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Monica Haldar
Monica HaldarPublished on April 08, 2021

If you cook Indian food, it’s likely you have a rack, drawer or even a cupboard full of spices. It’s also a very real possibility that some are past their best before and aren’t as potent as when they first took residence in your kitchen. Though spices are some of the most enduring ingredients, they’re not invincible and it’s important to know how to buy, store and use them properly to get the most out of them!


As tempting as it is to buy the bigger, more value-for-money packet, my number one tip is to only buy as much as you need. If you don’t cook with spices very often, do not opt for a larger pack - even if it’s more cost effective. Also, check a few packets and always select the one with the latest expiry date. Lastly, if you’re new to cooking with spices, it can sometimes be a little daunting looking at all of the spices in the Asian or “World Foods” section of a supermarket. To avoid confusion, I suggest only purchase the essential spices first. I’ve given a guide to these here.


Once you have purchased your spices, it’s really important to transfer them to labelled airtight containers or jars. This will help to seal in the freshness and potency of them. I like to choose clear ones as you can always see what you have in – this also helps prevent the “mystery spice” jars from accumulating at the back of your cupboard – we’ve all been there! If you’re an avid cook of Indian food, you can transfer your main spices into a “Masala Dabba”. It’s an airtight circular box usually made from stainless steel containing small bowls inside and is the backbone of Indian home kitchens. It’s usually kept on the countertop and allows for quick and easy access to your everyday spices. Once your spices have been transferred into an airtight container, make sure you keep them in a dry and cool place, away from windows or the stove. Heat, moisture and light are the enemy when it comes to keeping your spices fresh!


It’s always a good idea to check what spices you have and “take inventory” of them periodically. Over time, spices lose their flavour as their natural essential oils will begin to fade. Whilst organising your spices, you can tell how fresh your spices are by just smelling them – if they’re fresh they will be nice and fragrant. If they’re not, they will be very feint in smell. They can also begin to turn a little on the “dull” side, colour wise. Though spices don’t really ‘go off’ per se, ground powders (cumin/coriander/turmeric etc) will begin to lose their flavour, fragrance and colour after about 6 months. Seeds and whole spices (cardamom, cloves & cassia etc) can actually last several years. You can revive spices that are losing their edge by simply toasting in a hot, dry, frying pan. Heat helps spices release their natural oils. You only need to give them a couple of minutes or until you can smell the fragrance come through. Then, transfer to a plate to cool. You can do this just before cooking a recipe so your spices are refreshed and ready to inject some flavour! You can also apply heat to spices that aren’t going off just to get the maximum flavour out of them. One thing I love to do is make my own Roasted Cumin Powder This a wonderfully potent, nutty powder that is delicious and adds so much when sprinkled over yoghurt raitas, dips and even in salad dressings.

To make your very own Roasted Cumin Powder:

 Heat a dry frying pan on a medium heat setting. Once hot, add the cumin seeds (as much as you require) and allow to toast for a couple or minutes.

 You should begin to smell the fragrance of the cumin seeds after a minute or so. When you see the cumin seeds have turned a whole shade darker of brown, turn the pan off and transfer to a plate to cool. There is a fine line between perfectly toasted and burnt so do be quick!

 Once the roasted cumin seeds have cooled, pour into a pestle and mortar or alternatively, you can use a coffee grinder. Grind into a powder and allow to cool once again.

 Use immediately in your cooking or transfer to an airtight jar.

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