22 Sweet Ingredients You Should Always Keep In Your Pantry

Pantry ingredients on pink background
Pantry ingredients on pink background - Static Media/Shutterstock

If you are moving into your first apartment or home, you know how difficult the process can be to stock your pantry. And if you're working with a tiny kitchen or have limited cabinet space, you're going to want to choose items that you can use for multiple meals or occasions, not just one-hit wonders. Once you've complied with your basics, like flour, leaveners, pasta, and rice, it's time to start building out the sweet side.

We've composed a collection of the most important sweet ingredients any chef needs — whether you are an amateur baker or pastry master. When making this collection, we considered the availability and relative cost of each item and how ubiquitous the ingredient was in baking and non-baking applications. We also aimed to choose items with a relatively long shelf life or that could last long if given the proper storage conditions.

Read more: 20 Popular Canned Soups, Ranked Worst To Best

Granulated White Sugar

Child pouring white sugar
Child pouring white sugar - Bloomberg/Getty Images

Granulated sugar is the backbone of most sweet baked goods and your morning cup of coffee. It is highly refined, so it does not have the same composition as brown or raw sugar. In addition, it's also pure sucrose, which has the ability to make a super-sweet recipe with comparatively less sugar than other alternative sweeteners.

There are many uses for granulated sugar in your kitchen, including making simple syrup for cocktails, blending it with brown sugar to craft the perfect cookie recipe, or coating a homemade apple cider donut. Granulated sugar has an indefinite shelf life if kept in a cool and dry location. It's also relatively cheap to purchase and easy to find.

Sparkling Sugar

Granulated sanding sugar
Granulated sanding sugar - kungfu01/Shutterstock

Sparkling sugar is a less common ingredient to have for home bakers, but it should be one you have nonetheless. This sugar, which is otherwise called sanding sugar, has much larger grains of sucrose than granulated sugar. This physical characteristic gives the sparkling sugar a crunchy texture that can withstand the heat of your oven. Although sparkling sugar comes in clear, you can also find it in different colors in the sprinkle section of your grocery store.

The most common ways to use this ingredient in the kitchen are for decorating cookies, but it's also the ingredient Martha Stewart adds to make bread pudding sparkle. Impress your brunch guests by adding a sprinkle of sugar to the tops of your muffins before baking.

Brown Sugar

Brown sugar background with spoon
Brown sugar background with spoon - Floortje/Getty Images

Brown sugar is an indispensable ingredient to keep stocked in your pantry. This sugar contains molasses, so it has a much softer and more oaky flavor than granulated sugar alone. Combine it with butter to give your store-bought cookie dough a major boost, or add a sprinkle to your homemade barbecue sauce or marinade.

The key to fresh brown sugar in your pantry is to keep it in an airtight container (not the original bag you bought). It's a mighty way to keep brown sugar soft because it will prevent the moisture from leaving the sugar, which will render it plush whenever you need it. Although brown sugar doesn't necessarily expire — it can't support microbial growth — working with hard sugar makes it difficult to measure or easily incorporate into your recipe.

Baking Chocolate Bars

Person chopping baking chocolate
Person chopping baking chocolate - Milan2099/Getty Images

If you have one type of chocolate in your pantry, it should be baking chocolate. Although most people would choose chocolate chips, bar chocolate is much better than chips for homemade cookies. This is because bar chocolate doesn't contain the stabilizers that force the chip to keep its shape when it melts. In addition, chocolate chips have less cocoa butter, so they tend to come out grainy.

For recipes that require melting, such as chocolate-covered strawberries or chocolate candies, bar chocolate is going to be the way to go. You can also buy different brands with different sugar or cocoa butter content, which will alter the taste and texture of your cookie or recipe. Plus, there's something satisfying about biting into a crisp chocolate bar.

Powdered Instant Pudding

Stacks of instant pudding boxes
Stacks of instant pudding boxes - Julie Thurston Photography/Getty Images

Instant pudding is a much more practical ingredient than you'd think. Besides making a bowl of it for a family-friendly dessert (or making a spinoff of Magnolia Bakery's iconic banana pudding), it's the secret weapon for easy tiramisu or adding to recipes like brownies or cookies for a softer and plusher texture.

