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Cooking with spices: the dos and don’ts

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Spices can bring flavor and depth to any dish, but using them correctly can be a daunting task. Cooking with spices requires a careful balance of quantity, timing, and the right pairing of flavors. In this article, we’ll discuss some of the dos and don’ts of cooking with spices.

DO: Use fresh spices

Fresh spices are essential when cooking with spices. As with all fresh food, spices have a limited lifespan. Over time, spices can lose their flavor and potency. To ensure the best flavor, purchase whole spices and grind them yourself before incorporating them into your dishes. When pre-ground spices are your only option, make sure to purchase small amounts and use them quickly to maintain their freshness.

DON’T: Overuse spices

Adding too many spices can easily overwhelm a dish, so start with small quantities. As with any flavors, you need to find the right balance. A general rule of thumb is to start with one-quarter to one-half teaspoon of spice per serving. You can always add more, but it’s difficult to take away. Remember that different spices have different potency levels, so if you are unfamiliar with a spice, start with less.

DO: Experiment with different combinations

Experimentation is key to discovering new flavor combinations that work together. Experiment with different spice blends in different dishes or mix your own homemade blends. Some popular spice blends include curry powder, za’atar spice blend, garam masala, and herbes de Provence.

DON’T: Assume a spice will work in every dish

Not all spices are created equal. Different spices have different flavors and work better with different dishes. For example, cinnamon is perfect for sweet dishes, while cumin is more suited to savory dishes. While spices can be versatile, it is essential to properly mix and match them with the dish you are making.

DO: Add spices early

Spices sometimes require time to release their full flavor potential, so it’s often better to add them early in the cooking process. This allows the spices to infuse the food thoroughly. In dishes that don’t require a long cooking time, it might be beneficial to toast the spices before adding them. This can help release their oils and bring out their flavor.

DON’T: Burn your spices

Toasting spices is a fine balance between bringing out their flavor and burning them. Burnt spices can add a bitter and unpleasant flavor to your dish, so watch them carefully. Toast spices in a dry pan or in the oven at low temperatures, stirring often.

Cooking with spices can take your dishes to a whole new level, adding unique and exciting flavors to your meals. Using fresh spices, experimenting with different combinations, and adding spices early in the cooking process are just a few of the essential do’s and don’ts you will need to follow when working with spices. In no time, your new knowledge will have you creating standout delicious dishes again and again.

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