8 things you need to know about your spices

Most of use herbs and spices in every meal we make. It might be adding some cinnamon to your cereal, adding mint to your lamb roast, or even grating nutmeg on to your puddings.

However, there's a few hints and tips to make sure you get the most out of your spice rack.

1. Buy them whole…most of the time

To get the most flavour from your spices, it’s best to buy them in their whole form and grind them yourself just before using. When spices stay out as a powder for a long period of time (any longer than 1 or 2 days) they begin to lose their flavour.

There are exceptions though. Really hard spices like mace, dried ginger, turmeric or cinnamon are very difficult to grind at home, so it’s best to buy those already ground.

2. Get a pestle and mortar

It may seem like an old-fashioned piece of kit, but they really are the best way to grind your spices and release those fantastic aromas. When you’re grinding your own spices, it gives you the chance to tailor the flavour to suit you. You can add a bit more spice, or make it a bit sweeter.

3. Store them properly

This is another reason to keep your spices whole. Whole spices will keep their flavour in a cupboard for far longer than their ground counterparts. Even when stored properly, ground spices begin to lose their potency after around 6 months, so you’ll end up using far more than you’d need.

Things such as light, heat and moisture can negatively affect the quality of your spices. Because of this, you want to keep them out of direct sunlight, in a sealed container. Some spices like mace have a very overpowering smell, so you need to make sure they’re sealed so all of your spices don’t smell like it!

With things like vanilla, you need to keep them sealed to stop them drying and losing the flavour.

If you’re using fresh herbs, they need to be kept cool. So keep them wrapped up in the vegetable drawer of your fridge.

4. Give your spices a soaking

Wanting to use saffron? It’s almost renowned for its worth more than the taste but it adds a fantastic earthy flavour to your meal. But whilst the quality of saffron isn’t up for debate, there is some confusion about how to get the best out of it.

We’ve found that soaking saffron in a warm liquid before cooking releases all of the wonderful aromas perfectly. You’re best to use something that is already going into your dish, like water, milk or stock so you don’t lose any of the flavours in the liquid either.

If you’ve got freeze-dried herbs, it’s best to soak them before using as well. Unless they’re going into a dish with a lot of liquid already.

5. The timing is key

Different herbs and spices release their flavours over different times. So it’s key to know when is the best time to add your seasonings.

Harder seasonings like thyme, bay, rosemary and sage need to be added earlier, so they have more time to soften and release their flavour. Whereas soft herbs like basil usually get added right at the end of cooking, or once it’s been served.

6. Different uses for different cuisines

Each style of cooking tends to have a different way of utilizing the spices they use. Italian cooking usually has the herbs added towards the end of cooking as they are typically softer flavours, whereas Indian cooking usually involves toasting the spices. This is to bring the best flavour out of the harder spices that go into Indian cuisine.

Toasting is best done in a thick-based pan, preheated for around a minute on a medium flame. Pour in your seeds and continuously stir and shake the spices for about two minutes. You should be able to smell the great smells being released.

This technique works brilliantly with cumin, coriander, fennel, mustard seeds and poppy seeds.

7. The sourcing makes a difference

Like with grapes and wine, the quality and taste of spice can vary differently based on where they’re grown. This can be down to the difference in climate as well as the quality of the soil.

For instance, all of Verstegen’s white pepper is grown in Muntok. We think that this is where the best white pepper in the world comes from. You can see and taste the difference in the pepper berries when you compare them with ones that come from Brazil, or if you look at Sarawak pepper.

8. Appearances can be deceiving

With some spices, you can store them properly and they’ll still look like they’re going stale or rotten. For instance, it’s not unusual for vanilla pods to start to get a whitish layer on them. This doesn’t mean they’re no longer good, the vanilla has just crystalized out.

Another instance is with Verstegen’s whole nutmeg. All of our nutmeg is chalked, so it has a white coating around it. This is so that impurities can’t get in to the smaller cracks and whole in the nutmeg and it can stay fresh for longer. However, it’s not uncommon for people to be unsure of it as it has the coating on it.

If you're looking to stock up your spice rack with top quality ingredients, look no further than www.verstegen-direct.co.uk. All of our orders are sent out by Royal Mail or UPS, so they'll be with you the next working day.