Once a year I take a long, hard look at my spice cabinet and make some difficult decisions about which ones to keep and which to toss. Throwing them out might seem crazy, but the fact is, their flavors deteriorate over time.

Experts will tell you that after a year or so, most of your spices will have started to head downhill in the flavor department. So I try to date my spice bottles when I store them in my pantry.

As expensive as spices can be, it can take a great deal of fortitude to pitch them into the trash. It’s worth it, though, when you think about how expensive the ingredients are that also go into a dish with those old, weak spices. And then there’s your time and effort to consider. All in all, it’s a frustrating experience to invest in a dish, only to have your family or friends look at you with a “meh” expression.

For that reason, I try to get the most out of my spices, often making them the star of the dinner plate, as is the case in this week’s Moroccan-Spiced Chicken and Chickpea recipe.

Coriander, cumin, cinnamon and ground ginger bring chicken thighs and canned chickpeas to life in this quick and easy sheet-pan dinner. Spinach is added at the last moment to round out this flavorful, quick and easy meal.

Of course, you could buy spices that are already ground, but you won’t get nearly the flavor as you do if you buy them whole, toast them and grind them yourself. The difference in flavor and aroma between pre-ground spices, which begin to lose their intensity the minute they are ground, and freshly toasted and ground spices cannot be exaggerated. The difference can be transformational in a dish. Especially one that features the spices as prominently as this one does.

The process of toasting and grinding your own spices is an easy one. Heat a small skillet over medium heat. Add the whole spices (in this case cumin, coriander and cinnamon) and cook, stirring, until they are fragrant. It usually takes about 2 to 3 minutes. You don’t want to walk away at this point, because once your spices begin to toast, it only takes a few moments more for them to burn.

Once the spices are toasted, transfer them to a spice grinder (or coffee grinder kept just for spices) and pulse them until finely ground. The smell of the warm, ground spices will permeate your kitchen and immediately make you happy you took this extra step.

You only need to do this culinary exercise once, and taste the results, to hook you forever on toasting and grinding your own spices.


Meredith Deeds is a cookbook author and food writer from Edina. Reach her at meredithdeeds@gmail.com. Follow her on Instagram ­at @meredithdeeds.