Calling all cooks...a question on spices.

any gourmet cooks out there?

i always wonder when is the appropriate time to add spices to your food when cooking.

  1. early in the cooking stage (so that the spices can “infuse” the ingrediants)?

  2. later in the cooking stage (so that the spices stay fresh and/or so that the flavors aren’t cooked out)?

  3. or does it depend on other factors?

also, am i the only one who thinks that every cook in the world adds salt and pepper to just about everything? they sure do on the food network!

just wondering. oh yeah - if you have any tips and tricks you’d like to share…go for it!


It depends on the spice and on the effect that you are after.

Take garlic (not a spice really, but still) add it early to have sweeter mellow flavoring, later to keep a sharper bite.

As DSeid says, it depends.

A lot of dried spices and herbs benefit from being added during an initial stage, when, for example, you are sauteeing vegetables as you would to begin a sauce or soup. They infuse into the oil, which helps to bring out their flavors. Other things like fresh herbs (except for really strong ones like sage and rosemary) are better if they are added at the last minute.

Most things cooked from scratch benefit from added salt and fresh pepper compliments a lot of different tastes.

Salt is over-used, in my book (ESPECIALLY on the Food Network, LOL!) Seriously, Americans ingest too much, WAAAAY too much salt in their diets, and it shows.

My personal rule of cooking: if anything I am using as an ingredient contains salt, I don’t add additional salt to the recipe. Therefore, anything with cheese, processed meat, canned goods…those all contain salt.

Second, instead of using JUST salt, I often will use bouillon, dried soup, seasoned salt, or something else containing salt.

When using a recipe, I will often add only half the amount of salt called for.

Most people have salt and pepper available on the table. And too many folks will automatically salt food before even TASTING. BAD idea! The “flavor” of salt is acquired, and you CAN learn to reduce the amount you “think” you need in order to taste food.

(most people in my family are on medication for high blood pressure)

The BEST trick of all, though, is to make sure the salt shaker on the table is almost empty. NOBODY wants to get up and fill it, so very few people will use salt, and those who do, use it very sparingly.

Threads about cooking belong in Cafe Society. (It’s an unwritten rule, you know.)

Off to Cafe Society.

DrMatrix - General Questions Moderator

Mario Batali adds herbs both early and late in the cooking process.

In general, dry herbs early for a foundation, and fresh herbs late for a fresh taste.

Taste and season as you go. Every component of the dish will usually need some seasoning.

Also, salt does not cause high blood pressure. Some people with high blood pressure are sensitive to salt though.

Salt may not cause high blood pressure,but it aggravates it.The last thing you need is to retain more fluid when you’re hypertensive.Why most people on medication use Lasix.

Salting food while preparing it is for the chef’s gratification.Use the shaker if you must.Most meats have adequate sodium in them.For vegetables w/out cheese dishes the shaker should suffice.

I try to add my Lasix just before turning off the flame. The heat destroys it’s potency. :smiley:

When we’re talkin’ Bay Leaf, I throw one or two in very early on. They are typically bought dry, and need time to soften and suffuse, as they say.

I try to go short on Salt, as discussed here at the Salt Institute’s Home Page, chiefly because as mentioned above, we DO get too much salt in our diets.

I’ve dallied recently with Cardamom , and it’s best left to simmer as long as you cook the dish, if one is sparing in it’s use.

The spice I adore above all else has got to be Cinnamon. I try to have some every single day. ( Seriously ). I’ve no idea why, but I am drawn strongly to it’s taste and scent. You’d be surprised where it works well.

Dash a bit into a glass of Coca-Cola, and revel in a whole new taste !!! :cool:


Again, let me chime in as “it depends.” If you’re using something like fresh basil, then that will go into your dishes at the end, as it has a tendency to discolor rather quickly.
As a professionally trained chef, my opinion on seasoning foods: properly seasoned meals will never need additional salt and pepper (if you ever go to a fine-dining establishment, you’ll notice that the usual S & P shakers are starting to disappear). I have to agree with VOW that if I’m using any processed foods, I usually will not add any more salt to what I’m cooking–there’s plenty of salt included already. BUT… when you’re working with whole, unprocessed foods, salt is necessary, and that’s what you’re seeing when you’re watching Food Network. Whole foods like that taste very flat if you don’t properly season them. Also, most chefs do use kosher salt, which acutally has less sodium than your typical Iodized Salt (by volume). It looks like they’re using quite a bit of salt, but in reality, it really isn’t that much.

