Spice Experimentation - What's the best delivery medium?

Joined Oct 23, 2008
I was just thinking about how I have always trained my palette with combinations of spice, I know I like cumin and ancho along with garlic and a little cayenne when I am making chili, and I have ground combinations of cumin seed, corriander, and mace with chiles to create curries, but these are pre-determined ideas. The combinations are already known, and at the end of the day you really are tasting the balance of one spice against another if you are expressing yourself at all and not following some list of exact measurements in a recipe (a concept which I despise for the most part)

I was thinking, to really start to educate my palette I need to stop cooking, and start experimenting. I have a spice grinder and because of some of the Indian cooking I've done I really believe that spice should be obtained whole if possible, and ground when needed. One of the reasons being that toasting whole spices prior to grinding results in a variation in flavor, one not afforded if the spice is already ground. Also there is a question of freshness with previously ground spice.

With that out of the way, I am wondering what medium would be a good delivery for the ground spice? I was thinking mayonnaise, since it is rich, and has some oil properties without too much change in flavor. I don't want to just lick a spoon of ground spice, I need to thin it somehow, in a way that can be consistent and fairly neutral across many many spices. Any other suggestions?
Joined Feb 26, 2007
Try Greek yoghurt instead.  If you are aiming for Indian concotions (which sounds like a contradiction in terms but I find it works well) rather than the sweet egginess of mayo.  Either that or coconut milk or cream.  There are many syles of cooking in India.   Depends which area you want to focus on.  Sometimes an addition of a can of diced Roma tomatoes can work too,  Blend it first  and sieve it if you want it smooth.  Or even just a plain passate - this will cut down on your workload.

Or you can use a mortar and pestle to make your curry paste,  toast off and blend your whole spices first, then into the mortar with garlic, ginger etc to form a smooth paste,  Works well for me.

Have fun experimenting :)

  I do agree with keeping the spices whole, toasting them until they are fragrant, so they release their volatile oils,then mixing  and blending in a small coffee grinder which you reserve for your spices only,
Joined Apr 3, 2010
Best way is in a liquid medium. Commercially most herbs and spices are made into an oil or essence or extract and added in liquid form. Why? because  in large batch making.  dry ingredients sometime collect in pockets where the paddles or blades miss. Liquid however mixes more readily with the batches.
Joined Apr 5, 2007
If you are in an experimental state of mind make yourself a spice mix and try infusing it into several mediums.  Try water, oil, acid and alcohol.  You will probably find the results interesting.

Joined Oct 23, 2008
Thanks everyone, good ideas. What I am going for is a way to simply taste the differences between toasted/non toasted spices and to also get to know how each spice tastes individually. I think maybe sometimes I muddle flavors because like many amateur cooks I started out using commercial spice blends. I think ultimately all chefs desire to create their own dishes and like anything else, you have to have technical knowledge to some degree to really maximize your creativity. I'll give both the greek yogurt and oil ideas a try. I've used greek yogurt before to create a nice cilantro spread for sandwiches and it really carried the cilantro well.
Joined Feb 1, 2007
Were it me, I'd use a neutral oil as the medium, as most spices release their flavoroids better in oil than anything else.

You then want to sample it on something also neutral: boiled potatoes or plain wild rice. The idea is to give the spices a base, but for the base to have has little influence on the spice flavor as possible.

In addition to raw/toasted keep in mind that many spices change profile when cooked. So I'd be sure and do that as well. Just heat them in the same oil you're using to support them.  
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