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My answer to this question (link) prompted a question in my own mind. I wanted to share some tips regarding when to add herbs, spices, aromatics, etc., and had a few suggestions (bay leaves and garlic go early; vanilla and black pepper go late).

These are, however just a couple of things I've noticed in my own cooking, and I'm not sure how good my information is. For example, I've heard that Hervé This has discovered that black pepper is optimally added eight minutes before the end of cooking.

Is there a list of ingredients that take time for flavor to develop versus those with more volatile flavors that need to be more closely guarded? That may be too much to ask; perhaps folks have a few guidelines or tips?

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2 Answers 2

There is no chemical difference between adding salt early or late in the cooking process. However, if you salt just before eating, you can take advantage of textural differences between different types of salt. (Kosher salt is flakier and so gives a burst of saltiness that is quite pleasant.) (Some people will say that you should salt earlier to bring out flavors more, but once the salt is dissolved in solution, the chemical effect is the same.)

In general, fresh herbs tend to be added later in the preparation -- with the exception of parsley or dill added to soup early on to flavor the broth. However, if the herbs are added early, they must be removed, since they will lose all their flavor. (The broth will gain flavor, but the herbs will be exhausted.) You'll maintain the bright flavor if you add them late.

Dried herbs tend to react better to longer cooking, with bay leaves in particular requiring lots of time to render out their flavor.

As far as pepper goes, there's a fantastic answer to this question that goes into the chemistry of the volatile compounds in the spice. In general, I find that I prefer adding pepper later in the cooking process.

Garlic, ginger, onions, and other aromatics can be cooked a long time, although the flavor of alliums will change enormously as you cook them. (Garlic, in particular, will change enormously from a sharp flavor when raw or quickly cooked to a rich sweetness when cooked a long time.)

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Re: salts early/late: Adding salts to solids containing liquids before cooking is a common technique for improving the mailliard reaction (this makes adding it early handy with meats, tofu, etc.), and some processes lacking salt early fall flat (like pasta, oats, breads). Salt incurs less of a chemical reaction, though, and more of a physical reaction (as with sugar), as it's hygroscopic, drawing water out of things. Salt is also an electrolyte, which is good mojo for your tastebuds (which sometimes is only absorbed early). –  Bruce Alderson Feb 24 '11 at 16:17
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Note also that when baking, salt impedes yeast, so one wants to be careful about when and how much is added. –  daniel Feb 28 '11 at 1:40
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Salt also makes a difference when boiling vegetables. Add it to the water before boiling, and you get nice results. Add it afterwards, not so appealing. –  derobert Mar 1 '11 at 18:11
    
@derobert -- The difference between adding salt to the water and adding it to the vegetables isn't a chemical one. It's a physical one -- when added to the water, it's A) dissolved in solution, so it evenly seasons the vegetables (as opposed to discrete clumps of salt/not), and B) more likely to penetrate the inside of the vegetables since it's carried with the water that's absorbed. –  Martha F. Mar 3 '11 at 16:28

Some of the add-late ones are easy to notice: pretty much anything that gives off a strong (wanted) aroma needs to be added late, as the strong aroma is actually you boiling off the ingredient or part of it.

Examples: freshly-ground pepper has a strong aroma; old pepper does not (it has evaporated). Salt doesn't (it doesn't really evaporate at sane cooking temperatures). Garlic has a strong aroma, and if you want that, must be added late. Capsaicin doesn't boil off much (thankfully!)

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