If you’ve never heard of toasting or frying spices you’re not alone. It’s not very common in Western culture. But if you’re an adventurous eater, these are techniques that can boost your culinary knowledge and introduce your palate to some really delicious dishes!

Popular in South Asia, toasting and frying spices is key to flavor packed food. Here’s the difference between the two methods and why it’s important to dishes like curries, masala’s and more.

How Do You Toast Spices

Toasting spices can be done in a skillet with whole spices. The purpose of toasting spices, much like toasting nuts, helps to bring out a nuttier, richer, earthier flavor. Toasting also brings out the natural oils and aromas that you may not always get with pre-ground spices.

Whole spices also help to bring a silkiness to the dish. For example, buy pre-ground cinnamon and cinnamon sticks at the store and when you get home, take a good whiff of both of them and you’ll understand what I mean when I say whole spices have a sexy silky persona to them.

With whole spices, size matters when it comes to toasting. Like any foods you’re trying to toast or brown, you don’t want to overcrowd the pan. So if you’re toasting a bunch of spices, you may want to do it in batches. You also want to toast in order of texture and size of the spices. If you’re making a smaller batch, start by toasting your to tougher (or “harder”) spices that can withstand the heat like cinnamon sticks, anise, nutmeg etc. Next, you’ll add your seeds like coriander or mustard seed. Lastly, you can ground your toasted spices, mix them with a tiny bit of your cooking liquid (water, broth, etc.) until a paste it formed. This paste can be used as the base of your dish and would be perfect for curries!

Can You Toast Pre-Ground Spices?

Yes, but it’s not recommended. Because pre-ground spices are already exposed and broken down, they’re more prone to burning. Burned spices will have a bitter flavor and can ruin a dish. Toasted ground spices may burn, but it is still beneficial to heat them. This can be done by frying. Just like the paste you can make with whole spices, you can also make with ground. You can combine your ground spices with a small amount of liquid to make a paste or you can take it up a notch by adding a few ingredients with them in a blender like garlic, salt, ginger, herbs, etc.

How Do You Fry Spices

Frying spices is very popular in Indian dishes. This will enhance the natural flavors of the spices so that they’re bolder, brighter and more powerful. Almost as if they get a boost of confidence when introduced to oil!

Much like toasting whole spices in a particular order, you’ll want to fry them the same way. Hard spices first, then seeds and even whole chilies. With frying, onion is often added in which creates moisture. This method is called bhunooing. And lastly, it can be ground into a paste. This can be done in a food processor or even mortar and pestle.

Another frying method is tadka. This is done by adding a high heat oil like coconut oil or ghee at high heat. You’ll wait for the oil or ghee to smoke then add small pieces of whole spices. Once they’re fragrant and fried, you can either remove them from the pan with a slotted spoon or strain them out. But if you want, you can also leave the pieces in! Then the end product is drizzled right on top of your dish adding a robust amount of flavor.

My personal preference is frying spices. Spices are fat soluble and help to infuse food better by heating in oil before adding other components of the dish. Plus, fat coats the tongue, meaning that you really get introduced to each flavor with every bite.

Can You Toast and Then Fry

You can but it’s not really necessary. You won’t find much of a different in flavor.

What’s the Best Way to Store Spices

Spices should be stored in a cool, dark cabinet. If yours are out on the counter exposed to heat and light, they will lose their fragrance and flavor more quickly. With whole or ground you’ll want to store them in a well-sealed container. I know whole spices can be rather expensive, so you’ll want to make sure you store them correctly.

With whole spices, you can also store them in the fridge or freezer. But keep in mind when you go to toast or fry them, give them a little extra time and keep and eye on them because the fridge/freezer will cause condensation. Whole spices will keep in the fridge/freezer for up to 3 years and ground will keep for about 6 months.

However, don’t ever try to keep spices you’ve fried. Fried spices are meant to use instantly while cooking or garnishing a dish.

What are some of your favorite spices to cook with? If you have questions about toasting or frying spices, let me know in the comments!

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Remember to be brave in trying new things and always cook with a dash of love!

Until next time,

Haley | Creator of Haley’s Kitchen

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  1. This article is great to learn about frying spices such as Asian dishes, and nutmeg. We like to fry spices as well, such as a clove of garlic, and sesame seeds. We are glad that we ran into this article, and will pass it on as well.


  2. Haley, I certainly learned some new things about spices – toasting and frying (bhunooing, or tadka. In my culture we do neither and rely more on ground spices. Which method of frying is your personal preference?

    My interest has been piqued and I will try out the frying methods over the holiday season.

    1. Hi Ceci,

      I use a lot of ground spices as well and typically make a paste with oil to infuse the food!

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