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I'm actually making root beer, but I've found the best way is to boil herbs and spices the same way one would make a tea, and then I add sweetener, leave it to chill, and use a carbonation device to add bubbles.

So far I've been using ready made root beer ingredients that come either in extracts or in bags of herbs, like a loose leaf tea. Now I want to go the next step and make my own blend.

I've got a recipe I want to try and have bought all the ingredients I need in whole form. I'm wondering if there is any advantage in grinding them up. This answer on this site leads me to believe that it's workable to leave spices whole, but I feel like that wouldn't be the case with a whole nutmeg nut. Surely the flavour would not be accessed by boiling water in such a hard and thick nut?

I also learned that in the case of tea, it's actually inadvisable to boil or steep them for too long, as it releases bitter tannins. So I wonder if grinding down spices to "release" more flavour might also have adverse affects.

So, bottom line, maybe you can boil spices whole, but maybe it's better to chop or grind them a little? And if so, how far should one take it?

  • Are the tannins released in any herbal blend, or just teas from tea leaves (Camellia sinensis)? – Erica Jan 21 '15 at 15:00
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If you're boiling them it isn't necessary to break them down at all unless time is a factor for you.

Nutmeg also works well boiled whole as you can see in many traditional hot beverage recipes. However, if you want to be able to add all of the spices at once, grinding some of them is advisable. Otherwise you'll have to add the spices to your mixture at different times to avoid flavor imbalances.

The finer that you grind the spices the quicker the volatile organic compounds will be released. In this way you can control the strength of flavor in the final product if all of the spices are added at once.

I've not been able to find any reference to boiling a spice for an extended period changing the character of the flavor(just the potency) which makes sense for a spice since we usually eat the whole thing in ground form anyway.

The same does not apply to herbs.

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    It might be worth considering that longer boiling times could break down flavor compounds or allow volatile flavor oils to evaporate, or increase extraction of undesirable plant components like tannins – shadowtalker Jan 22 '15 at 14:18
  • @ssdecontrol, I can't find any scientific sources to back that up and indeed experience doesn't support that viewpoint either. If you have any sources please feel free to list them. – Mr. Mascaro Jan 22 '15 at 14:24
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    That's why I posted it as a comment and not an answer. In general, longer boiling times can reduce the flavor of any food for those reasons, and that idea is often brought up on this site and elsewhere without any citation. I do know that, for black pepper, boiling or even simmering more than about 8 minutes does nothing to increase flavor extraction but does increase bitter tannin extraction. I read that in the Modernist Cuisine at Home although I don't have the book in front of me so I can't give you a page number. – shadowtalker Jan 22 '15 at 14:28
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    @ssdecontrol, you need to throw that cookbook away...it's filled with old-wives' tales and myth posing as fact. Do you really think that you would taste the tannins in something after boiling, but not when it's eaten whole? Tannins are naturally occurring in many plants and they do not change in anyway at boiling temperatures. Black pepper doesn't even contain tannins...bummer. – Mr. Mascaro Jan 22 '15 at 14:57
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    @ssdecontrol, exactly the last resort of someone who lost a debate. – Mr. Mascaro Jan 22 '15 at 15:22

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