Spices are the center and give depth to many dishes and cuisines.
Not only do they enhance the flavor of a dish, they’re also packed with nutrients and offer tons of health benefits. There’s an art to properly using spices, though; you don’t have to be an expert, but some wisdom and experience are all it takes to hone your skills with spices. There are three questions that we get asked when seasoning a dish, and we’re here to help:
- When should I add spices?
- How should I handle adding spices?
- How much spice should I add?
When you should add spices
It’s best to add spices at the beginning of cooking to help give them a more pronounced flavor to your dishes. This is especially true of spices that are usually found in large pieces, such as cinnamon, clove, cardamom, and star aniseed. The longer the spices cook, the more flavor they contribute to a dish.
Pepper is the only exception though – the longer whole pepper cooks, the more flavor it loses, so it’s best to add pepper a bit later in the cooking process and not in the beginning.
Similarly. When you are cooking with herbs and leafy spices like mint, thyme, and basil, keep in mind that they have delicate flavors and essential oils that can get lost during the cooking process. These types of spices must be added at the end of the cooking process.
Other spices that are hardier, such as oregano, sage, bay leaf, and rosemary, retain their flavors even when they are cooked for a long time, and can be added at the beginning of the cooking process.
Add spices to cold dishes and juices a few hours before serving them so that the spices have a chance to infuse into the dish.
How to handle adding spice
Some spices complement each other, while others work against each other. Just one or two types of spices will suffice in a dish. Don’t overdo it.
Use a dry spoon when handling spices. Don’t sprinkle spices directly from their container into a hot dish as the steam could cause the spices in the container to lose their potency, or even spoil.
To release the aroma of dried herbs, crush them first between your fingers before adding them to a dish.
How much spice to add
Spices must enhance the flavor of a dish and not drown it with its own flavor.
Add spices a bit at a time, and not too many together. When following recipes, add a bit less than specified and then add some more if needed. If you do not have a recipe to follow, start with using no more than a quarter teaspoon of spice per four servings, half a kilo of meat, or two cups of sauce.
Be more careful with sharper spices and reduce the amount to an eighth of a teaspoon to make sure you don’t overdo it. Red paprika, for instance, is very strong, and the longer it cooks, the more it intensifies the heat in a dish. Add a bit and let its flavor strengthen gradually as it continues to cook.
There’s nothing that beats the aroma and flavor of spices. Don’t be afraid to use spices in your dishes but know when to use which spice and how much of a spice to use. Add less rather than more. It’s not rocket science – at the end of the day, it’s what appeals to your taste buds. With practice, you will soon get the hang of the art of using spices for culinary refinement.