« 13 pantry items every baker absolutely, positively, has to have | Main | Other People's Pantries #11 »

The top 10 pantry items you absolutely, positively, want to have

When the number of items in The Perfect Pantry's cupboards, spice rack, refrigerator and freezer hit 225, 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. Today, the end of The Things We Can't Live Without Week.


After a week of reviewing what we'd need if we were stranded on a desert island (did I mention high-speed internet to keep up with my favorite Top Chef recap, a good santoku, and a few cases of Fresca?), it's time to share the results of our first readers' poll, which gave a choice of all 23 items on our must-have desert island pantry list. Thanks so much to the more than 200 readers who participated.

The big surprise -- where's the salt? Way down at #21 on the list, below balsamic vinegar, lemons, soy sauce and cumin.

Your Top 10 stranded-on-a-desert-island pantry items, in order of popularity:

  1. Olive oil: on everyone's list.
  2. Garlic
  3. Onions
  4. Eggs
  5. Black pepper
  6. Butter
  7. Rice
  8. Canned tomatoes
  9. Dried pasta
  10. Stock or broth

And 10 items you added to the essential pantry list, in order of popularity:

  1. Red pepper flakes/chile peppers. (Most frequently mentioned, by a landslide. I wouldn't want to live without red pepper flakes, either!)
  2. Coconut milk
  3. Herbes de Provence
  4. Fish sauce
  5. Bread flour
  6. Olives
  7. Canned tuna
  8. Peanut butter
  9. Limes
  10. Tea

Despite all of my planning and paring, I'd have to sneak onto the desert island a few more essential items from my pantry: chili paste with garlic, chipotles in adobo, curry powder, oyster sauce, wonton skins, lentils, coffee, and a decent bottle of wine.

How about you -- what one, or two, or six pantry items would you hate to leave behind?

Previously: 23 pantry items (and 13 items for bakers) you'd absolutely, positively, have to have on a desert island.

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.


Not sure if this is included in red pepper flakes / chili peppers, but I couldn't live without my Thai Kitchen Red Pepper Paste. And bacon. (Oh, now I have to try red-pepper-paste-coated bacon.)

Sesame oil! I love this stuff :] I often use it as a substitute for olive oil when roasting veggies.

I´m hopeless at this game.
I´d be the one who drowns, trying to salvage the Dijon mustard and the Cola-Cao and the sweet and sour gherkins from the sharks and the incoming tide.

I just cannot cook without herbes de Provence, it goes with everything!
Pesto is also a meal saver to have.

You DO have the perfect pantry!


Gaahhh! You lost the soy sauce! I need soy sauce :). And the salt! Didn't Thomas Keller mention to Ruhlman in the elements of cooking that the most important thing a cook should know is how to season - and he meant salting ;).

Its interesting to see what everybody else has to say...some interesting discoveries and diverse styles. I would chime in with the 3 over-priced spices that make everything they go into magical: cardamom, saffron, and vanilla beans (not extract). I also need to have some kind of dried peppers handy (or chipotle in adobo as you mentioned) and a good variety of nuts (pecans, hazelnuts, macadamia, almonds, cashews, brazil nuts, etc). Oh, and a good, strong goat cheese is a must!

what about lemons? i cannot live without lemons

Well, I would just have to hope that I would be stranded on a desert island where I could forage for my own ginger roots and fresh basil and scallions to go with the gallon of soy sauce and sushi rice I happened to have stashed in my suitcase. Yes, those would go quite nicely with all the fresh fish I would be eating. And I would borrow some sesame oil from fellow strandee above (or I would just eat her veggies when she wasn't looking!) Hmm... maybe I've been watching too much reality TV... becoming way too competitive. :)

I would need Saffron, Cumin, Vanilla extract, French sea salt and lemons.

I would find it hard to leave behind capers, oregano, all kinds of vinegar (but especially red wine vinegar) and (don't laugh or say, "Eeeww,") but anchovy paste.

And if I'm really stuck on a desert island? An endless supply of Cabernet Sauvignon and/or Argentinian Malbec, complete with wine opener. Nothing like being stuck watching sunset after sunset with my toes in the sand and a bottle of red wine in hand.

