My grandmother was the first person who taught me to pay close attention to my spice rack. She had rules about freshness and storage. Keep your spices away from heat sources and light. Six-month life span for dried herbs or ground spices or spice blends, a year for whole spices, then clear out the diminished leftovers and buy new ones. Always buy from a source that you trust to have a high rate of turnover. If you don’t use something regularly, store it in the freezer to extend its life. She was a great cook and believed in good ingredients.

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Easy never tasted so awesome.

I took her lessons to heart.

I buy my spices from great purveyors like The Spice House and SpiceWalla. I keep minimal amounts in my spice rack and store any extras in the freezer. I rarely buy pre-ground spices, preferring to grind as-needed in a spice grinder. I use a small coffee grinder for this, keeping it for spices only.

But there are two extra steps I take that my grandmother did not, which I learned from watching chef pals.

Your spices can improve dramatically in flavor if you oven-roast them, toast them in a skillet, or bloom them in oil.

Roasting spices

Just like nuts and seeds taste richer and more complex when you toast them, your spices will benefit from some heat to make them shine. For most recipes, a minute in a dry skillet over medium-high heat while swirling the pan will release the aromatic oils in your spices. You can then use them whole or grind them in a spice grinder or mortar and pestle.

Toasting spices

For ground spices or spice blends, you can roast them by putting a thin layer of them on a sheet pan and baking in a 400-degree oven for 5-8 minutes until the color deepens a bit. Then cool completely before storing.

Blooming spices

Many cultures call for blooming their spices in hot oil before building the rest of the dish, which works great for soups, stews, or curries. You simply add your whole or ground spices to hot oil in the bottom of your pan and cook for a minute or two until they are fragrant, or until whole spices start to pop.

You’ll be amazed at how taking that one extra step can really change even the simplest dish into something extra special.

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