How to get the most out of your spices

How to get the most out of your spices

  • 24 June 2020
Spices are dried parts of plants, such as bark, seeds, twigs and roots, used to flavour food. Using just a bit of spice can elevate your dish and make even very basic recipes more interesting and tasty. Spices not only add delicious flavours, aromas and sometimes heat to food, but some have powerful health benefits. Turmeric and paprika also make foods bright and colourful, naturally.

They are delicate ingredients and can spoil if not cared for properly. Here are some things you can do to get the most out of your spices.

Store them properly

The flavourful oils and chemical compounds naturally found in spices that give them their taste are sensitive, and will fade if not stored properly. If stored properly - out of direct sunlight, at room temperature and not in hot or humid conditions - they can keep for up to 2 years. This means it’s not a good idea to keep your spices right next to the stove as it will get quite hot.

Make sure your spices are stored in an airtight container. To keep them fresher for longer you can store them in a tin or opaque container, as this will prevent them coming into contact with light.

Dont shake spice bottles directly over the pan

We’re all guilty of this - it’s so easy to shake your spice bottle over the pan of cooking food. But when you do this, steam enters the bottle through the holes in the lid. The steam will be trapped, which may make the spice clump together and shorten its shelf life.

Check the best before date

Although spices don’t pose a risk for food safety and they won’t spoil, they do have a best before date. This is because their flavour intensity decreases during storage, and seeing we’re using them primarily for their flavour we don’t want to be cooking with old spices!

Try and always use the freshest spices. This isn’t always easy because some spices we might only cook with occasionally. This is where the buying in bulk rule isn’t always the best idea. Try and only buy big quantities of spices you use frequently, and stick to smaller packages of the more obscure spices you don’t use often.

Grind your own spices

Sometimes it’s more convenient to buy them already ground, but they would have lost some flavour intensity. “The second you grind them, their flavour starts to dissipate”, according to Melissa Clark in this video from The New York Times.

If feasible, grind your own spices just before cooking with them and you’ll taste the difference! You can grind spices in a mortar and pestle, a coffee grinder, or a spice grinder (like a pepper grinder). Cinnamon sticks can be grated instead.

Make your own spice blends

There are so many different spice blends, dry rubs, seasoning mixes available - you probably have a few in the cupboard! Sometimes we buy an expensive tin of an exotic-sounding spice blend but rarely use it. Spice blends are often more expensive than making your own at home from scratch - plus you can reduce waste. Instead of spending money on prepackaged spice blends like Cajun seasoning or Italian seasoning, try to make your own at home - you’ll probably find that you already have many of the ingredients in your pantry already!