If I were stranded on a dessert island I would need gin, tonic, limes and ice. Hmmm, not sure those are pantry items. But seriously, I'm figuring there is lots of seafood around this island so I need ground almonds, salt, black & red pepper, olive oil, lemons and butter. Not too imaginative but practical!

Lentils and coffee! My goodness YES!
Then I think we should have 5 items that we could have that we'd forgotten to bring because they won't be needed until we're there!

Oh, no no! Salt has to be in the top ten. OK, wait a minute. This island is surrounded by salt water. Perhaps we can harvest our own salt?

I don't think I'd care at all about red pepper flakes or fish sauce. But I would like to have pine nuts, sun dried tomatoes and kalamata olives! Maybe even some capers. Several cases of red wine might keep me happy for a while too.

Vicki, anything red pepper and spicy would be welcome!

Tatiana, I always have sesame oil in my pantry.

Lobstersquad, don't know about pickles, but I'd fight to rescue the mustard, for sure!

Babeth, pesto -- yes!

Paz, maybe not perfect, but definitely well-rounded!

Veron, not to worry, I would never leave home without salt and soy sauce -- in fact, salt was at the very top of my list, and I'd have to have at least two kinds!

Mike, saffron would be a must for me, too. Although maybe I'd get lucky, and I could pick it on the island....

HoneyK, yes, lemons -- could not live without them. I hope there would be lemon trees on my fantasy island.

Cindy, sounds like there would be some serious stir frying on your desert island. Hope I'm there with you!

Katia, I'd need all of those things, and then I'd need you to come and make wonderful tarts and things for me.

Sandie, I like the way you think.

Simply GF, I like the way you think, too! Now, ground almonds -- for baking, or for crusting the fish?

MyKitchen, the coffee would be absolutely necessary, or else I couldn't focus on the rest of what I'd brought along.

Julie, salt is #1 for me -- but I was so surprised that it wasn't #1 in our readers' poll. Harvesting our own salt sounds like a lot of work, doesn't it? We'd have to make giant rakes out of tree limbs!

RecipeGirl, the wine would definitely help! Sounds like you would be doing some wonderful Mediterranean cooking with those ingredients.

That could be a tricky moment when you hit Desert Island Customs with your 8 or so contraband items. Hope it doesn't leave you crying as they make themselves a fresh cup of coffee...with your coffee!

Hi, new here! I am so attracted by the photo because I just wrote a post on Herbs of Provence, & I've linked your article to my blog post. ;)

I've most of the things on your list! I think there's too much we can't do without ;)

In no particular order:
Sriracha Hot Sauce
Maggi Seasoning, soy sauce
Dried Noodles

Goodness, you've really got us to thinking...there's so many to mention! :)

Neil, have I told you about the time I brought in vegetable seeds from Italy....or chile peppers from Mexico, wrapped up in my laundry bag...? There was a great scene in some old Peter Ustinov movie of him bringing instant coffee to Brazil -- do you remember it?

Noobcook, welcome to The Perfect Pantry! Yes, there are so many things we think we must have -- but when you have to think about cutting back to just a few, that's when you realize which things are really important for your own cooking. It's been a challenge for me!

White on Rice, Sriracha would be great to have -- and dried rice noodles, though I guess we could learn to make them from rice and water. I'm not a cilantro person, so I'd trade that for more hot sauce, I think.

Ok - I know its not "food" , but can I bring Twizzlers? :)

Were your ears burning? I talked about you....http://melecotte.blogspot.com/2008/04/bruschetta-is-excellent.html :)

Lydia, you ask some difficult questions, my friend. :)
I have to say olive oil, black pepper, onions, limes/lemons, cocoa powder, flour, sugar, butter, eggs. :)

I gotta agree with everyone that has said SPICES! They take cooking to the next level. I keep my spices nice and neat by organizing in the SpiceStack - a new spice rack that fits in your kitchen cabinet or pantry. SpiceStack holds 27+ store-bought spices, and the drop-down drawers help you find spices fast while cooking. You'll never lose a paprika to the back of the pantry again!

Whoa, sorry for being so absent !

This one is kinda easy for me. I find myself heading out the door to grill for friends and relatives on a semi-regular basis. Got my black leather knive case/spice rack all ready.

