How To Cook With Spices

Whether you’re looking to make the best use of fresh meat or you’re trying to create fast and filling meals, let’s discuss how to use spices. Spices come from the bark, buds, fruit, roots, seeds or stems of various plants or trees. (An herb, on the other hand, is from the leafy parts of plants that do not have woody stems.) Both can lose flavor quickly. Here are a few seasoning rules and tips that you should try to make a part of your cooking repertoire.

Fresh is best

Unlike herbs, spices are mostly dried and ground. Years ago when I first graduated from college, I bought a cute set of spices in a rack for my kitchen. I found that the flavor of my dishes were lacking something. The spices in that cute rack were old; who knows how long ago they were ground, bottled, put in a rack, and sent to stores to sit on shelves. Spices lose flavor. I learned buying a small amount of spices I use and building my own set made tastier meals. When it comes to most herbs and spices, the fresher that you get them, the better that it’s going to be for your food. If you can’t find them in a supermarket or grocer’s, then consider hitting up your local farmer’s market for a greater variety. Keep your spices in an airtight container, away from heat and light. Do not put spices in a cabinet over the stove as they will be too hot and go stale quickly. Do not keep spices for a long time. Clean out your cabinet each year and replace old spices. Professional chefs buy whole spices and grind their own as needed. Most of us buy ground spices. I buy fresh ground spices in little bags and put them glass bottles with lids. I also make several favorite spice blends in small amounts that I can use quickly in everyday cooking.

Cooksmarts has a great post, their Infographic Guide to Flavoring with Spices Infographic to show you some of the most common spices and how to use them. This infographic below gives you an idea of the flavor each spice will add to your meal, what spices go well together, and what foods to add them to.

Release spice oils before adding to recipes

Many experts suggest that  you “toast” spices in a dry skillet over low heat, stirring frequently, until they start to release their aromas. Then add them to your recipe for the best flavor. That’s sometimes true, but not always. There are plenty of spices that can actually lose flavor when they’re cooked. Epicurious suggests that you “fry” spices in oil to create a fast and flavorful infusion. This method is used often in Indian cooking where it’s called “tempering”. If you’re looking to get more flavor out of your spices, first learn more about specific spices that you’re trying to cook with.  Cumin, coriander, cinnamon, and most other “warm” spices can really benefit from good toasting before using. has an informative article on How to Cook With Spices that discusses common spices and their use. Even learning about salt can be informative. Pioneer Woman has a beautiful post on what is kosher salt (or coarse salt) and why we should use it.

Contrast is king

You want to make sure that you’re seasoning in a way that complements and contrasts the taste profile of what you’re making. You don’t want to overload a savory food with more savory notes. It can get sickening very quickly. You can even contrast within the seasoning itself. What better example of this is there than a sweet chili sauce? Or sweet and sour sauce? These two, in particular, are great for seasoning white meat like a chicken.

Spicy Watermelon Salsa

Points to remember

Spice Tips

  • Add most spices at the beginning of cooking so that they have a longer time to release their flavors.
  • Always remember to reduce the salt quantity in your food while cooking with spices like curry and cinnamon so that it doesn’t end up tasting too salty.
  • Add spices long before preparing cold dishes
  • Avoid putting chili, garlic, curry, or paprika into bubbling hot oil because they could become bitter if you do. Lightly sauté them so that they release their flavors without losing them.

In conclusion

Seasoning is a core part of becoming a better chef. The tips above are just the start. Keep building your knowledge and learning. Be sure to look up information as needed when trying something new. Take a class or try cooking with a friend. Wishing you many tasty bites to enjoy in the future!

This is a collaborative post but all opinions are my own.

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I was raised in Tennessee but have lived in Florida for many years. Love my small home in the Tampa Bay area and its developing garden. My decorating style is eclectic - some vintage, some cottage, all with a modern flair. Pursuing a healthier lifestyle. Spent many years in social services but am happily retired.

15 thoughts to “How To Cook With Spices”

    1. Click the link for the infographic to the blog post with them. I don’t know if there is a book but you can always print them.

  1. Dear Carol,
    an interesting post!
    Due to our many travels we got to know and to love many different dishes and seasoning methods: Mexican and Indian, Thai, Caribbean and South African, Cajun or Creole dishes in New Orleans, Mediterranean cuisine in Italy, Spain and France with the wonderful fresh herbs etc. – and since we both like to cook, my husband and I have a spice rack that leaves nothing to be desired 😉 I can confirm that old spices or those of inferior quality do not make a dish taste as delicious as fresh spices.
    All the best and have a nice and happy weekend,

    1. I have read so many of your wonderful travel posts and know you have experienced so many cultures and cuisines. Most people have not traveled that extensively. I’ve met quite a few Americans who are afraid to try different food. I’m always encourage readers to try something different.

  2. Very helpful post Carol! I love cooking with spices it makes such a difference to the overall taste of the dish.
    Have a wonderful weekend my friend. 🙂

  3. Great tips! I love cooking with spices and now my SIL is drying her own fresh spices and sharing with me. I love them. You’re right…fresh is better. Thank you for sharing at #aclwwcc. I appreciate you.

  4. I am a spice enthusiast and I enjoy growing and cooking with fresh herbs every summer–I have many growing in flowers pots . The perennial herbs I winter in my garage and I plant annual herbs like basil and dill ftom seed evey year

    1. You’re a master grower I think and are certainly organized with the herbs. Fresh herbs make such a difference. Happy Tuesday!

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