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After heading to my trusty Indian market yesterday I was speaking with the owner about how awful fenugreek seeds are uncooked. He suggested (with black mustard seeds and cumin seeds) to throw them in the pan with a little bit of oil. I've read much about people extolling how good the dry heat is for the spices. Personal experience tells me that adding oil to the pan works better. Does cooking with oil change the flavor of a spice while toasting? Are there any spices that it is important to toast without oil?

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Oil is dry heat. It contains no water. –  derobert Sep 20 '12 at 18:50
    
why might you posit that some people advocate toasting with vs. without oil (if it makes any difference to you) –  wootscootinboogie Sep 20 '12 at 20:11

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I think it is mostly preferential as you can toast either way. Using oil can be tricky though as there is a fine line between toasting with oil and frying your spices. An article I found boasts using no oil which I like. There is also a list of spices that benefit from Spice Toasting. I do believe toasting with oil can change or influence the flavor depending on the oil used.

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this is along the lines of what i was getting at. of course there is no moisture in cooking oils, but outside of mustard seeds most things i read about seem to advocate using solely heat and no oil. –  wootscootinboogie Sep 27 '12 at 19:21
    
That article just says not to use oil, but doesn't say why - there are no claims that it has any effect on the resulting flavor. And I'm not sure why you say oil is tricky with respect to toasting vs frying; as Sobachatina says, generally all the oil does is distribute flavor and keep you from burning stuff. Finally, sure, if you use an oil with flavor, it'll contribute that flavor - but most Indian cooking uses ghee, with vegetable oil as a substitute, so I don't think that's a huge issue here. –  Jefromi Sep 27 '12 at 21:51

Indian recipes seem to always call for oil.

Non Indian recipes seem to always call for dry (or don't toast at all- yuk).

In my personal experience (mostly mustard, cumin, fenugreek, coriander)- dry toasting calls for more of my attention. I have to have an appropriate temperature, agitate the seeds, and watch for the telltale aroma to know when they are done. If I don't pay enough attention to any of those then they will scorch and be horrible.

With oil I have more leeway. The seeds don't need to be agitated as much after they are coated with oil and they pop audibly when they are done. It may be my imagination but the oil itself seems to distribute the flavor of the seeds better as well.

I have scorched dry toasted seeds on occasion when I was distracted. I have never had oil toasted spices not turn out perfectly.

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i don't think it's your imagine. since the essential oils of the plant are fat soluble it makes since that the normal convection of the heating oil would help to circulate the flavor more evenly. plus you get the added bonus of some of that flavor being imparted so you can use your oil as a base for a sauce. hm...i think i might make a fenugreek voloute which i get home tonight. –  wootscootinboogie Sep 27 '12 at 20:03
    
Oil also makes it a lot faster. The heat transfer is more efficient than it is with hot air, and it's more uniform, so you can quickly, evenly cook the spices. –  Jefromi Dec 29 '13 at 1:35

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