What’s in your spice cupboard?

Article by Sheba Promod


Masala Dabba


I agree, it can be somewhat daunting when you approach an Indian recipe; I’m told that this is because of what appears to be an endless list of spices! Though, there are ways to approach this which can make the recipe less unnerving, part of which is understanding which spices are used at different points of cooking. Although it may appear a bit long winded, if you are ever left confused about spices, then do read on!

Firstly, differentiate between the WHOLE SPICES and POWDERED SPICES from your list, both of which are used at different stages of cooking.

Whole spices

In all recipes, whole spices are used at the start during a ‘tempering’ process. This is where they are thrown into hot oil and fried for 5-10 seconds. There are two aims of doing this.

  1. The heat from the oil allows the spices to release their flavours and essential oils
  2. The oil is then flavoured with the spices, allowing any ingredients that follow to be coated in these flavours.

There are some recipes which call for whole spices to be used at the end rather than at the start (just to add to the confusion) but usually, these will come under the heading of ‘seasoning’ where additional spices are fried and added at the end of cooking in order to enhance the flavours in the dish being cooked.

Ground Spices

These are usually added when there is some moisture in the pan, whether onions, yogurt, water etc. rather than straight to hot oil as with whole spices. Spices such as Garam Masala (a combination of a number of different spices) however are more often than not added at the end of cooking in order to enhance the dish and give an added depth. There are of course exceptions where Garam Masala is added during cooking perhaps in place of other spices. For example, a simple Bhindi fry may call for a pinch of turmeric, pinch of chilli powder and a quarter teaspoon of garam masala (i.e. where other spices are omitted)

So, when an ingredients list may appear to require a number of spices, firstly categorise them into whole and ground. Secondly, measuring them out into a small dish can make the whole process much quicker and less overwhelming! (i.e all whole spices required at one stage and all powdered required at another)

How long can I keep spices for?

I am frequently asked this during our cookery courses and you may be surprised to hear that the life span of spices is not as limited as you may think. A common suggestion is 6-12 months however; many manufacturers would suggest that they can last for 3-4 years. The latter however is dependant on spices being protected from air, heat, light and moisture. Spices do not ‘spoil’ in the same sense as foods i.e. they will not make you ill if used. However, they will lose their aroma, flavour and pungency as time passes due heat, light etc. So if your spices are lighter in colour and less strong in aroma, the likelihood is that the flavour which they release into recipes will be reduced. Therefore, if the jar of spices you pick up from your cupboard has all these properties, you will know that you will be able to use them once or twice more before you need to re-stock. So, do judge the quality of your own spices before you banish them to the bin!



Authentic Indian Spices

Authentic Indian Spices

The Absolute Indian is a Hertfordshire based cookery school that enables you to learn how to cook authentic Indian dishes without the use of pre-prepared sauces. Classes take place in small groups, allowing everyone to receive just the right amount of attention. Some classes have specific a South Indian to reflect Sheba Promod’s heritage. Our online Spice Boutique provides a range of authentic spices, cooking ingredients and kitchenalia that may be found in an Indian kitchen. In addition, there are a range of gifts and hampers, the perfect gift for foodies!

Find them on Facebook: www.facebook.com/AbsoluteIndian

Or Twitter: http://twitter.com/AIcookeryclass


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