Creating Your Own Spice Blends
Author: Shelley Bennetts Date Posted:28 March 2019
Home-crafted spice blends are the best flavour
Freshly ground, home-crafted spice blends, balanced to your taste, are better than anything you’ll buy commercially. Whether it’s Ras al Hanout, Berbere, Garam Masala, or a Mexican blend, if you have a collection of good quality spices in your pantry, you can crank up the quality of your cooking. In countries where spices are used daily; the Middle East, Africa and India, spice blends vary from region to region, even kitchen to kitchen. They are a balancing act of flavours, and very much at the discretion of the maker. Check out Pure Food Essential’s Recipes Page for making your own authentic and spectacular Spice Blends.
Generally, spices are inexpensive pantry items so it’s worth paying a little more to buy good quality ones. Buying Certified Organic Spices is your assurance that quality controls are in place from the farm to you. There are some pretty dodgy trade practices in the international spice industry including ‘bulking up’ and colouring with additives, contaminants like stones and insects and the issue of fumigation at port. While most Australian importers, and our diligent customs and quarantine services do regular checks on spice imports, it’s just not worth buying cheap-as-chips spices, and always check the Best By date on the spices you buy.
Storing Your Spices
- Exposure to air will cause your spices to lose their flavor more quickly, so whether you keep them in their zip-lock packets, choose glass jars or metal tins, remember to keep those spice containers tightly closed.
- Spice jars kept on a windowsill might look pretty, but direct sunlight will also ruin their flavour. Keep spices in a drawer or cupboard. If you absolutely must have them on display. buy small quantities, use them up quickly, and then restock.
- That shelf above your stove or dishwasher might seem like a handy spot to store your spices, but heat will quickly degrade their taste.
- Moisture also threatens spice shelf life, another reason why keeping your spices near the stove is a big no-no. Don’t store your spices in the freezer, and always make sure measuring spoons are completely dry before dipping into a spice container.
- If you buy from a bulk spice jar, it’s a good idea to note the purchase date on your spices for future reference. If you buy spices in a commercial pack, note the Best By date on the packaging.
Using Ground Spices
Not everyone wants or has the time to toast and grind their own spices. For you, there’s every spice imaginable already ground; cinnamon, nutmeg, cumin, pepper, chilli… If they are fresh and punchy, you can create beautifully authentic blends to suit your dish and your palate.
A combination of freshly-ground and bought-ground is fine too, remembering that the freshly ground will be stronger. It’s a balancing act and experimentation will be fun!
Using Whole Spices
Whole spices offer peak flavor once they are ground. First toasting to release their essential oils and deeper flavours, and then grinding whole spices just before you need them will maximize their intense flavours.
This is best done separately for each spice as they are different sizes and textures and will react to heat differently. Use a dry, heavy based frypan and shake the pan as they heat to avoid burning. When you start to smell them, they're done. Allow them to cool a little before grinding.
If you do this before blending your spices, you'll punch up the flavor to a whole new level.
Tools for Grinding Spice
- Mortar and Pestle
Crushing releases a fuller range of essential oils and flavors compared to the chopping motion of an electric grinder. The process is an aromatic one as you get the full intensity of smells as you work. With no nooks and crannies to trap food particles, mortars and pestles are relatively easy to clean. Spices vary in hardness and oil content and the simple mortar and pestle, which has been the method of choice for thousands of years, can handle all of them.
- Microplane grinder
Another low-tech option for tackling larger whole spices like nutmeg and cinnamon sticks is a microplane grater.
- Electric Coffee grinder
For faster grinding, or for processing larger quantities of spices, try an electric coffee grinder. Just don’t overgrind, as the heat generated can destroy some of the volatile oils in the spices. And, be aware that unless you can thoroughly wash all the components, your next coffee could taste a little spicy!
Don’t try and grind hard spices like star anise, cinnamon and dried ginger slices in a coffee grinder, as they will damage the blades.
Hint: Processing some dry rice or bread chunks will help to remove any residual odors.