Spices & Seasonings/powdered spice


I am making a chili using powdered spices such as cumin, cayenne, etc. When is it best to add them? during the sauteing in oil, or after all the stock and liquids are in the pot? Thanks.

Sorry for the delay David; thanks for the question.

Several spices have flavors that are soluble only, or more readily in oil instead of water.  Cumin and cayenne are good examples of spices with fat soluble components.  For these items, in order to build the most complex flavor, you can add them to your cooking fat before adding water based ingredients.

Make sure you are not heating them too much though.  The word saute technically means a very high heat application, and I would avoid high heat with spices.  Most people use the word to mean cooking an item in a small amount of fat regardless of the temperature (a saute that doesn't brown food is called a sweat).  You want to sweat your spices, not saute them, so as to not risk burning them.

Dried herbs are a different story, and really don't gain much by adding them to cooking fat.  Herbs are also much more likely to burn, so adding them directly to the water based ingredients is a good idea.

Also, remember that not all spices of a certain kind are equal.  Age can drastically affect the flavor or potency of spices and herbs, as can improper handling and a host of other factors.  Preground spices loose their potency much more quickly than whole spices.  The best (and most labor intensive) practice that I know of is:  heat whole spices gently over medium heat until aromatic (this gets volatile compounds flowing), them grind them immediately before use.  If you do a taste test with preground black pepper and fresh ground, you will likely notice a big difference.

Spices are anything that isn't leaves of a plant, such as cumin, coriander, dill seed, cardamom (seeds), allspice, black pepper (berries), cinnamon/cassia (tree bark), and the list goes on...

Herbs are the flavorful leaves, such as oregano, sage, parsley, basil, thyme, tarragon, dillweed, bay, etc.

Hope this helps!

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