That being said, I do believe that the average American diet does have too much sodium–ever look on the labels of some of those frozen dinners? Yeeouch.

Oh, I forgot to mention:

Add your salt & ground pepper at the end, right before service, especially for soups, stews, and sauces. As they cook, liquid will evaporate and will concentrate flavors—and the salt, too, if it’s in there. It’s always best to add it last.

Spices, herbs etc make all the difference. Witness the Quick and Dirty Stew, which can be Middle Eastern or Mediterranean, depending purely on seasoning.

Where dried herbs and spices are concerned, I tend to add most near the beginning - but putting them straight into hot oil is not a good idea as you just burn them. Fresh herbs, like parsley, need to go in later. Fresh chilli pepper should go in at the beginning.

Try adding a small pinch of sugar instead of salt, near the end of the process. Sugar, like salt, intensifies a lot of other flavors.

wow! thanks for all the great replies. looks like i’ll drop the dried herbs in early, go with the fresh herbs near the end.

oh yeah…i do user kosher salt (alton brown taught me that one!)

thanks again. oh yeah…sorry for posting in the wrong location. new to these boards and gotta learn my way around.


You can actually use salt wisely to use less. Fine Cooking did an article on it recently. If you add it at the right time in cooking, you don’t need to add any at the end.

And the thing about salt being bad for you? It’s only bad if you have high blood pressure, and only then about a third of people with HBP actually have problems with salt. This comes from mom, the veteran dietitian.

I would suggest maybe looking at some spice mixes, qwerty. Mix and match. I love cajun spice and garlic powder on grilled cheese. Also, go for the biggest mamma-jamma of mixes, curry. You’ll never look back. Also, if you are big on herbs, grow your own!

Rather than start a whole new thread I thought I would just pop my question in here.

I’ve just discovered mustard as a spice, I love hot english mustard on sandwiches etc. but never realised I could get a dried or seed form to add to food.

Any suggestions on cooking with mustard, tips, ideas.


Dry mustard - I don’t use this spice terribly often. Generally, I use it in Indian cooking, while toasting and grinding up a masala of some sort or a pinch of dry mustard in cheese dishes or sauces does a lot to improve flavor.

Otherwise, my general rule on spices in general pretty much reflect Java’s guidelines. Dry spices and herbs go in early. Fresh herbs go in late. Fresh basil, cilantro (aka coriander), parsley, mint and the such almost always go in toward the end (last 5 minutes or less) of the cooking time. It just doesn’t taste right otherwise. They lose their “fresh” flavor if you cook the hell out of 'em. Exceptions to this rule would include making soup stocks. In that case, it’s perflectly ok to infuse fresh thyme and parsley in the beginning of the cooking process.

Salt is very important to binding the flavors together. If you omit the salt, you will generally get a bland dish. I generally add it toward the end of my cooking time. Exceptions are when you add salt to a cooking water (for boiling potatoes, pasta, etc.) But don’t add salt if you’re boiling corn - it tends to toughen it (so says Saveur Magazine, at least. I personally can’t vouch for it.)

Also, if you do add too much salt, you can sometimes rescue your dish by adding a few peeled potatoes. They will absorb some of the excess salt. Discard them at the end.

Boullion cubes I’m generally against, although occassionally I will use them (very sparingly) to strengthen a weak stock. They taste unpleasantly chemically to me. Then again, there are certain comfort foods (Shepard’s Pie, for instance) in which I like the chemically taste.

Pepper, generally at the end. Although I will use whole peppercorns in stews and stocks, and put those in at the beginning. Always use freshly ground pepper. Preground pepper is miles removed from the real product. It’s not a food snob thing, either. They really do taste quite different. Freshly ground pepper is almost fruity in a way, while the preground product is utterly bland,

A good friend of mine who recently graduated from a prestigious cooking school (and currently works at a well respected fantastic restaraunt) was told this by one of his chefs/professors:

You know that little light above an art piece hanging on a wall? Salt is that light.