Spices originate from plants and are strongly flavoured or aromatic. Used as condiments, they have been highly prized, since ancient times for their medicinal, preservative and cosmetic uses. India produces high-quality spices.

At least one spice is grown in nearly every state in India!

The state I come from, Kerala, on India’s south western coastline, has been famous since antiquity for black pepper (‘black gold’) and was a critical part of the world’s ancient spice trade.

Photographer: Joshi Manjummel, Kochi, Kerala
Photographer: Joshi Manjummel, Kochi, Kerala

Some tips to make the most out of spices:

  • Buy whole spices.
  • Grind whole spices only when needed to ensure freshness and flavour.
  • Store spices in airtight containers away from light and heat to improve shelf life.
  • Dry-roasting spices is the key to flavour. Warming the spices makes them easier to grind, eliminates the raw taste and releases the essential oils from the spices.
  • When using more than one spice, dry roast each spice separately. Some spices are more delicate than others and each spice has its own heat tolerance. Commonly roasted spices are: cumin, coriander seeds, fenugreek, black peppercorns, dried red chillies. Place in a wide shallow frying pan over a low-moderate heat. Stir continuously or keep tilting the pan to shake the ingredients to ensure even cooking. Roast until the items have just changed colour and are aromatic.
  • A spice grinder will produce a finer texture which is ideal for quick cooking.
  • A mortar and pestle is used for coarse texture – ideal for slow cooking.
  • Be careful with spice powders, such as turmeric. Powders burn easily and can become bitter if overheated. Just warm over a low heat in a dry pan, stirring continuously.
  • Solid and powdered asafoetida may be toasted in oil to release its strong flavor, leaving a subtle flavor.

This article originally appeared in Tastes & Traditions, and has been republished with permission by Teresa George (co-author), who is also our Indian food tour guide for I Ate My Way Through Harris Park.

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Teresa (Tess), is the tour leader for I Ate My Way Through Harris Park. A corporate trainer turned culinary instructor has just launched her first book, Tastes & Traditions about her South Indian culture, and also her unique business, DelicaTess, which delivers in-home South Indian cooking classes in Sydney. Her aim is to demystify Indian cooking. She draws on her diverse cultural background, family cooking traditions and her appreciation of Ayurveda. The food tours demonstrate her personality, her food passion, and knowledge on Indian food, spice and all that’s nice!