Captain's Spices
Captain's Spices
Useful information

What must I look out for when buying spices

When the time comes and you need to buy spices and herbs from the supermarket or grocery, there is one thing that you must pay particular attention to: the packaging. Bad packaging can cause spices or herbs to modify quickly.

One good solution is to buy spices and herbs that are in packaging with a secure cap or seal that preserves their aroma and taste unchanged.

What must I look out for when storing spices and herbs

• Regarding the packaging used to store spices and herbs, bear in mind that they may be exposed to sunlight

• It’s best to keep on the shelf spices that are in whole and not ground form as well as those spices you use often

• Herbs with delicate leaves, such as parsley, as well as herbs that you don’t use often are best stored in a cupboard, away from sunlight, heat and humidity

• All herbs and spices change over time

• For this reason, don’t fill your cupboards with dried herbs and spices and try not to buy large quantities so that you can use what you have and not throw it away

Fresh or dry?

In order to understand the difference between the two it must be stated that often when the term “fresh” is used in retail, it means that the spices or herbs were gathered when fresh and were not later frozen or subject to any other processing.

In contrast with this term, is the term “dry”. For centuries people used the method of drying spices and herbs for various reasons. The most common reason was that this is a way of preserving herbs and spices that allows us to use them whenever we want.

Another reason as to why drying is done is that, in this way, certain enzymes that give each spice its particular flavour are activated in a natural and not a technical way. A characteristic example is pepper which, when dried in the sun, forms a substance, piperine, which gives it its flavour. Enzyme reactions also take place with vanilla, cloves, allspice, nutmeg and cardamom.

A further advantage with drying is that the dried herb is a condensed form of the fresh one. This means that, when cooking, we can use a much smaller quantity of a dried herb than a fresh one. The general rule when using dried herbs is that we should use 1/4 or 1/3 of the amount we would use with the same herb when fresh.

Ground or whole?

When should we use ground spices and when should we use whole ones? The answer to this question also depends on the cooking method we have chosen. For example, when making compotes it’s preferable to use cinnamon sticks rather than ground cinnamon because cinnamon sticks give aroma to the fruit without making the liquid they are being cooked in look like mud. In contrast, if we want to mix spices with flour it is better to use ground spices as they blend much better with the other ingredients.

When should we buy ground spices and when should we buy whole ones? Buying whole spices is recommended when they are not used often, as they have a longer lifespan than ground spices.

Little secrets and tips

• Spice flavours are released best throughout the food when the spices are added at the beginning of the cooking.
• If you add the spices to your food at the end of cooking, then what prevails is their aroma.
• Dried herbs must be added at the beginning of cooking.
• Herbs with hard leaves, such as rosemary, thyme, bay leaves and lavender can withstand long cooking.
• In order to revive the aroma of the herbs after several hours of cooking, simply throw in a few finely-chopped leaves at the end of the cooking process.
• Herbs with a strong flavour, such as mint, tarragon and marjoram can be added to the food at any stage of the cooking, the beginning, middle or end.