Many spices are toasted, particularly in Indian cuisine. Toasting is best done in a thick-based pan (preheated for about a minute on a medium flame) for two minutes while continuously stirring or shaking. By doing so, cumin, coriander, fennel, mustard seeds and poppy seeds release a rich aroma. Grind them finely with a pestle and mortar for best results.
Frying in oil
Whole spices are sometimes fried in oil, right at the beginning of the recipe, before adding other ingredients, or just to flavour the oil.
Grinding and crushing
The best taste is achieved by grinding or crushing spices shortly before use (no more than 1 or 2 days ahead). An exception in this regard is made for mace, dried ginger, turmeric and cinnamon. These spices are difficult to grind yourself and are therefore better bought as powders.
A pestle and mortar are suitable for small, easily ground spices such as cumin, fennel, caraway seeds and cloves. Coriander seeds, allspice and sometimes harder spices such as fenugreek can be ground in a pepper mill. An easier and quicker tool for these hard spices is an electric coffee grinder, however. Grind small quantities with short breaks.
Fresh herbs and spices can easily be crushed finely with a pestle and mortar. Mortars with a ribbed or irregular inside surface are particularly suitable for wet spice mixtures and pastes.
Fresh roots such as ginger, but also whole nutmegs, are grated shortly before use. Peel the ginger and grate it with the fine side of a stainless steel grater. You can buy a special grater for nutmeg, but if you do not have one, use the fine side of an ordinary grater.
Garlic is mostly crushed instead of being cut finely. For a simple and effective way of crushing garlic, cut off the root end and place the unpeeled clove in the garlic press with the cut end down. This way you can easily remove the peels that are left behind in the press.
Cutting and chopping finely
Fresh spices such as ginger and garlic are often cut into thin strips or pieces in order for them to release more of their flavours. Roll up leaves and cut them into very thin strips with a sharp knife. Roots are best cut down the length, and then cut into thin strips. Hold a few strips together and chop them up finely.
Some spices are soaked in a warm liquid before being used. By soaking saffron, not only the delicious flavour is released, but also the bright yellow colour. Freeze-dried herbs and spices can also best be soaked before use, unless they are to be used in a soup or other dish with a high fluid content. Water, milk or a liquid used in the recipe are best suited for soaking.
Stewing and boiling
Most ground herbs and spices lose their flavour if you stew them or boil them for too long. Add them to your food at most 20 minutes before serving.