How to Toast Spices (and Why You Should)
If you’re like a lot of people, you’ve got a spice and herb rack (or drawer or bag or whatever) filled with a great selection of things that were acquired on some long ago distant day.
OK, time for some tough love here…
...You’d probably be better off throwing that collection straight into the trash!
Herbs and spices have limited a lifespan (not measured in years!). Over time, oxidization occurs and aromatics dissipate and after a while, instead of herby you get dry and bland and instead of a spice bang pop, you get a musty whimper!
Want to be a better cook?:
- Buy very small amounts of spices and dried herbs
- Toss anything older than a few months in age and replenish your stock with fresh additions often
- Buy whole spices and grind them yourself
- Toast your spices before grinding!
Fresh and freshly ground toasted spices make a world of difference and will add some pretty substantial excitement to your everyday dishes.
Although buying pre-ground spices is certainly convenient, ground spices oxidize and lose their flavors much quicker than whole spices, so with pre-ground stuff, there s a great risk that what you buy fresh from the store is already well past it’s best buy date in your kitchen.
Anyway, it’s easy to toast and buzz up your own as needed and it will make you a much better cook – here’s how to do it.
How to Toast Spices
- Add whole spices to a cold, dry (no oil) frying pan. You can do this in any type of frying pan, but it’s easiest in a heavier pan which won’t get the hot/cold sections that can result in burning. You do not have to use a non stick pan here, as these will not stick.
- Heat the pan over medium and as the pan heats and the spices become fragrant, stir or shake the spices often. They may pop and jump a bit, this is OK.
- Once the spices just start to brown, transfer them immediately out of the pan and into a waiting bowl – their residual heat will keep the cooking and toasting process going a little but longer. If you wait until they are very toasted in the pan, they will become burnt and bitter once off the heat.
- process them in a blender or food processor until finely ground (or a mortar and pestle)
The total cooking time generally only takes 3 or 4 minutes in all.
Do not toast different spices in the same pan at the same time. The spices will toast and brown at different speeds, and so you’re either left with some that aren’t toasted or some that are burnt!
Spices that benefit from toasting include:
- Cumin seed
- Fennel seed
- Coriander seed
- Star anise
- Mustard seed
- Many more