The secret spice of life

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The secret spice of life

Know your sumac from your Szechuan pepper? Spice up your repertoire with these tips and then stock up on the right ground and whole spices

Your spice drawer holds the key to infusing your cooking with diverse global flavours.

How to store spices

Did you know that whole spices maintain their freshness for longer than ground spices? And that they lose flavour over time (use your eyes and nose – if their colour has faded and the aroma is low, replace them). Use these storage tips to keep your spices fresher for longer.

“Store spices away from light, moisture and heat, which influence shelf life and flavour.” says Roelien Havenga, Woolies product developer. Store your spices in glass jars to preserve their freshness, or make like TASTE food editor Abigail Donnelly and store your spices in Ziploc bags in the fridge.

Don’t sprinkle herbs and spices directly from the bottle over a steaming pot – moisture will cake ground spices.

Vanie Padayachee, executive chef at Marigold restaurant in Franschhoek, recommends buying the smallest quantities you can. “At Marigold, I order spices every week, and we roast and grind a batch for each day.”


Spices should be gently fried in a fat (try oil, butter or ghee) to release their aromas. Start with whole spices such as cinnamon sticks and seeds and end off with ground spices. Be sure to keep the heat low and keep stirring, never leaving the pan unattended: ground spices will burn quickly and become bitter in a matter of seconds. If they burn, throw them away or risk a bitter dish!


Allspice berries
Often used in pickling and marinating, they’re a key ingredient in pickled fish and used in curry blends of Caribbean origin.
Try it in: Moroccan-spiced carrot hummus with pickled carrots and flatbreads
Browse recipes starring allspice berries here.

These aromatic dried flower buds add warm, intense flavour to stocks, stews, casseroles and soups.
Try it in: Indian lamb on the bone
Browse recipes starring cloves here.

Fennel seeds
Their light, liquorice flavour is delicious in curries. Or grind them and combine with other seasoning to enhance fish and seafood.
Try it in: bean curry
Browse recipes starring fennel seeds here

Green cardamom
Crack the pods to release their aromatic, sweet flavour into mild curries and dairy-based desserts.
Try it in: cardamom-and-rose almond milk rice pudding
Browse more recipes starring cardamom here

Smoked chilli flakes
Use sparingly in marinades, BBQ sauces and curries, or sprinkle over paella.
Try it in: chicken espetada
Browse recipes starring chilli flakes here

Star anise
Typically used in Asian cuisine, this spice has a sweet, liquorice-like flavour.
Try it in: sweet-and-sour pork
Browse recipes starring star anise here

This citrusy spice pairs well with veggies, lamb, chicken and fish. Use it in rubs, marinades and add as a seasoning.
Try it in: sumac-braaied lamb chops
Browse recipes starring sumac here

Szechuan pepper
Use it to add citrusy flavour to Chinese and Indian dishes.
Try it in: dan-dan chicken

An aromatic spice with a pungent, anise-like flavour. Use in breads, especially rye.
Try it in: schwarma-style lamb
Browse recipes starring sumac here

TASTE Article by: TASTE

The TASTE team is a happy bunch of keen cooks and writers, always on the look out for the next food trend or the next piece of cake.

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