All you need to know about Cooking with Spices

Adding spice to a dish can transform the mundane and elevate it to the extraordinary. Spices give flavour, colour and aroma, but for those who are novices in the kitchen, the sheer variety can be confusing, and when do you use them? At the start of cooking? At the very end?


Luckily, there are a few staple spices that are used in many recipes, and a few basic rules, that can take the difficulty out of using spices in your cooking.

Here’s a guide to cooking with spices.

Types of spice

Spices come in the form of a seed, the root, the bark, the fruit or they can be fresh. Spices that come whole will be stronger and last longer than ones than have been ground.

How to store

You should always store spices in a dark coloured, airtight jar and keep in a cool place. Spices that have been ground lose their flavour and colour quickly if not, and the flavour will go after about 6 months.

Enhancing the flavour

To get the most out of spices that come in seeds, try toasting them first. Heat a pan and add the spices, then cook them gently for about 30 seconds until you can smell the spice. When they are cooled, grind and use.

Using spices

As a general rule, always use spices at the start of cooking, to get the most flavour out of them. So for a marinade, add them to oil and baste onto meat or fish and leave for hours before cooking. For a dry rub, press into meat or fish and leave. For casseroles, curries or fancy stews, fry in oil at the start for 5 to 10 mins and let the spices infuse in the oil before adding meat or fish.

Now you know how to use spices, what spices go well with types of food? Check out our most commonly used top five:


A staple spice for curries and chilli con carne. This is an earthy spice that adds depth to a dish, and comes in seeds or ground. Try toasting the seeds and adding to salads for extra flavour.


This spice tastes very different from the herb, which has a very refreshing citrus taste. As with cumin, coriander comes in seeds or ground, and goes really well with most meat dishes.


This spice comes in a sweet or smoked form, and is made from dried peppers that are then ground. Most often used in Hungarian goulashes or Spanish dishes, to add warmth and sweetness.


This spice is actually a member of the ginger family, but doesn’t taste anything like it. Most typically used in curry dishes for the bright yellow colouring, the peppery flavour is a key ingredient for most Indian cooking.

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