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Guide to Using Spices

Smart tips for buying, storing and cooking with spices.

 

Whole vs. Ground

Whole vs. Ground: Which Is Better?

Unlike herbs, which come from the leaves
of plants, highly aromatic spices are
derived from the roots, seeds, bark or fruit
of various plants. Whole and ground
spices are often used for different
applications. Take cumin, for example:
when ground, it’s often sprinkled on a
dish; when used whole, it can be toasted
and used for tempering (see below).

While the convenience of buying ground
spices can’t be beat, we recommend
purchasing whole spices whenever
possible and grinding them yourself;
you’ll get superior flavor, and the spices
themselves will last longer.


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Working with Spices

“It’s easy to make something delicious with fat, but if you really
understand spices you can revolutionize your cooking and your health.”

 Padma Lakshmi

Author of The Encyclopedia of Spices & Herbs

 

Working with Spices
Essential spice techniques that will elevate every dish made in your kitchen.

Technique: Tempering

This common Indian cooking technique
involves heating whole spices in hot oil
before adding to a dish.

Tadka, or tempering, is typically done at
the beginning or end of the cooking
process, either to build complexity or add
a final punch of flavor. Unlike
dry roasting, frying spices gives them a
bright, bold flavor. In Indian cooking, it’s
popular with spices such as cumin,
mustard seeds and curry leaves.

Technique: Dry Roasting

Dry roasting is a technique wherein
whole spices are heated in a dry skillet
until fragrant.

Toasting whole spices lends a deep,
earthy quality to each. Try the technique
at the beginning of a recipe, with spices
such as fennel seeds, coriander and dry
chiles, to add character to a dish.

Storing Spices

Keep your spices tightly sealed in a cool, dark place.

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Be Careful Where You Store

Mind a Spice’s Shelf Life

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Spices are sensitive to
light, heat and moisture, so
make sure to keep them
stowed away in a drawer
or cupboard far away from
the stove and sunlight. Be
sure to measure spices
with dry spoons, and
always close containers
tightly after use.

Spice shelf life depends
on the spice and whether
it’s whole or ground, but
all spices will lose flavor
and color over time.
Whole spices can last up
to two years, while ground
spices lose their punch
within a year. Your best
way to know for sure is to
smell it; it should have a
pronounced aroma.

 

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Pro Tip: Avoid Shaking
Spices into Your Pan!

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Don’t shake spices
directly into a pot or a
pan when cooking;
exposing your spice jar to
heat and moisture can
lead to flavor loss and
caking. Instead, shake the
amount you need into a
measuring spoon or onto
the palm of your hand.

 

 

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“The biggest spice mistake people make is to put
powdered spices in hot oil. Whole spices can be fried in oil;
powders turn very bitter because they burn too fast.”

Vikas Khanna

LEARN MORE ABOUT ABOUT CHEF VIKAS KHANNA >