Spices can be the window to a world of flavor, and they make grandma’s favorite recipes come to life. Which spices are handy to have at all times, and how do you use up a special spice purchased for just one recipe? Get these answers, plus hacks to season your food just right.
USE THEM UP. Many ground spices lose potency within a year. By that time, they’ll still be edible, but you’ll you need to use an additional ⅛ to ¼ teaspoon to deliver the same flavor.
BUY THEM WHOLE. If possible, purchase whole spices, which stay fresh for about a year. Store them away from heat and light, not near the stove. Grind or grate whole spices when you need them, rather than prepping ahead of time.
GRIND YOUR OWN. Grinding or crushing whole spices releases fragrant oils, so to avoid losing potency and flavor, grind only as much as you need. Use a mortar and pestle, electric spice grinder or coffee grinder that you dedicate only to spices; or place spices in a resealable freezer bag, then crush with a pan, meat mallet or rolling pin.
TOAST SPICES. Toasting releases more aromatic compounds before you grind spices or add them to a recipe. Place a small amount in a dry skillet and heat over medium heat for less than five minutes, until they smell toasted or fragrant. Shake the pan while toasting to prevent burning. To revitalize older ground spices, toast for only two to three minutes and use immediately.
BLOOM IN OIL. Warming whole and ground spices in oil helps increase flavor in two ways: Heating helps liberate the flavorful oils in spices, so they can infuse into the fat. And spice-infused fat carries flavor throughout a dish much better than simply adding a dry spice to a recipe or to water or broth. Adding ground spices to a cooking fat such as oil or butter is called “blooming” and is a quick way to intensify the spice’s flavor. In a pan on the stove, heat spices for 30 to 60 seconds in oil or add to aromatics such as onions or garlic while they cook in fat. Steep whole spices in oil for up to 20 minutes at a very low temperature.
STOCK SMART. Keep spices on hand that you know you’ll use within six months. Always have one or two spices in your pantry from each of these categories:
Seeds: annatto, caraway, cardamom, celery, coriander, cumin, dill, fennel, fenugreek, mace, mustard, nutmeg, sesame, star anise
Suggested uses: Steep into sauces or drinks, toast and crush into vegetable dishes or add to sweet-savory pickles or fermented vegetables.
Dried berries and flowers: allspice, cloves, peppercorns (black, green, white, pink and Sichuan), saffron, sumac
Suggested uses: Use in rubs or marinades, or mix into cooked whole grains and vegetables (bonus: cracked spices also add texture to dishes).
Roots: garlic, ginger, turmeric
Suggested uses: Chop and sauté in oil as a recipe base for savory dishes.
Chiles and peppers: Aleppo pepper, ancho chile pepper, cayenne pepper, chipotle chile pepper, crushed red pepper, Gochugaru Korean red pepper, Hungarian hot paprika, Raja Mirchi chile, smoked paprika, sweet paprika, Urfa pepper
Suggested uses: Warm in oil to use in recipes for meat, poultry, fish, tofu and vegetables or make pastes such as sambal oelek.
Ground “baking” spices: allspice, cardamom, cinnamon, cloves, nutmeg
Suggested uses: In addition to baking, use these spices in savory dishes such as North African and Turkish stews and grain recipes.
Blends: adobo seasoning, Cajun seasoning, curry powder, five-spice powder, garam masala, Jamaican jerk seasoning
Suggested uses: Add to egg recipes or rice dishes for a global flavor infusion.
Umami: bagel topping seasoning; mushroom powder; monosodium glutamate (MSG); nutritional yeast; seaweed, dried fish and sesame shake
Suggested uses: Sprinkle on any dish at the table for a flavor boost with less salt (note: some blends include salt).
Read about dried herbs including thyme, rosemary and basil here.
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