An Easy 5 Step Guide to Cooking with Spices


By Spice it Upp

Using spices in food has become increasingly popular because of the many health benefits associated with them.

However, not everyone find it easy to use them as it can be a complex ingredient to work with if you are not familiar with it or not used it much before.

This guide will help break down how to use spices in a stepwise process to tastefully enhance the flavour of your dishes!

Step 1 – Understand the spices

There are hundreds of spices all over the world.

Its important to understand that not all spices render taste. Few spices are taste enhancers such as cumin powder, coriander powder, chilli powder while few are aromatic spices such as cardamom, cinnamon, cloves etc.  

Cooking spices in the right way has an overall outcome on the flavour and taste.

When you use any spice, you need to understand whether the dish requires a particular taste, flavor or both.

The best way to do this is to smell or perhaps taste just a tiny speck of the spice you will be using. This will give you an idea of how much or how little or the kind of spice you need to make the dish.

Step 2 – Anticipate the change in form

A unique quality of spices is how it changes in form during the cooking process.

If we take coriander seeds for example. It has a sweet, citrusy, mild smell when used whole. Try roasting them and the smell will become much stronger, smoky and aromatic. While roasted coriander powder will not only enhance the taste but also the flavour due to its increased aromatic properties post-roasting.     

So once you have selected your spices, think about the form the spices will change into during the cooking process such as from whole to powder or from raw to roasted.  

cumin in its different forms

Step 3 – Consider the combinations during the cooking process

Apart from being of a particular form that is ground or whole, spices also have distinctive taste classification such as sweet, sharp, pungent or simply a colour enhancer.

When working with spices it will help to know the underlying taste that you wish to bring in the dish. For example sweet spices such as nutmeg, cinnamon and cloves will give a subtle sweetness to the dish and impart flavour.  Sharp or hot spices such as chilli powder, pepper, garam masala will impart heat. Pungent tasting spices such as coriander powder, cumin powder gives the dish a distinctive taste.

When using spices, it’s always a good idea to bear in mind the combination of taste with other ingredients in the dish. This will help you to get a balance of taste and flavor.

Step 4 – Less is More – when cooking spices 

If you are new to cooking with spices , the best way to start working with them is to start in moderation.  

Spicing a dish with every other spice from your cupboard DOES NOT mean you are adding flavor to the dish. Too much spice can make the dish too rancid and overpowering while too little may not add much depth.

As I mentioned in previous steps, first understand the spice, its form and work on the combinations of mixing spices with other ingredients.

The best way to do this is to follow recipes which calls for simple and minimum spices. Start with small amounts like ½ to 1 tsp of spice and slowly work your way.

Step 5 – Experiment with spices     

The best way to get comfortable with spices is to work with them!

Start small but often, you will get more confident using and cooking with spices. Try adding spice to steaks, stews and soups! The advantages of doing this is that spices give an instant lift to any dish and also have health benefits.

As you become comfortable with using spices in combination with others, it will be easier for you to anticipate the taste and the effect it will have on the overall flavor of the dish.

Spice up your dishes

All I can say is do not be afraid of using spices to your everyday food.

Explore different kinds of spices and think how you can combine or add them with other ingredient to lift the flavors of your everyday meals and make mealtimes more exciting.

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