When you take your first step into cooking with spices it seems like there is a lot to learn. If you suffer a few cooking setbacks it’s tempting to revert to the packet mixes for flavor. Worse still, maybe you’ll leave out the spicing altogether? Don’t give up on making food from scratch just yet. Instead, check out these tips for cooking with spices. They’ll have you rustling up flavor-popping food in no time.
20 Essential Spicing Tips
1. Use ethnic stores to your advantage
One of the biggest reasons people don’t use spices is the price. It can get quite expensive setting up a collection of essential spices. Instead of visiting a bulk bin store and buying more than you’ll ever use, consider visiting specialty stores to source a bargain. Local Indian, Asian, and Mexican retailers are a few examples.
2. Take care when cooking over steam
Steam is “kryptonite” for your precious spices. If it gets into your spice bottle the flavor intensity will diminish. It also causes the free-flowing powder to clump which is a major pain. When cooking over a steaming pot, avoid pouring spices into the pot directly from the jar. This will stop any unwanted moisture getting inside.
3. Taste as you go
It is tempting to toss spices in at the end of cooking as an afterthought. Instead, add them early in the cook to allow the flavors to infuse and develop. Taste test often and, if needed, add more seasoning.
4. Check expiration dates ruthlessly
Spices lose their flavor and color if they’re kept too long. Regularly check all your spices to make sure they still have an aroma and that their color isn’t faded. Discard any underperformers for the sanity of your taste buds.
5. Use bulk spices to save
Buying in bulk can save your household money, but make sure you’re going to use it all. The best option is to learn what spices you use a lot of and buy up big on those. For the rest just stick to the small bottle.
6. Scoop bagged spices the right way
If a recipe calls for one tablespoon of spice, it’s tempting to rush the measuring – often a heaped spoon goes into the bowl. Avoid over-spiced food by taking the time to measure a level scoop, as the recipe intended. It is also important to scoop using a dry spoon. Any moisture will remain in the bag causing it to go off prematurely.
7. Salt lightly and early
No one enjoys salty food. Avoid this problem by adding a small amount of salt early in the cook. Taste test as you go and add more if needed.
8. Learn about chili peppers
There are a wide variety of chili varieties which all produce different flavor and heat. In cooking, it is important to get an understanding of how different products will impact your food. Cayenne pepper doesn’t have a lot of flavor – it is designed to add fiery heat to your meals. Used in moderation, chili flakes are milder and they also add a subtle fruity taste. Paprika is warming and adds a smoky undertone to food. Each type of chili spice has its purpose and using them interchangeably may not end well for your dish.
9. Use common spices as substitutes
If you love experimenting with new flavors, then by all means go out and buy that fennel pollen or some mace blades. If you think the rest will sit unused in the pantry then save your money by using more common spices substitutes.
10. Store spices correctly
Keep your spices looking and tasting like they’ve just been picked by storing properly. Place them in a cool, dark location away from the oven, stove, dishwasher, or anything else that gives off heat. Better still, check out our ultimate guide to storing spices.
11. A spice grinder makes life easy
If you enjoy ground spice, then you’re going to love whole spices that you grind yourself. The flavors have more impact when you grind them just before adding to food and there is something satisfying about DIY spicing. A spice mill, or a cheap coffee grinder, will allow you to process them quickly and effectively.
12. Cool some spices
Some spices last better when stored in the refrigerator. Ground spices from the pepper family, like cayenne and paprika, retain their flavor and color better when kept cool.
13. Watch the spice ratios
We sometimes need to double or halve a recipe, depending on our needs. Although adjusting the quantity of meat or vegetables is perfectly fine, spices are different. Powerful spices like cumin and cayenne pepper will overpower your food if you double the quantity. As a general rule, if you double the recipe quantities, use 1.25 – 1.5 times the amount of any strong-tasting spice.
14. Experiment with grind size
Do you grind your own spices? We recommend testing different levels of coarseness to see how it impacts flavor intensity. For example, finely ground black pepper will have more power than a coarsely ground option.
15. Invest in a microplane
With spices like ginger or nutmeg, a microplane is an invaluable tool. For a small cost, this tool fits easily into the utensil draw and makes grating spices a cinch.
16. Make your own spice blends
Most spice mixes like jerk spice or Italian seasoning are made of commonly used spices you probably already have at home. Instead of outlaying money for more spices, make your own to save some space in the pantry. It’ll probably taste better too!
17. Keep lids closed
Once you’ve used a spice, flip the lid shut immediately after use to keep out unwanted moisture.
18. Choose a reputable seller
Spices that have been sitting around for many months in a shop aren’t going to help your cooking. Look for well-known spice stores which seem to have a lot of foot traffic. This means the spices are getting turned over faster and you probably won’t get landed with an expired product.
19. Date spice packaging
If you use your own containers then pop a date sticker on each jar when they get refilled. Otherwise, you’ll have no idea how old they are, and when it’s time to toss them out.
20. Toast whole spices in a pan
Buying whole spices and toasting them is a surefire way to incorporate mind-blowing flavor into your cooking. You can also toast ground spices but they only need seconds on the heat or they’ll burn. Once the fragrant aromas hit you, its time to remove them.
Get a better understanding of what spices are in this beginner’s guide that we created for your reading pleasure.