Cooking With Spices - Tips and Techniques
For Fabulous Home Cooking

To the novice cook, cooking with spices can sometimes seem a bit confusing. With so many to choose from, it can certainly seem a little daunting. Well, it needn't be! With a few simple tips and techniques I'll demonstrate how anyone can use them to deliver fabulous tasting food.

I recommend using whole ingredients where you can for your homemade mixes and blends. This is pretty straightforward and most stores sell a wide range nowadays.

Note: However, there are certain spices where it's not practical to use whole and their powdered form is better. See down the page details on which ones.

Picture of whole spices

And you can use them whole in any number of dishes:

  • Add whole cardamom pods to a rice dish and it will lightly perfume it with its unique taste

  • When frying, a teaspoon of cumin seeds adds nice flavours and aromas

  • Or simply toss a tablespoon or two of coriander seeds into a simmering curry, stew or casserole etc

Toasting and Grinding

One of the best things you can do when cooking with spices is to grind them and add them to your recipes or, combine them with others to replicate the unique flavours of dishes from around the world...

Toasting is the key to getting the best out of them...

By dry toasting them in a pan for a few minutes over a medium heat helps release their flavours, aromas and colours. Next you let cool and then grind in your coffee grinder or mill.

If you've never toasted or ground before, you're in for a very pleasant experience! The huge aromas that are produced may take you by surprise!

The next step is to combine them with other ground and pre-ground powders to make your blends.

Click here for step-by-step tips and photos on toasting and grinding. (Link opens in new window)

Ones to Have Whole...

If you're planning on doing a lot of cooking with spices, here are the ones I recommend having to hand at all times...

Cumin seeds, coriander seeds, peppercorns, cloves, mustard seeds, cinnamon sticks, fennel seeds, nutmeg, dried chilis and green cardamom.

With just these, and a few pre-ground powders (see below), you can pretty much whip up any combination you like!

Recommended Pre-ground Powders...

Whilst I usually recommend using whole, for some certain ones it's quite difficult to get them in dried and whole form, so buying a quality pre-ground powder is the way to go...

Turmeric, ginger, garlic, onion and paprika are the ones to buy pre-ground.

Picture of fresh turmeric root

Of course if you really want, you can buy them fresh and dry them yourself...

You would need a food dehydrator and a mill/coffee grinder and plenty of time.

But if you wanted to dry and grind fresh turmeric root you would need an industrial strength grinder as it's as hard as stone once dried!

Personally with the above, I just buy the best quality organic powders available in small amounts and quickly use them up before buying anew.

Less Common Cooking Spices

To complete your spice cupboard here are the ones I recommend buying only when you need them. Tip: It's best to buy small amounts as you may not use them too often and you don't want them going stale and losing flavour.

Asafetida (hing), amchoor, ajwain, anise, caraway, brown/black cardamom, dried curry leaves, allspice and juniper berries, mace, nigella, and celery seeds.

Very Rarely Used...

picture of annatto seeds

There are numerous others available, some more exotic than others:

grains of paradise, chufa nuts, candlenuts, galangal, cubebs, annatto and golpar seeds, long pepper to name just a few.

But unless your recipe specifies these, it's fairly unlikely you'll need them.

There are more than enough "common spices" to create all the blends and mixes you want!

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