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Keeping Spices Spicy
According to Ayurveda, every meal should contain all 6 tastes: Sweet, salty, sour, pungent, bitter and astringent. One of the best ways to accomplish this is through the use of spices.
Spices are expensive, so learning how to use them is important.
The ground spices we buy in stores today came from a whole form. It is always best to buy spices in their whole form when possible, as they will stay fresh about five to six months longer than pre-ground spices. It is necessary to periodically replace spices. (I used to do this every November before the Holiday season…the time of the year that I did most of my major cooking and baking.)
To know whether your ground spices are still viable, smell them and taste them. If there is little to no smell, it is time to replace them or grind a new batch. My mentor, Dr. Claudia Welch, stresses that the world cannot sustain the constant replacement of spices and herbs when unneeded. To do so is wasteful and puts a strain on our resources. When they no longer have a smell or taste, however, it is time to replace them.
Keeping spices fresh is easy. Just place in tightly covered jars and place in a cool, dry and dark place.
Neither flavor nor volume is the same in freshly ground spices and pre-ground store-bought spices. Freshly ground spices are far superior in flavor and aroma to pre-ground spices. In volume, freshly ground spices have less volume per tablespoon and ounce to pre-ground spices due to the settling quality of pre-ground spices. Freshly ground spices are much more potent than pre-ground spices, so there is no need to increase the amount the recipe calls for to compensate for the lesser volume.
Roasting is the key to bringing out the flavor of spices. Roasting spices removes the raw smell that untreated spices tend to have and intensifies their flavors by heating up the essential oils. No oil is used when roasting spices. Whole spices are put in a dry skillet (cast iron works great) and roasted over medium heat until the spices turn a shade or two darker and become aromatic.
The spices are then immediately removed from the hot skillet to avoid over roasting.
Spices retain their flavor and aroma much longer in their whole from than when ground. Grinding roasted spices in small batches is the best way to use spices and gives the greatest possible flavor to dishes. The grinding of spices is done with a mortar and pestle, but to save time, you can use an electric spice grinder or a coffee grinder designated solely for spices. I love my new Nutribullet. It has a small bullet that I use just for spices. When I am done, I place the ground spice in a shaker and it is ready to use.
When it comes to fresh herbs, like fresh coriander leaves (cilantro) and mint, wash and dry the leaves with paper towels until the leaves are mostly, but not completely dried and store refrigerated, wrapped in kitchen or paper towels, in a zip lock bag.
Now that you know how to keep spices and herbs fresh, hopefully you will want to use them more. Experiment with different spice and herb mixes. Below is one I found in My Indian Kitchen for:
Indian Five Spice Mix (Panch Phoran)
- 1 tablespoon cumin seeds
- 1 tablespoon black mustard seeds
- 1 tablespoon fenugreek seeds
- 1 tablespoon fennel seeds
- 1 tablespoon celery seeds
If you plan to use this spice mixture in its ground form, dry roast the whole spices over medium heat in a small, non-stick skillet, stirring often, until fragrant, 1 to 1 ½ minutes.
Remove the spices form the skillet and set aside to cool completely. Finely or coarsely grind the whole spices in an electric coffee or spice grinder or my pestle and mortar and store in an airtight jar.
Note: Some recipes call for a coarsely ground blend. Remember to check the recipe you’re planning to make and see if this is the case before grinding the spices.