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Ensure Freshness
Fresh spices carry the aroma and the heady flavor. Be sure to check for freshness, whenever you procure spices. You can visually check if the spice or herb looks fresh. and this is always the best test. Green, leafy herbs will fade upon aging, while the fresh ones retain their color. However, the rate of losing the fresh colors vary that different herbs naturally vary in color and should not always be compared against each other. Some spices like red colored spices, such as paprika, red pepper and chili powder fade into a dull brown - a tell tale sign of losing freshness.

You can also crush a small amount of the spice or herb on your palm and smell it. If the aroma is not rich, full and immediate enough to hit you, it has already lost much of its potency. (Exceptions are whole spices, like peppercorns and cinnamon stick.

For a quick check, compare the aroma (Be aware, however, that subtle changes may also occur with each new crop.) of a freshly spice or herb with one stored for a while. The difference is quite apparent.

Keep in mind that the Spices and herbs contain innumerable flavor components mixed in subtle proportions. The individual components flavor at the same time but at varying rates. Over time, it alters the wondrous symphony of flavors in spices and herbs thus deadening its effects.

Check for quality and labels-a higher quality product will retain its flavor longer than a lower quality version.

Store Freshness

Its best to expect that with the passage of time, the spices and herbs will lose their color, taste and aroma. According steps should be taken to retain these.
  • Store spices and herbs in a cool, dry place to preserve peak flavor and color. They should be stored away from bright light, heat, moisture or oxygen.
  • Heat deteriorates the flavor; dampness causes caking or clumping in the ground grown spices. As far as possible, avoid storing spices and herbs too close to the stove, oven, dishwasher or refrigerator. Ensure that they don't come into contact with rising steam or heat.
  • For protection against moisture and preserving the oils that impart rich flavor and aroma, the herbs and spices should be stored in airtight containers. Ensure that the caps are tightly closed after each use.

Always store according to the type:
Different spices need storage conditions that determine their shelf life.

  • Whole herbs and spices will always last longer than the powder form as the protective outer shell helps to prevent exposure to oxygen- extending its freshness.
  • It is advisable to store red-colored spices, like chili powder, cayenne pepper and paprika in cool, dark places like a refrigerator to prevent loss of color and flavor. This is especially recommended in tropical climates.
  • To prevent staleness, refrigerate or freeze oil-rich seeds, such as poppy and sesame.
Spicing up the Food

The manner and nature of adding spices to food ensures the taste and its flavor. Remember the objective of adding spices and herbs is to enhance the natural flavor of food and not overwhelm nor disguise it. Similar flavors can be achieved with varying proportions of different spices. Experiment before you hit the right one. Getting the proportion is the most important factor- too much or too less will mar the dish.
  • Always use a dry spoon to add the spices
  • If used for seasoning, do not sprinkle directly into a steaming pot.
  • Crush leafy herbs, such as oregano, thyme or basil, before use for instant flavor release.

The timing of adding spices makes or mars the taste.

Usually, the herbs are added near the end of cooking for more distinct flavors. For more blended flavors, add at the beginning. Powdered spices and herbs immediately release their flavors. In cooking dishes that simmer over a long time, such as biryani, these should be added near the end of the cooking time in order to minimize the "cooking off" of its flavors. While preparing dishes with longer cooking times use only whole spices and bay leaves. By nature these release flavor more slowly than powdered ones.

However for uncooked foods, such as salad dressings, fruits or fruit juices, the spices and herbs should be added several hours before the servings. This allows flavors to develop and "marry" or blend and merges into every fiber.

The perfection in the quantity needed comes from trial and error. There happens to be no general rule for the correct amount of spices and herbs to use. Try as many times as needed to balance the pungency of each spice and herb check its effect on different foods. Add water to dilute, boil to make it concentrated. Start with hand me down recipes or well tested ones and then experiment to get the quantity right. . The amounts can even be customized to suit personal palates.

A rule of the thumb is 1/4 teaspoon for 4 servings, per 1/2 kg of meat- keep adjusting till you hit the right quantity. 
Always use in small increments to allow the flavor to intensify during cooking

To Grind Spices
Use a small coffee grinder, small food processor, pepper grinder, or mortar and pestle to grind whole spices Beware, all spice and cloves contain eugenol that can damage plastic parts in machine.




To Toast or Dry Roast Spices
Toasting or dry roasting enhances the taste and aroma of spices such as cumin, coriander, mustard seeds, fennel seeds, poppy seeds and sesame seeds. It's often done before adding to the food - or when you want to savor these spices as stand alone.

Spices should be toasted for a small duration -say 2 to 5 minutes or until spices are fragrant and lightly browned. Take care to stir these constantly to prevent burning. Once these turn brown, remove from heat.

For Medicinal Diets
Even the blandest of foods can be made tasty - within the prescribed limits. Flavorful spices, such as pepper, curry powder or other favorite spice blends can be added to enhance the flavor. Cinnamon, cloves, nutmeg, ginger and allspice can be added to dessert and fruit recipes to enhance sweetness. These reduce or eliminate the need to add sugar.

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