Spices – To Roast or Not to Roast?

Spices – To Roast or Not to Roast? That is the Question!

Roasting spices; do I have to roast my spices before using them?

Some  cooks may incorrectly tell you that roasting spices brings out the flavour. Roasting spices changes the flavour. In the same way that a slice of toast tastes different from a slice of bread, a roasted spice tastes different from an unroasted one.

Spices are roasted to create a greater depth of flavour and robustness, often when used with red meats. The majority of Indian curries are enhanced when roasted spices are used; however, one would never roast cinnamon, allspice, nutmeg or ginger before adding them to a cake. Herbie also prefers to use unroasted spices in fish and vegetable dishes, as the more delicate, fresh-tasting top notes of the spices are still recognizable, and complement these foods better than robust, deep, roasted flavours.

Both whole and ground spices may be dry-roasted. Many cooks like to roast them whole for the same reason they buy whole spices. But good-quality, freshly ground spices will roast perfectly well. To roast either whole or ground spices, heat a heavy-bottomed pan on the stove top until it is almost too hot to touch. (If it is too hot, the spices may burn, making them bitter.) Put your spices into the hot pan and shake the pan constantly so they don’t stick or burn. When they become fragrant and start to darken, they are sufficiently roasted, and should be tipped out of the pan, ready for use within a day or two.

After roasting, the volatile oils will oxidize more rapidly and the flavour then deteriorates quickly, so don’t store roasted spices for more than a few days before using them.


Some people say that if your spices are old, simply roast them to bring back the flavour. Wrong!

If the spice has lost its flavour, and is well past its best before date, there won’t be any magic flavour out there in the heavens that magically comes back on roasting! That is just fooling you by releasing what little flavour may be left in the spice, but it certainly won’t bring back anything that’s been lost.