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How to Use Whole Spices

Using ground spices may be quick and convenient, but for that special occasion nothing beats whole spice that you grind yourself. Not only will you get a better flavor, you will save money as well. Most of us buy our spice these days in those little jars that line up on supermarket shelves in uniformed rows. Each jar of ground spice is hermetically sealed to preserve all its subtlety of flavor but, unfortunately, the moment the jar is opened the spice begins to deteriorate. It loses its full flavor surprisingly quickly and never really has the full, deep pungency of home ground whole spice. After a couple of months there is very little of the original freshness left at all.

Whole spice can also be bought in jars and is far superior, since its wonderful aromas are only released when it is ground. It's also cheaper to buy and lasts for months, if not years, without any loss of quality. Grinding is not difficult and you don't need a special spice mill. Some people will have an attachment to their blender that will do the trick, but the simplest method is to use a pestle and mortar. This is also the best way to control how coarse or fine the grind is going to be.

You just stop when you have the required result. A pestle and mortar need not be expensive. There are marble ones on the market now for just a few dollars, and the best of these is one which comes from China and has a pestle shaped like an inverted mushroom that fills the entire bowl of the mortar. If you don't want to spend any money at all on a grinder you can improvise by using the rounded end of a rolling pin in a suitable small bowl.

This will give a result every bit as good as anything else you may use, but it may take a little longer. I would still recommend that as a good way to start out, particularly as it won't cost you anything apart from the purchase of the spice. As far as that goes, choose one that is used in a variety of dishes, such as cumin for example, and buy a jar of the seeds instead of the ground variety. Then simply grind them up and add the slightly coarse result to your spicey Middle East or Mediterranean dishes and enjoy the difference. Once you have tasted the real thing, there is every chance that you will never buy ground spices again.

Michael Sheridan is a former head-chef and an acknowledged authority and published writer on cooking matters. His website at contains a wealth of information, hints, tips and recipes for busy home cooks


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