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 Whole or Ground Spice?

One of the first questions people ask when they come along to a cookery session at Sweet Cumin or buy a Bini ready meal curry is always about the spices. How to use them? What are the best blends. How long do they keep?

I was given a masala daba ( spice tin) by my mum when I got married as a gift, alongside a sari and colourful bangles, so I could cook a wonderful meal and look beautiful for my husband. To be honest I haven’t worn the sari often, however the spice tin is my key piece of kitchen equipment  I use every day. Its like my best friend and /or like having my mum standing beside me.


My best friend….

My spice tin contains an array of delights. There are whole and ground spices. Examples are coriander powder, cumin powder, Binis garam masala, turmeric powder, chilli powder, cassia bark, mustard seeds, cardamom pods and whole cloves. I see these are the essentials to basic Indian cookery. They all have very different uses and flavour notes. I also enjoy working with dried whole chillies, I’ll pop some of these into my tin too. it at times can over-spill.


Whole spices…

The role of the whole spice is to add strength of flavour to the curry, its powerful, brilliant and starts the whole process. It adds flavour to the oil only when it is heated. Just avoid burning them as they will become bitter and can ruin your dish! if you do burn the spices, it is worth discarding them and starting again from scratch.

As a young cook growing up, I made many mistakes and I have learnt about getting the timings right when cooking with the spices. This comes with practice, experience and making many mistakes! 

Whole spices have a longer shelf life than ground, they can be kept for up to 12 months and are best stored in a air tight container and away from sunlight.


Ground spices…

Ground spices are used to add the next level of flavour to the curry. this tends to come after you have added onions or ginger, garlic or chilli paste to the curry. You would add the ground spices at this point. They will not burn as the other ingredients will absorb the ground powders. These tend to have a shorter shelf life for 3-6 months. Mine never last that long. 


Top tip …

A top tip for checking whether the spices are fresh is to taste them. If they taste good and as they should, then they are worth keeping. If they don’t have any flavour, it is  time to get throw them away and replace with a fresh batch. Check the Best Before date and if its in the 1990s it is time to ditch the jar.




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