There are tons of varieties of instant pudding, so you can choose the flavor that works best for your needs. We recommend always having a box of plain vanilla pudding on hand, but you can also experiment with other flavors like chocolate, lemon, or pistachio. When stored in a cool, dry, low-light area, powdered Jell-O mix and pudding powder have an indefinite shelf life, so you won't have to replace them if you go too long without making a trifle.

Boxed Cake Mix

Boxes of Devil's Food mix
Boxes of Devil's Food mix - Geri Lavrov/Getty Images

Everyone loves to harp on boxed cake mixes, but not everyone has the time or the experience to make a cake batter from scratch. There are numerous ways to take boxed cake mix to a new level, including adding ingredients like melted ice cream, yogurt, and even mashed potatoes.

Not only can you craft an upgraded (and not to mention pretty darn foolproof) cake with a boxed mix, but you can also add it to other foods to improve their taste and texture. Add oil and eggs to turn cake mix into cookie dough, or modify the recipe a little bit to craft your own homemade-ish fudgy brownies. We recommend having a box of basic yellow mix for most recipes, but you can also add decadent chocolate or devil's food mix to your recipes, too.

Powdered Sugar

Powdered sugar in sieve
Powdered sugar in sieve - Brent Hofacker/Shutterstock

Powdered sugar is an essential ingredient for any cake baker or decorator to have in their pantry arsenal. If you get your powdered sugar from the grocery store, you can also select how fine you want the powder to be ground. The most common grade of powdered sugar is 6x, meaning it has been ground six times to the perfect particle size.

Confectioner sugar, another type of ultra-fine sugar, is slightly different from powdered sugar in that it contains cornstarch, allowing it to sit on top of a recipe without clumping. This ingredient is also vital for making meringues because it increases their stability.

Condensed Milk

Condensed milk in bowl
Condensed milk in bowl - Towfiqu Ahamed/Getty Images

Condensed milk seems like an ingredient you would only use for homemade dulce de leche, but there are actually tons of savory and sweet applications for this canned ingredient. Canned sweetened condensed milk is the secret to deliciously caramelized pork because slow cooking in the crockpot will cause it to brown and caramelize on the meat, leaving you with a sweet, succulent piece of pork. It's also the secret ingredient that will take your Rice Krispies treats to the next level because it will slow the staling process and keep the bars soft.

Another reason why condensed milk is a great ingredient to have in the kitchen is because it's shelf-stable. About 60% of the water content is removed, which means it can last a long time if left unopened.

Vanilla Extract

Bottle of vanilla extract
Bottle of vanilla extract - New Africa/Shutterstock

Vanilla extract is one ingredient that you want to see the value in before you actually need it. There are two options for this extract: making your own or turning to a store-bought brand. Ina Garten's homemade vanilla extract is 37 years old; she keeps a jar with vanilla bean pods and cheap vodka in her pantry for at least four months before adding it to her favorite cookie and cake recipes.

Acquiring a store-bought vanilla extract will be hands-off but may cost you more in the long run. Our favorite brands include Nielsen-Massey, which is made with crystallized cane sugar, and the double-strength bottle from Penzy's. For a lower cost yet still quality option, go for McCormick's — but just be sure to choose the pure vanilla extract rather than the imitation one.

Maple Syrup

Pouring maple syrup on pancakes
Pouring maple syrup on pancakes - Gmvozd/Getty Images

If you grew up in New England, you probably have a bottle of maple syrup in your pantry at any given time. There are many unconventional ways to use maple syrup in the kitchen that aren't just drizzling it onto pancakes, including using it as a sugar substitute for baking, lemonade, or coffee, glazing meats, and crafting unique candies.

Unlike other types of sweeteners, maple syrup has a limited shelf life — kind of. Pure maple syrup (not that fake pancake syrup concoction) lasts about a year after opening. It should be refrigerated to slow mold growth on the product's surface. However, if you open your bottle to find this unpleasant surprise, bring the syrup to a boil, skim off the mold, and pour it into a clean container.


