Toasting and grinding whole spices makes you feel like an alchemist. Naturally flavorful, aromatic spices take on deeper and more complex flavors with a little help from a frying pan. In turn, enhancing the rich flavors in all your favorite recipes.
Keep in mind, there is nothing wrong with using pre-ground spices. The main thing to account for is their freshness. This is why we proudly grind our spices and mix our blends in the smallest batch size possible.
For the curious cook, toasting spices is another delicious endeavor we highly recommend. Whenever you cook with our spices, we want you to be delighted and astonished by the flavors and aromas filling your kitchen.
What Spices Can I Toast?
Any spice in their whole form can be improved with a little toasting. Even whole cinnamon sticks and bay leaves can be added to the toasting pan. Spices we often recommend for toasting are; allspice berries, cumin seed, cardamom seeds, mustard seeds, black cardamom pods, anise seed, celery seed, caraway seed, sesame seed, fenugreek seeds, ajowan seed, star anise, charnushka seeds, chile de arbol, cloves, coriander seed, dill seed, mace, peppercorns, Sichuan peppercorns, and poppy seed.
Toasting Chile Peppers
Cooking with whole chile peppers is like unlocking a new taste bud. Some smaller chiles can be ground like dry spices, but it’s typically best to toast them before dehydrating and pureeing them in a blender. You’ll be amazed at how much more flavor can be conjured out of a dried chile pepper.
How Do I Toast Spices?
Add your whole spices to a dry saute pan. Cast iron skillets or stainless steel pans work well for this. Bring the pan to medium heat, while stirring the spices with a wooden spoon. The spices are finished toasting when their volatile oils have warmed and their aroma is strong. You may also notice a slight change in color. This should take between 3-5 minutes.
Transfer the toasted spices to a room temperature dinner plate and let them cool. The hot pan can overcook the spices otherwise. Plus, the spices will firm up and become easier to grind once cooled.
Be careful not to burn your spices, as their flavor can quickly turn from deliciously perfumed and nutty, to burnt and bitter. Large spices like pieces of a cinnamon stick or whole peppercorns can withstand a stronger toasting. Spices like mustard seed or cumin seed can burn much quicker and should be watched closely.
Grinding Whole Spices
A mortar and pestle offers the most authentic and romantic spice-grinding experience. To use this time honored tool, pour the toasted spices into the mortar and use the pestle to crush them against the bottom of the mortar. From there, begin stirring and crushing the spices against the sides and bottom until all spices are evenly crushed and ground. You may want to do this in batches, so as not to overfill the mortar.
You can then sift the spices through a wire mesh for a finer consistency. This process can be repeated several times for an even grind.
Mechanical and electric spice grinders offer greater precision and convenience. You can purchase a specially designed spice grinder for this, or even use a coffee grinder that is designated for spices only. (Most people don’t like cumin-flavored coffee in the morning.) Simply follow the same steps as above—grind, sift, and repeat as needed.
We love our Microplane Spice Mill for small batches of toasted spices. This neat little gadget combines the sharp grating power of a microplane grater, with the sleek convenience of a pepper mill. It can grind allspice berries, cinnamon sticks, and even whole nutmeg.
Cooking With Toasted Spices
Toasted and ground spices can be added to all your savory recipes. One of the best cuisines to use toasted spices is Indian cuisine and its many curry recipes. Homemade toasted curry powders have a deliciously different flavor than a pre-gound curry blend. You can use the homemade toasted curry powder recipe below for favorite recipes like chicken curry or curried cauliflower.