Should you toast spices?
A search of google will leave you thoroughly confused. Even amongst chefs that are famous for their use of spices, the answer is inconclusive. The aromatic quality of spices really depends on many factors. The freshness, storage and form principally. As a general rule it is not a bad idea to toast whole spices for a short time in a pan as it can release a bit more flavour.
Although slightly controversial, at Cuisitive we prefer to toast spices in a little oil, leading to some of the essential oils getting trapped and thus not losing crucial flavour. By dry roasting a spice, a lot of the essential oil is lost through evaporation.
The key to any toasting is to treat the spices with respect and avoid burning at all costs. A spice can go from aromatic to charred in seconds. Very similar to garlic when it hits the pan. Constantly move the spices around with a wooden spoon until they have darkened slightly and then remove from the heat.
Generally with powdered spices like Garam Masala we do not toast them at all. Because of the fine texture the risk of burning is so great and really there is little flavour benefit to doing it.
Whether you toast or not, really is up to you. Either approach has its benefits and drawbacks. The fact that in India most recipes are split down the middle between those that do and don’t toast says it all.
As long as spices are treated with care and attention you will produce great results.
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