How Toasting Your Spices Can Help Make Canned Chili Feel Homemade

The last time my mom came over for dinner, I whipped out the ole' reliable canned chili. Even dolled it up with sour cream, fresh parsley, and grated sharp cheddar. It was looking pretty good in my ceramic crock, next to a basket of steaming biscuits (store bought, because who has the time? I mean, really, who has it? It was a Thursday). The scene was set. Imagine my surprise when she looked up at me and asked, Is this dog food?

Canned chili gets a bad rap! It's a foolproof meal: beans, meat, spices, tomato. Nearly the entire food pyramid is represented by just the base ingredients. And, since chili is a hodgepodge of so many different ingredients, it's not surprising that everybody has a secret ingredient that sets theirs apart. Some folks swear by hand-soaked dried beans. I've even heard of pre-sauteed tomatoes. But, like so many other dishes in the culinary world, the spice of life is truly spice. Toasting your spices can make all the difference between chili mom will love and an expression that reads, you live like this?

Why it works

During toasting, the natural oils of the spices are released. According to Spices Inc., spices contain two major types of oils: volatile and non-volatile. Volatile oils (aka essential oils) give spices their unique flavor. Non-volatile oils give spices their aroma. For this reason, Spices Inc. recommends toasting spices whole, if possible, as opposed to ground. Spices lose a good deal of their natural oils once ground. If you're working with the whole pod, a mortar and pestle or spice grinder will come in handy post-toast.

Spice Sherpa recommends toasting in a heavy-bottomed pan — ideally cast iron. The goal is evenly distributed, slow-burning heat to roast the spices from the inside-out. Over medium-low heat, toast the spices for 6-10 minutes, stirring frequently with a wooden spoon. Stainless steel spoons transfer micro-metals that affect the chemical compounds within these natural oils, thereby altering the spice's natural flavor profile, according to Perfect Daily Grind.

Similarly, plastic spoons absorb flavors, which messes with the final picture as well. We suggest sticking to the tried-and-true wooden spoon to maximize the depth of your roasted spice flavor. Once they're toasted through, transfer your spices to a paper towel to thoroughly cool before grinding, or immediately add to your chili pot. Your dinner guests will thank you for a down-home homemade dish and your kitchen will smell absolutely amazing!