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From beer making, we learn that the earlier in the brewing process we add an ingredient, the more it contributes to taste, while the later we add the ingredient, the more it contributes to aroma.

Does this translate to other cooking, too?

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Not directly.

Many spices gain, change or lose taste when heat-treated. You must know given spice and when to add it.

Fresh dill or parsley leaves, after a hour of simmering are worthless, losing all aroma. Add at the very end of cooking.

Black pepper changes its taste and loses spiciness under heat. You can add it twice, the pepper added early contributing completely differently than added late.

Paprika doesn't change much over first few hours, so it really doesn't matter - unless you leave it in slow cooker for 8+ hours. It will turn acrid and unpleasant.

Fresh garlic is entirely different than garlic that underwent even several minutes of heat treatment - and garlic that was heat-processed, in order, doesn't change much in time, but infuses other products, so your choices are between fresh (sharp, spicy taste), thickly chopped cooked shortly (strong nodes of garlic taste, as ingredient, not spice) or boiled long (the taste infusing the food.)

Salt doesn't change taste over time (although it may infuse foods deeper) but affects many processes. Water boils at higher temperature, resulting in pasta or potatoes cooked better; some meats get much harder so it should be added late; vegetables go soft very fast and "drop" resulting in more evenly distributed frying heat (so salt fried veggies early)...

Cumin fried on clean, dry pan (no oil) in high temperature gets a significantly different, very strong, pleasant aroma. You won't obtain it by normal boiling or frying with other foodstuffs, no matter how long, as this requires higher temperatures than others. Fry it first, and only add other ingredients when it's ready.

Each spice has its caveats concerning adding time. Sometimes you need to add them at the very end - especially fresh herbs. In other cases (like salt) the time depends on the foodstuffs - early for vegetables, late for meats.

  • Thanks for these details, I've noticed some of these but its great to have a run down of different spices. – haakon.io Apr 21 '17 at 16:38
  • Cumin is also terribly easy to overroast :( – rackandboneman Apr 21 '17 at 22:25
  • Horseradish flavor simply disappears if you boil it. – Wayfaring Stranger Apr 21 '17 at 23:36
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    Usually curry is added in two different moments, so you can get the flavour of raw and cooked curry. – roetnig Apr 24 '17 at 10:55
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It is also true that prolonged heat to woody herbs such as rosemary and thyme can remove most of the flavour you are trying to impart.

For example if you wish to infuse a sauce with one of these herbs it is best to introduce them after the majority of the cooking is done, but while the sauce is still warm.

This is because these are aromatic herbs meaning that their flavour compounds are extremely volatile and will be lost if exposed to excessive heat.

Similarly they can escape a sauce if infused at too high a temperature.

Quite often in professional kitchens herbs and spices are included in a vacuum pouch when cooking using the sous vide method in order to impart the flavour of those compounds to whatever is in the bag. We used to use thyme, garlic and a little olive oil for example with our Sunday beef when I worked in a hotel.

The lower temperatures and slower cooking allowed the meat to take on the flavour of the ingredients and added a depth to the taste. Incidentally sous vide makes for some very nice tender meat cuts (and if you can find a bag big enough, and don't mind not having a whole bird on your table at Christmas, can make a very tasty turkey breast).

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I,ve found bolognese sauce tastes very different depending whether i fry a strand of rosemary and then add the beef. Or add the rosemary after the beef is browned. My preference and recommendation is add rosemary to heated oil, fry a minute or 2, then continue with the beef and recipe as normal. It adds another layer of pleasant flavour to the bolognese.

  • Um ... this question was about spices in making beer ... herbs in bolognese was cooking.stackexchange.com/q/14547/67 – Joe Apr 21 '17 at 12:38
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    @Joe The question was also about timing and cooking, so I think the answer's fine. – Robert Apr 21 '17 at 16:08
  • @Joe: Your assertion is incorrect (Source: Me, who asked the question originally). Brewing of beer was used as an example of a well-known effect, and the question was whether the effect could be found in other applications, too. – razumny Apr 26 '17 at 11:36
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If it is about sauces, it matters in how they are composed at the time the spices are added - in indian and chinese cuisines, some spices/aromatics are added while the dominant liquid at that stage of cooking is oil, to infuse aromatic compounds into the oil. pH at that time could also be relevant. Temperature and salt/sugar levels (osmosis!) at that time can also influence how certain compounds are extracted.

Also in indian cooking, adding aromatics/spices twice (fried in oil both when setting the sauce up, and added from a ladle/pan with hot oil at the end) is not uncommon...

Some spices/aromatics will react with others - Star anise is believed to interact with onions if fried together with them.

If using whole spices, there are practical considerations when to add and remove them - if a sauce is to be pureed and strained at a later stage, you have to decide whether to remove them or blend them in...

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