Cook fresh with whole spices

Whole spices also keep longer. Properly stored—in a glass jar away from light and heat—they can stay fresh for two or three years.

Whole spices also keep longer. Properly stored—in a glass jar away from light and heat—they can stay fresh for two or three years.

One of the best ways we know to deepen and enliven flavors is to cook with whole spices.

Grinding just enough for one recipe, instead of relying on the pre-ground versions from the corner grocery, will ensure that the flavors in your mole sauce or paella taste clean and fresh.

It will also keep your pantry honest. Ground spices are an ideal hiding place for fillers such as starch or sawdust. And when you grind them yourself, there’s no need for MSG or anti-caking agents.

Whole spices also keep longer. Properly stored—in a glass jar away from light and heat—they can stay fresh for two or three years. Ground spices lose their verve in about eight months.

Still, don’t overbuy. Find a dedicated spice merchant or a shop with good turnover that sells spices in bulk. Think about your cooking habits before you invest in any spice and buy just what you think you’ll use (we tend to go through lots of cumin seed, less fenugreek).

Get rid of any pre-ground spices you haven’t used in a year and re-stock with whole ones, if you can.

Here are some of the basics to keep on hand:

Allspice
Caraway seed
Cardamom pods
Cloves
Coriander seed
Cumin seed
Fennel seed
Fenugreek
Mustard seed
Nutmeg
Peppercorns

Once you have the basics, experiment with small amounts of less mainstream spices. Try out star anise, juniper berries, nigella seed, long pepper, celery seed, or dill pollen.

And what to do with all these spices? We’ll explore that next time.

Until then,

The Mastro Team