freezer. And I always keep cheese and eggs in the fridge, though I have an old-fashioned cheese bell that will keep cheese at room temperature for a couple of days.

On my island I would have wild rice, tomatoes, (SEA SALT WOULD BE ABUNDANT), and definitely a fishing rod, and a rifle. I could prepare some excellent dishes with that combo!

Hmmmm, only 23 items?? Good job..My spices alone adds up to 118.. And yes, I use all 118 and the list still grows..My desert island better have access to a well stocked spice island as well..

Your desert is a Time Share location!

We travel a great deal, owning several time shares, and have a dedicated plastic tub of essential supplies we take with us. If flying the friendly skies, we ship it beforehand. Time share accommodations we frequent as a rule have only a few small packets of salt, perhaps some instant coffee, but in general, not much. Yet you have a full kitchen with every convenience. Going out to immediately "stock" the kitchen is no small thing. You often cannot find some of your favorite must haves, and even if you can, they are more costly.

I was surprised how closely the contents of our Time Share Box follows your List!

Ditto on all those! Our personal addition would be some rice and lentils

Dijon mustard seems like a weird choice; what do you use it for?

Shana, I use Dijon in salad dressings, sauces, stews -- it's often the "mystery ingredient" that really bumps up flavor. I couldn't live without it.

Verify your Comment

Previewing your Comment

This is only a preview. Your comment has not yet been posted.

Your comment could not be posted. Error type:
Your comment has been saved. Comments are moderated and will not appear until approved by the author. Post another comment

The letters and numbers you entered did not match the image. Please try again.

As a final step before posting your comment, enter the letters and numbers you see in the image below. This prevents automated programs from posting comments.

Having trouble reading this image? View an alternate.


Post a comment

Comments are moderated, and will not appear until the author has approved them.