Drizzling honey on toast
Drizzling honey on toast - Gmvozd/Getty Images

Honey is a staple ingredient for tea because it imparts mild floral notes to the beverage while also sweetening it to perfection. Some bakers will also use the natural sweetener as a replacement for granulated white sugar in baking, but there are some important considerations you should make before swapping it one-for-one. The important tip you need for baking with honey is that honey has a sweeter profile, so you'll only need ½ to ⅔ of a cup of honey for each cup of sugar. Like maple syrup, honey is a liquid, so you may have to decrease the other wet ingredients in your batter to ensure it has the perfect texture.

Honey also has another unique quality: its acidity. When baking with honey, you'll have to add a bit of baking soda to counteract some of the acidity and ensure your baked goods get the proper rise.

Cocoa Powder

Dusting of cocoa powder
Dusting of cocoa powder - Robert Daly/Getty Images

Cocoa powder is an essential ingredient for bakers, so it's one you're going to want to have on hand in your pantry. Although it's often lumped into one ingredient, there are many different types of cocoa powder, all of which are suited for different purposes. Natural cocoa powder is acidic and bitter, meaning it can add a deep chocolatey profile to your muffins or cake and provide a bit of help with the leavening process.

Dutch cocoa powder has a little bit of a more earthy flavor and can be used to add an edge to your favorite chili recipe or depth to your brownies. Regardless of the type of cocoa powder, you can use it within a year or two of opening without any risk.


Cinnamon ingredients on table
Cinnamon ingredients on table - Annmell_sun/Shutterstock

There are very few recipes that can't be improved with a pinch (or more) of cinnamon. It's our secret weapon for improving tomato sauce because it fends off the acidity, and it is essential for making a gooey batch of Sunday morning rolls. This spice comes in many different types, including Ceylon and Cassia. The former is sweet and floral, while the latter has a slightly spicy undertone. You can also purchase whole sticks of cinnamon or opt for the easy-to-use grounds for sprinkling into batters or recipes.

Cinnamon does go bad eventually, and you should try to use it within six months of opening for the most flavorful result. When the aroma from the spice starts to diminish, that's your cue to source out a new jar.

Semi Sweet Chocolate Chips

Chocolate chips as background
Chocolate chips as background - Mphillips007/Getty Images

Although we've said that baking chocolate will always be superior to chocolate chips, there are some cases where that just isn't always true. Chocolate chips will be the best ingredient when you're looking for a crunchy cookie, while the chunks will give you an ooey, gooey cookie.

The benefit of using chocolate chips is that you can also add them on top of your ice cream and have a satisfying visual effect. While semi-sweet chocolate chips are our go-to, especially from brands like Ghirardelli and Guittard, you can also find white chocolate, milk chocolate, and dark chocolate chips to upgrade your cookie recipe. The chips will last about two to three years in your pantry, and you can extend this by freezing the bag.

Espresso Powder Or Instant Coffee

Slice of tiramisu on plate
Slice of tiramisu on plate - Adam Smigielski/Getty Images

We recommend always having a container of instant coffee or espresso powder in your kitchen — and not for drinking, either. These ingredients will dramatically boost the flavors of your baked goods, especially those with chocolate involved. You can add espresso powder to any chocolate cake recipe by adding it in with the rest of the dry ingredients. It will dissolve when you add the wet components, so you won't have to worry about making coffee and having your batter get too wet.

You can use instant coffee for dry rubs or to improve the flavor of your homemade chili, too. The powder will temper the hot flavor notes or the acidity of the other ingredients, which helps promote balance and a well-rounded dish.

Raisins And Dried Fruit

Bowl of dried fruits
Bowl of dried fruits - Rosettejordaan/Getty Images

Say what you will about raisins, but this ingredient is a versatile one that can be used for a bunch of different recipes, and it takes up less space in your kitchen than fresh produce. You can add your dried fruit to your breakfast cereal or oatmeal for a boost of fruity flavor with very little prep. In addition, try chopping up the fruit and adding it to your favorite cookie, banana bread, or pumpkin bread recipe.

Keeping dried fruits in the pantry is also a great choice because they're easy to mix into a trail mix or pop in your bag as a snack in between classes or appointments. Favorites include unsweetened dried mango slices and apricots.

