As you scan through the list of ingredients for your dinner, you notice a word beside that ¼ cup of coriander seeds: “toasted.” But what does that mean? Is it really essential? And if so, what benefits does toasting your spices bring to your meal?
We have all those answers and more, but in short: Yes, you should absolutely be toasting your spices when it’s called for.
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What Does Toasting Your Spices Do?
Spices add complexity, vitality, and nuanced flavor to dishes. Toasting whole spices brings out their fullest flavor. The dry heat brings the spice’s oils to the surface, resulting in a bolder aroma. It also triggers flavorful browning and caramelization that further intensify the flavor. Toasting whole spices helps to release their essential oils, bringing out their full flavor and aroma—which will then be transferred to your dish.
So it’s a no-brainer, right?
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Whether it’s the spicy-sweet kick of cardamom pods, or the rich, anise aroma of toasted fennel seeds, the pungent flavor of whole spices—especially when toasted—is unparalleled by preground spices.
How to Toast Spices
Toast whole spices in a dry skillet (without any oil) set over medium heat, shaking the pan occasionally to prevent scorching.
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Spices need be toasted only until they become fragrant, usually 1 to 3 minutes; at this point you should remove them from the skillet to stop the toasting and prevent scorching. If you think you may have burned the spices, toss them and try again . . . burnt spices will only contribute an unpleasantly bitter flavor.
Looking to extend the benefits of toasting to more flavor-fuelling foods? You can toast dried chiles in much the same way to boost the aroma of your dish. We also often bloom ground spices (or spice blends) in oil to draw out their aromas and flavors—there are plenty of ways to make the very most of your spices’ and aromatics’ flavors by just turning up the heat.