1. And always #1, Kosher salt
2. Smoked salt for a finish on vegies/taters
3. black pepper with grinder
4. creamy white peppercorns with grinder
5. onion powder
6. celery seeds
7. cumin seeds (with very small cast iron skillet)
8. chile powder
9. cayenne chile powder
9.5 paprika
9.75 Spanish smoked paprika
10. Pappy's low salt seasoning (best thing EVER).
11. Mexican Oregano
12. Thyme
13. Rosemary
14. Good knives
15. Steels
16. Tongs
17. Cooking sticks
18. Shovel
19. cooking grate
20. Cooking rocks
20.5 File powder, just in case
21. Hat

And of course a few grand to bribe the guards so I can get my case in.

xo, Biggles

Oh, we were supposed to cut back? *grins* If you saw my pantry, you would see that that's impossible for me! My "must haves" included about half of the things on your poll, plus many more.

I would need cilantro, garam masala powder, vinegar (apple cider, white wine, sherry - that all counts as 1, right?), heavy cream (for all the soups), ginger root, mushrooms, lemongrass...

Lobstersquad, I'd be drowning right along with you!

oh brother,my favorites not to leave behind; balsamic vinegar,sea salt-coffee,olive oil,seeds for squash, if allowed! I'm sure I would never survive........

Chris, I love Twizzlers -- or any other red licorice. Bring 'em along!

Patricia, I wouldn't want to leave home without any of the things on your list.

Lauren, my spice rack could surely use some organization. Right now I think it's organized by height....

Biggles, I'd been thinking that George Clooney would be my guy of choice if I could pick someone to be stranded with, but now I know I'd much rather be stranded with you! And I'd bring a big ole' piece of brisket....

Judy, it was really hard to think about the bare necessities, like choosing one type of vinegar. Sherry vinegar would be hard to leave behind.

Jann, I think the rule on my desert island would have to be "bring whatever you can carry"! Seeds for squash -- great idea, and so easy to pack!

I definitely agree with the additions. Coconut milk and fish sauce are a must have!

You know... coconut milk is something I have never used. I always skip the recipes that require that for some reason. This weekend, I'm making a change and adding coconut milk to the list!

SassyChef, welcome to The Perfect Pantry. I always have coconut milk and fish sauce, though if I really had to travel light, I'd be able to live without both. Maybe my island would have coconuts....

Kristen, coconut milk is great for making a quick meal from kitchen leftovers -- that and a bit of store-bought Thai curry paste, and voila, instant curry!

I love this list. Coconut milk is not in my pantry, but mostly everything else is.

hi there, love these lists! i have to have sardines and saltines at all time or i get nervous. also tomato paste. i just breath easier knowing they are in place ready for action! hehheh

Mimi, coconut milk is in my pantry, but wouldn't be necessary on my desert island -- which, in addition to air conditioning and a DSL line, would undoubtedly have coconut trees.

Aria, sardines and saltines! I love how what is important to one person is completely not on the list of another. Just goes to show how much fun a pantry can be.

Just wanted to let you know that your post is featured on BlogHer today! ~ AK - http://www.blogher.com/kitchen-tips-busy-cooks

I wish i had peanut butter in my pantry :( for some reason spaniards just don't appreciate it in all it's american glory...

Courtney, I wonder why that is. Spanish cuisine certainly uses nuts -- but maybe not peanuts? I'd be happy to send you some; send me an email.

Hello from a (non-desert) island: Hawaii. I just answered this post with a description of how I stocked the condo pantry for a 2 week stay. Nowhere near 10 items! I really keep it stripped down -- unless you also count the breakfast cereal!

Oh my goodness, heavy cream , can of purred tomatoes,garlic, pasta, olive oil,s/p, flour, eggs, cream of wheat. A few candles and a case of imported bier.

I would absolutely HAVE to have galengal, also know as laos, (as we eat lots of Indonesian foods), also rice, noodles, garlic, sambal oelek - a hot pepper sauce, and of course, good Alberta beef! Hopefully there are local birds, but NOT gulls, so I can make Indesian chicken,some wild boars, so I can make bacon, and lots of local growing vegetables. White wine is essential. OH! and some local growing truffles would be nice......

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.