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Newbie cook here. I use a small inexpensive rice cooker to cook my rice.

Are you supposed to add your various spices to the water when you put the rice in the pot? Or should you add the spices in at the end when the rice is fully cooked and stir them in?

Does it matter what kinds of spices you are using?

Edit: Please explain why. Is this only for aesthetics or does it actually affect taste?

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I can only answer from a perspective of the Indonesian kitchen, and my own personal experience, but in general the answer is:

In the water, with the rice

I quite often use saffron, turmeric, cloves, daun salam (The English Wiki entry links to bay leaf, which, completely, utterly, is not the same thing), and lemongrass, and they all go in while cooking the rice.

Possible exceptions would be green leafy herbs, (coriander / cilantro for instance), which you put in the end. Not so much to flavor the rice, but more to "scent" the bowl of rice.

[Edit]

In answer to your edit:

There is no preferred way. The preferred way depends on the herb, as observed by thrig in his/her answer. Going by experience, and the herbs I use myself, the answer is in the water with the rice. Putting a bay leaf in after the fact, is not going to do much for a dish. Putting it in while cooking the dish is. This goes for a lot of herbs: Turmeric, ginger and laos (galangal?) can flavor rice, but not if you put it in the end. On the other hand: Putting cilantro while cooking the rice will just destroy the cilantro, and leave nothing to show for it. I lack the knowledge of what is water-soluble, and what is fat-soluble, but as a general guideline I use my highly personal "is-this-going-to-survive-the-15-to-20-minute-cooking-process-or-not?" guideline, and the even more personal "did-it-work?" guideline.

In addition, and perhaps also supporting thrig's answer, Indonesians are not shy of cooking their rice in santen (again: English wiki does not do justice, creamed coconut is not quite the same), adding a mildy greasy layer to the grains, aiding in flavor absorption, although I have to say it's not a common practice, but more often used for festive occasions.

  • Your answer already answered most of it :). – banavalikar Sep 7 '15 at 16:43
  • @Willem van Rumpt -- A few weeks ago, I put cilantro in the water before cooking, and it turned out awful. It tasted funny, and turned mushy, to a dark green color. Learned that one the hard way. – Kyle Sep 9 '15 at 21:14
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I think a good rule of thumb is whether or not the spice is dried. For example, dried Rosemary will soften to the texture of the rice if cooked in the water with the rice, but will be crunchy if added after. However, fresh Rosemary can be stirred in after to add flavor.

  • Welcome to the site. I've edited your answer to keep the good advice about dried vs. fresh spices, but the rest doesn't really work as part of an answer to the original question. Have you taken our site tour yet? It has helpful information about how the collaborative Q&A format in StackExchange sites works. – Erica Sep 13 '18 at 9:53
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For a rice cooker of average size, add cumin seeds (1 tea spoon), cloves (4-5), mace (1 piece), cardamom (1-2 pods) and a pinch of salt at the beginning of cooking to get fragrant rice (e.g. for biryani). Add finely chopped mint and coriander leaves after cooking to get the best results. This is a fail-proof recipe to make Indian rice. As you are using rice cooker it will always come out well.

Quantities and timings of adding ingredients DO matter. For example, cumin et al will give out essential oils in the water bath when boiled throughout. Mint and coriander will add nice green colour and fragrance when added just before serving (but will turn black and the fragrance will be lost if added any earlier).

Enjoy :).

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Probably depends on whether the spices are water-soluble or fat-soluble; if fat-soluble, and the rice is being cooked without fats, then there's probably little point in adding them to the rice cooker.

"On Food and Cooking" (McGee) has notes on the spices, what chemicals they contain, and more (see: chapter 8). Notably, "oils and fats dissolve more aroma molecules than water during cooking, but also hang on to them during eating, so that their flavor appears more gradually and persists longer." (p.399) Alcohol is also efficient, but has an evaporation problem (and sometimes cultural issues, see e.g. the Eighteenth Amendment to the United States Constitution). Another method besides the already mentioned steaming or frying in oil is to dry roast whole spices (e.g. mustard), which should mellow their effect (and, bonus: no oily pan to wash).

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    For fat-soluble, you often cook them in a bit of oil then put the oil and spices together into the rice. – NadjaCS Sep 7 '15 at 16:08
  • @thrig -- Like Willem van Rumpt wrote in his answer, I do not know which spices are water-soluble and which are fat-soluble. Do you have a ground rule for the distinction? – Kyle Sep 9 '15 at 21:20
  • Not without nosing through McGee... – thrig Sep 10 '15 at 14:47

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