When I started cooking with spices, my eyes opened up to a world of flavor. Going beyond simply seasoning with salt and pepper, my food was elevated from good to spectacular. The world of spices can enhance a dish with all the flavors you're looking for.
Need a bit of heat? Add some cayenne. Want to add some bite? Try ginger. Finding combinations of flavors that work is as exciting as trying a new recipe.
The question that arose when I discovered my new secret ingredients was when is the best time to add spices? After doing a little research, I discovered the science behind the preferred cooking methods. While different spices can have different effects, timing is everything.
Adding Spices First
I've read plenty of recipes that called for throwing the spices in a pan with the oil first and I always wondered why. The reason behind creating a spice infused oil is to bring out as much flavor from the spice as possible. This is a great way to enhance any dish and integrate the flavors of the spice in every bite.
Careful though -- the longer a spice is exposed to high heat, the more likely it will burn, which can result in a bitter flavor.
If you are making a soup or stew, simmer the spices in the broth. Add the spices midway to allow their flavors to develop. If you add the spices too soon, their flavors may cook off and become muted. If you add them to the end, however, you won't get the deep, rich flavor you are looking for.
Topping Off with Spices
Adding spices to a finished dish - such as a salad - can add a pop of flavor. I like to add paprika, in particular, to salads as it gives them a little kick and adds the health benefits of capsaicin. When cooking, however, adding spices at the end doesn't allow their full flavors and aromas to develop. So it really depends on what you are looking for from your spices.
Next time you are in the kitchen, experiment with your spices and see for yourself what your preferred taste is. You may find some new methods and combinations that surprise you.