Is your spice collection a few random jars tucked behind your olive oil? Or maybe you have 20 matching jars in alphabetical order in their own spice rack? No matter what the spice situation is in your kitchen, Chef Jason Fullilove has a word of advice for you: Ditch those pre-ground spices if you can.
Think of it this way: How much would you pay for your barista to make you coffee from beans that were ground two years ago and were just sitting on a rack waiting for your morning visit? Probably not a lot. We all know beans start losing their fresh flavor once they’ve been ground—and spices are the same.
No one can deny the convenience of having ground nutmeg on hand when you realize you need a pinch for that pasta recipe. However, whenever possible, consider buying whole spices and grinding them yourself for the best, freshest flavor.
Chef Fullilove suggests keeping your stock of spices on the smaller side. The larger your spice inventory, the more likely you are to end up with stale spices. (There’s no way you can finish a full jar of cloves in less than a year, right?) For your home spice collection, buy whole spices. Look for cinnamon sticks, cumin seeds, and cardamom pods instead of buying the ground form. When you’re ready to use these spices in a recipe, grind the spices and add fresh, bold flavor.
Grinding spices is actually pretty simple. Of course, you can buy a spice grinder, which is typically around $20 and doesn’t take up much counter space. This tool will grind spices for you, but—like all kitchen appliances—the cleanup will take a little extra work.
You can also grind spices using a mortar and pestle. This ancient method has survived centuries of technological advancement because, well, it really works. It takes a bit more elbow grease than the automatic spice grinder, but it yields the same results. Plus, cleanup is a breeze since there are no sharp blades or tiny grooves to scrub clean.
Some spices should be bought fresh each time a recipe calls for it, like ginger or turmeric. These roots are dirt cheap (pun intended) at the store, and they can easily be peeled and grated (or juiced) into your dish. (Watch this trick for peeling ginger.) After you cook with fresh ginger, you won’t want to return to that ground, dehydrated powder in the jar.
Once you try cooking with freshly ground spices, you will quickly notice the flavors improve in your dishes. You may even wonder how you ever enjoyed food that was made with those pre-ground spices. (See how cumin make a tasty difference in this Moroccan egg recipe.)