Cooking with Spices & Herbs
Author: be well™ with Big Y® Registered Dietitian Team
Get started cooking with whole spices and fresh herbs with these tips from registered dietitian, Carrie Taylor.
Sometimes the difference between ordinary and extraordinary when it comes to cooking, is a matter of a dash of spice there and sprinkle of herbs there. If you find yourself reaching for the same ‘ol ways to season your recipes, expand your horizons and learn more about cooking with spices and herbs of all kinds — ground, whole, dried and fresh!
Why Cook with Whole Spices?
It may take little effort to sprinkle flavor into dishes using ground spices available in shakers on the shelves of your local Big Y Neighborhood Market, but whole spices are oftentimes where the wow factor comes from when cooking.
Whole spices can create a flavor bomb in your dishes. Natural flavors and oils present in spices are released upon grinding. Which means, less aging or loss occurs in flavor when grinding is done immediately before adding spices to your pot or pan. Additionally, adding ground spices toward the end of cooking will help to keep the majority of their flavor present when your dish is ready to eat. Whole spices can be used in recipes as is, as well. Simply add them earlier in the cooking process so they have time to break down.
A great way to change up the flavor of whole spices is to toast the spice intact prior to grinding. Simply add your spice, such as whole mustard or cumin seed, to a hot pan over medium-high heat for a couple minutes until color changes to a golden hue and/or you begin the smell the release of the spice’s oils.
Grinding Whole Spices
Grinding whole spices can be done either in a small mortar and pestle or spice grinder. For finer grinding, a grinder is most optimal. For early experimenting, though, a mortar and pestle will work just fine with a little bit of arm strength and elbow grease.
Converting Ground Spices to Whole
If your recipe calls for a ground spice, you will need to make a slight adjustment to the amount of whole spice you use in a recipe. Tip: Most recipes will benefit from a 25% reduction in the volume of the whole spice. For example, if your recipe calls for 1¼ teaspoon ground mustard, you will use 1 teaspoon whole mustard seed so the fresh flavor does not overtake the other recipe ingredients.
Which is Best: Dried Herbs or Fresh?
Whether dried or fresh, there are plenty of potential reasons to make herbs a staple to your recipes. Dried herbs like ground sage and rosemary conjure the flavors of favorite homemade recipes such as Thanksgiving stuffing and turkey. Fresh herbs can instantly accentuate the flavor profile of any recipe like fresh basil slices sprinkled on pizza and mulled mint floating in freshly brewed black tea. In the end, the answer of dried or fresh truly depends on the recipe and your taste preference.
Cooking with Herbs
Since time is a benefit for dried herbs, add them early in your cooking. The heat and moisture of the cooking process will help rehydrate dried herbs, allowing their flavors to seep into the meal you are creating. Fresh herbs are delicate. Whether left whole, ripped, crushed, chopped or diced, fresh herbs do best when added at the end of the cooking process for most flavor. If you tend to add fresh herbs the same time as dried, experiment with delaying their addition to your recipes. You may just have a total different culinary experience with recipes you’ve been cooking for years.
Converting Dried Herbs to Fresh
Dried herbs take up less volume than fresh, so a little can go a long way. For that reason, fresh herbs have a 3:1 ratio to dried herbs in recipes. For example, if your recipe calls for 1 teaspoon dried rosemary, you’ll want to use 1 tablespoon (or 3 teaspoons) fresh rosemary in its place. Keep that mortar and pestle handy and get grinding! Pulverizing fresh herbs helps to release their natural oils and flavors, so you’ll get even more from that tablespoon of fresh rosemary used in place of dried.
Enjoy the deliciousness of whole spices and fresh herbs in the recipes below!