Hot Chocolate Powder

Hot chocolate powder scoop
Hot chocolate powder scoop - Valeri Vatel/Shutterstock

Hot cocoa mix is often relegated to cold winter nights and slumber parties, but there are other ways you can use the hot cocoa mix to sweeten and infuse a chocolatey malt flavor into your recipes. Add a bit of the power to waffle batter for a chocolatey infusion of flavor, or mix it with butter, chopped chocolate, and a sweetener to make a riff on hot fudge sauce for your ice cream sundae.

You can also use hot cocoa mix to make boozy winter cocktails. Add a few tablespoons of tequila and cayenne to your hot cocoa for a Mexican spiked hot chocolate, or make a mocha version with a touch of Kahlúa. There's no wrong way to hot cocoa — just don't forget the marshmallows.


Mini marshmallows as background
Mini marshmallows as background - Anthonyrosenberg/Getty Images

Marshmallows seem like a bit of an odd ingredient to have tucked away in your pantry unless you consider yourself a s'more connoisseur. But these little puff balls are actually a beneficial ingredient to have. You can transform them into a toasted marshmallow shot glass for your summer libations just as easy as you can use them to add springy texture to your baked good.

These confectionary treats have a shorter life span than other ingredients on our list, so you should always start with a fresh bag or store an opened one in the freezer. It's essential for recipes like Rice Krispies treats that call for fresh marshmallows rather than ones that have gone stale.

Sandwich Cookies

Stack of sandwich cookies
Stack of sandwich cookies - Mindstyle/Getty Images

"Sandwich cookie" is a broad term encompassing many different cookie brands and styles, including whoopie pies, biscuits, and even ice cream sandwiches (better known as chipwiches). But for the sake of simplicity, we're gearing more towards those chocolate cookies filled with vanilla cream that you can find in any vending machine or grocery store.

Not only are these cookies perfect for snacking on when the craving his, but you can also use them as a topping or flavoring agent for ice cream, cupcakes, and cookies. One of our favorite ways to use sandwich cookies is to crumble them up with melted butter and press it into a crumb crust. It will surely elevate your peanut butter pie or cheesecake to a new level.

Graham Crackers

Stack of graham crackers on plate
Stack of graham crackers on plate - Duaneellison/Getty Images

Graham crackers are often not a pantry staple, but they really should be. The most evident way to use these honey crackers is for a crumb crust, but you can also find more creative ways to integrate it into your baking routine. You can give boring boxed cake mix a twist by adding crumbled graham crackers to both the batter and the outside of the cake. Or, crumble up the graham crackers and add them to your next apple or blueberry crisp for a texture that is out of this world.

These crackers are highly susceptible to going stale, even after a short time. You'll notice the crackers start to go limp and become devoid of crunchiness. Always seal your graham cracker packs in an airtight container after opening, or opt for a fresh pack every time.

Freeze-Dried Fruit

Bowl of freeze-dried strawberries
Bowl of freeze-dried strawberries - New Africa/Shutterstock

Not many recipes call for it specifically, but you should always have freeze-dried fruit in your pantry. Unlike dehydrated fruit, freeze-dried fruit has had all of its water sucked out, but it was never heated. This important step means that the fruit maintains its flavor sans water. Since dehydration only removes some of the water, dried fruits are also more prone to spoilage than freeze-dried varieties.

You can cook with this very portable ingredient in many different ways. The fruit won't alter the water content of your recipe and it will provide a robust fruity flavor perfect for brownies, cakes, and cookies. In addition, you can use freeze-dried fruit to color your macarons; just add the fruit to a food processor and pulse until powdery.

Caramel Sauce

Caramel sauce jar with spoon
Caramel sauce jar with spoon - New Africa/Shutterstock

Let's face it: making caramel sauce is a pain. If you even look at the stuff the wrong way, it will burn and leave you to start over again.

Instead of going through the trials and tribulations of perfecting your caramel sauce, just buy a jar of it from the grocery store instead. Our favorite caramel sauce brands include Coop's and Williams Sonoma, but you can also opt to purchase one of the cheaper brands if you're just looking for something to adorn the top of your ice cream sundae. Swirl this thick sauce into your cookies or add a bit to your frosting to make it extra thick and decadent. There's no wrong way to indulge in this must-have pantry staple.

Read the original article on Tasting Table.