There are thousands of books about spices — cookbooks, history books, books about the economics, anthropology, ethnobotany and taxonomy of spices. This book is a new user’s guide to cooking with spices, describing 13 fundamental techniques spanning culinary traditions from around the world. While this list of techniques is intended to be comprehensive, it’s also inherently reductive; a few short sentences can never fully describe a complex technique borne of generations of culinary expertise, but it’s still worth trying.

The techniques used to cook with spices are almost as important as the spices themselves. Just like spices, some techniques appear commonly across many cuisines, while others are unique to a particular cooking style. Each one represents a way to make your food more flavorful, and more true to its origins.

Every spice, and its corresponding techniques, exists in its own context. Within each dish, there’s a taxonomy of ingredients rooted in geography, agriculture, religion, values and history. When we prepare a traditional recipe, we’re spinning a genealogical thread back to our ancestors and our origins, tied to the ingredients they raised, harvested, cooked and ate. Cooking is a cultural act.

We hope you’ll use the techniques in this book to contextualize your cooking, learn new skills, experiment with new and old flavors and bring delight to your dinner table.

Yo te hablo de poesía
Y vos me preguntás
A que hora comemos.
Lo peor es qué
Yo también tengo hambre.

I am talking to you about poetry
and you say
when do we eat.
The worst of it is
I’m hungry too.

-Alicia PartnoyCommunication,
from Revenge of the Apple
, 1992

Text by Ethan Frisch
Illustrations by Jasper Yiu
Edits by Ori Zohar, Jacqueline Raposo & Bayley Freeman
Layout by Seton Rossini