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12 Things You Should Know About Cooking With Spices

It's time to spice up your cooking.

Everybody knows that spices are what makes food taste good — but not a lot of people actually know how to use them and tend to shy away.

But with a few simple tips — like knowing when to add spices and how much to add — you can slowly incorporate them into your cooking with confidence.

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Here are 12 simple tips for cooking with spices:

1. First things first, make sure you're storing your spices in a dark, cool place and in airtight containers — definitely not above your stove...

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To make sure your spices remain as fresh and flavorful as possible, you need to store them in the right place. Spices should be stored in a dark, cool environment away from direct heat. This means steering clear of areas around your stove, oven, or dishwasher that generate heat.

See more: 10 Practical Ideas for Better Spice Storage

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2. And check their expiration date before using them.

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Believe it or not, spices can expire — and quicker than you may think! Expired spices will have significantly less flavor and, in some cases, a dull color. Paprika may change from bright red to a dull brown, and that's when you know it has gone bad. As soon as you open your spices, they start to age, so mark the date you open them and always check to make sure they're still fragrant and fresh.

See more: Learn more about keeping spices fresh.

3. Learn how to use dried herbs properly.

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Unlike spices (which can be added during or after cooking), dried herbs need time to release their flavor, so they're almost always added during the cooking process. They're typically used in stews, sauces, and other long-cooking recipes where they can fully release their flavor.

Prop tip: For recipes that don't cook for very long, rubbing them between your fingers can help release some of their flavor and aroma quicker.

See more: When to Use Fresh Herbs and When to Use Dried Herbs

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4. Invest in a spice grinder so you can purchase whole spices and grind them yourself...

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Freshly ground spices are more flavorful than pre-ground spices. Just like apples, as soon as you process them, they become exposed to oxygen and their quality slowly deteriorates. For the most flavorful spices, buy whole and grind them yourself. It may seems excessive, but it'll make a huge difference in the final product.

See more: How to Clean a Spice Grinder

5. And play around with how fine you grind them...

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How fine your grind your spices play a big role in what they taste like. Black pepper, for example, can range from mild to spicy depending on how it's ground. Coarsely ground pepper is fairly mild, whereas finely ground pepper hits the back of your throat and is rather harsh.

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6. But for soft, whole spices (like peppercorns or juniper), you can just use a heavy-bottomed pan to crack them open to release their flavor.

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If you're using large, soft spices (like peppercorns, juniper, or mustard seeds) and want to coarsely grind them, just smash them with a heavy pot or pan on a cutting board. It'll crack them open and help release their flavor without having to bust out a spice grinder.

Pro tip: This coarseness of peppercorns is ideal for seasoning steaks before searing them. It gives the steak a nice crust with a crunchy texture and mild pepper flavor.

See more: See how to crush peppercorns using a pot.

7. Toast your whole spices in a dry pan to bring out their flavors and make them shine...

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Another way to amp up your spices is to quickly toast them in a dry pan before using them. You can do this with both whole and ground spices (the latter being a bit more prone to burning) to help amp up both their flavor and aroma. If using whole spices, do this step before grinding them. If using ground, toast them for only a few seconds to quickly wake them up.

See more: Watch how to toast and grind your own spices.

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8. And learn how to "bloom" your spices, too.

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Similar to toasting, blooming spices is the process of cooking them in hot oil to help release their flavor. This technique both toasts the spices and helps infuse their flavor into the cooking oil, which will then flavor the entire dish. For dishes that start by cooking aromatics (like onions or garlic) in oil anyways, you can easily add your spices during that step to bloom them and infuse their flavors into the dish.

See more: Learn more about blooming ground spices in oil.

9. Get yourself a quality Microplane to quickly grate whole nutmeg, cinnamon, and other spices.

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Spices are at their peak when they're just grated, so grating them directly into a dish is the ultimate way to utilize their flavor. Some spices, like nutmeg, are often sold whole and grated at the last minute, and the best tool for the job is a Microplane. These tiny graters are easy to use and grind the spices into the perfect coarse (but not too coarse!) texture.

Get a microplane from Kroger for $14.99.

See more: Learn how to grate whole nutmeg.

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10. Learn which ground peppers and chilis are hot, and which are more mild.

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All ground peppers and chilis are not created equal. Some have a ton of heat without a ton of flavor, and some are super flavorful but not hot at all. Cayenne pepper is a classic example of a spice that provides heat without a ton of flavor, so it's ideal for adding to already flavorful dishes. Red pepper flakes, on the other hand, have a slightly fruity flavor with a mild heat — so don't assume that all ground peppers are interchangeable.

See more: When to Use Dried Chiles vs. Fresh vs. Powder vs. Flakes

11. When doubling a recipe, don't assume you should just double the amount of spices.

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When it comes to spices, there's no simple answer for scaling recipes up or down. Some spices are strong and will be overpowering if you simply doubled them, and others would get lost. For assertive spices (like cayenne or red pepper flakes), increase them by 1.25 times the original amount. This will make sure you don't end up with a sauce that tastes like straight cayenne and allows you to make adjustments as needed.

See more: Essential Tips for Doubling or Tripling Recipes

12. Build a solid collection of staple spices and create your own blends instead of buying premixed ones.

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Instead of spending money on spice blends like Cajun seasoning, chili powder, or Italian seasoning, make your own. If you have a solid collection of spices to choose from, you should be able to prepare most of the popular spice bends without having to purchase a new spice. Blending them yourself will save money, and they'll probably taste better, too.

Pro tip: When in doubt, just Google what spices go into a certain blend — there will almost always be a DIY recipe you can use.

See more: 25 Must-Have Spices for Your Kitchen

Looking for more helpful cooking tips? Check out these posts:

9 Restaurant Cooking Tricks You Can Use In Your Own Kitchen

16 Cooking Tips That'll Make You Say "Why Didn't I Know About These Sooner"?

12 Little Things You Can Do To Make Cooking At Home Easier

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