Spices have been used around the world since 1700 BCE. Even our ancient ancestors knew that food is better with a variety of color and flavors. In fact, some the earliest written records documenting the use of spices come from ancient Chinese, Egyptian and Indian cultures. Adding various spices during food preparation has been a part of the culture of cooking for decades. So, why do we shy away from using these additives in our daily cooking regimen?
Bad experiences reign
One major contributor to the hesitation of using spices may come from a bad experience. We have all had a dish where the chef was too heavy-handed on a particular spice, making the entire dish less than enjoyable. After you have tried to consume a dish with too much dill or a plate that has too much oregano, you tend to shy away from anything that led to that experience. This can include the use of spices in your own cooking.
However, one bad experience doesn’t speak for them all. Remaining aware of the lack of technique that led to the experience is key. This provides an opportunity for education that will allow you to get the most out of your spices.
Timed introduction of herbs
Adding herbs and spices at the proper time in the cooking process is key. This is perhaps almost as important as adding the correct amount of any ingredient Some herbs are fragile and delicate, such as cilantro, tarragon and basil, which will cause them to shrivel up and become non-existent by the time the dish is finished if they are introduced too early. Other spices need to be added as soon as the dish begins cooking to allow the flavors to develop and really shine through in the end result. This would be the case with rosemary, thyme and marjoram.
Replace salt with acid
Many gourmet dishes rely on a healthy dose of salt to incorporate “flavor” and develop a comforting taste. However, flavor can still be developed, if not even more so, without the extensive use of salt. Replacing a partial amount of salt with an acid, like lemon juice or vinegar, can help develop the flavor in your dish. Acids compete with bitter compounds, which can result in brighter flavors from other herbs and spices that have been incorporated. Even a small amount, like 1/8 teaspoon, can go a long way.
Season cold foods better
Not all food temperatures are treated as equals when it comes to prepping food with herbs and spices. Chilling foods actually results in a duller flavor and aroma, so prepping colder foods with more spices than usual is recommended. To keep from overdoing the addition of spices and herbs, add a bit of salt initially and then check for taste again right before cooking. If necessary, add more spice at this time. You can thank us later.
Adjust spices accordingly
Despite your initial efforts to season a dish properly, many elements can make your cooking go awry. While adding too much sugar or spice to a dish can’t be reversed, other spice-wielding mistakes can be corrected. One overpowering ingredient can often be masked by a different ingredient that is opposite in flavor. In addition, account for reduction when cooking, as it can add a salty flavor that can become too much if salt has already been generously added.
Add some umami
Often described as an illusive flavor that brings a dish together and gives it that extra edge, umami can be introduced through certain additives. Soy sauce, Worcestershire sauce and anchovies contain high levels of glutamates, which can do the trick.