Do Higher Quality Spices Really Make A Difference?

From experienced cooks to newbies in the kitchen, one ingredient might make the difference between a bland dish and a mouthful of deliciousness. In a recent Reddit conversation, users sought to answer a longstanding food debate about higher-quality spices. While various food authorities agree that spices can dramatically improve home cooking (per Eater), not all spices are the same. That notion was clear in the Reddit conversation with comments like "potency, freshness, punch, depth of flavor" are characteristics of high-quality spices.

While the Reddit commenters went on to offer their opinions on fresh herbs from the garden, the benefits of grinding spices, and the differences in smell, taste and appearance, TheKitchn seems to sum up the debate best: There is no definite answer, but it pays to be a smart consumer. Examining the label, understanding the place of origin, considering whole spices, buying in bulk, and appreciating freshness are all key factors when choosing a spice off the shelf. Just because a spice comes in a fancy bottle or has a higher price doesn't necessarily mean that it is high quality. But, finding and using higher-quality spices in a recipe can make a difference in flavor. Just like there is a difference between wagyu and ground chuck, not all spices are cut from the same source.

Why does freshness matter with spices?

When you last cleaned out the spice rack, did you find something with an unreadable sell by date? Although some home cooks love that full rack showcasing Chinese allspice, cumin, even some paprika, spices that are not being used might need to stay off the shelf. Although Taste of Home shared that spices may not have a "expiration" date, there is a big difference between fresh spices and those that have been sitting on the shelf for far too long.

Cooking Light explained that there are some clues to determine if those spices need to find their way to the trash bin. Beyond the date on the container, one way to determine freshness is through aroma. When that container is opened, the smell should be apparent, not a whisper of what it once was. Similarly, the taste fades as the spice becomes older. If it takes additional amounts to produce the spice's flavor in a dish, it is time to ditch the old. While spices cannot make anyone a better chef, cooking with fresh spices can make for a more flavorful dish.