If you’ve ever forgotten to add red pepper flakes to the base of your pasta sauce, you’ve probably noticed that sprinkling them on your spaghetti as a garnish doesn’t have quite the same effect. You get some heat, sure, but the flavor is incomplete, without the earthy, slightly fruity flavor notes that make crushed red pepper so enticing. The reason? They weren’t given a chance to bloom into their best selves.

Extract more flavor by blooming your spices

Blooming is a flavor extraction method, a quick and easy way to access all of the wonderful aromatic compounds lurking in your whole and ground spices and seasonings. As cooking school director Rosie Gill has previously explained, “spices have fat-soluble compounds, and in order to release them they need to be in the presence of fat. ”

That’s why sautéing crushed red pepper or dried oregano in a bit of olive oil or butter before adding your tomatoes is such a vital step when making sauce. Surrounding the seasonings with warm fat ensures you extract as much flavor as possible. Once they’re surrounded by watery ingredients like tomatoes, the spices can’t “see” the fat, and you won’t be able to extract those aromatic compounds as effectively.

It doesn’t take long. Start by heating your fat of choice until warm, but not hot, then add your spices. “What you’re looking for is a little bit of sizzling, and for the color of the pepper to start to infuse into the olive oil [or other fat],” explains Rosie. You should also notice a heady, intoxicating aroma. Once you get there, you can either add your other ingredients and proceed as usual or, if you’re infusing an oil for drizzling, turn off the burner and get it off the heat.

When to bloom your spices

Blooming is a technique that can be applied to the sweet and the savory, the stewed, the sautéed, and the baked. Culinary director Wes Martin blooms cardamom for the best banana bread ever, infusing browned butter with sweet, peppery, floral notes. Blooming is a common practice when making all sorts of saucy dishes, from a simple pasta al pomodoro to complex, meaty stews. It’s rare that blooming takes more than 30 seconds—heat until fragrant, then move on.

Blooming can also do wonderful things to your buttered popcorn, a method Rosie recently demonstrated on Instagram for Mushroom Week (recipe below). Melt a few tablespoons of butter in a small pan over medium-high heat. Once the butter is almost fully melted, add a few teaspoons of your favorite spices and/or powdered seasonings—dried mushroom powder provides a lovely hit of umami—then swirl them around the pan until the butter is foamy and the spices are aromatic. Immediately pour over popped corn and season with fine salt if needed.

Once you’ve tasted the power of effective flavor extraction, you’ll find yourself blooming spices for everything, even the simplest of dishes. (A humble can of beans, for example, is transformed by a drizzle of olive oil infused with bloomed Aleppo pepper.) And I bet you won’t forget to bloom the pepper flakes in your next batch of marinara. It really does make all the difference.

Porcini Popcorn


  • ¼ ounce dried porcini mushrooms or dried shiitake mushroom caps (about 8 small caps), broken into pieces
  • 2 tablespoons fresh rosemary
  • 1 teaspoon salt
  • 1 teaspoon white sugar
  • 8 cups popped popcorn, plain
  • 3 tablespoons butter

Working in batches, use a spice grinder to pulverize the porcini to a fine powder, then transfer it to a small jar with a lid. Repeat with the rosemary, salt and sugar, pulverizing until finely ground and adding it to the mushroom powder. Measure out one tablespoon and put in a small jar. Put lid on jar and save for future batches of popcorn.

In a small pot over medium heat, melt the butter. Once melted, add the reserved tablespoon of spice blend and heat until fragrant, about 20 seconds. Pour over popcorn and toss to combine.

For more Mushroom Week content, learn how to grow your own lion's mane at home, then use them to make lion’s mane mushroom tacos; Read Hannah Packman’s favorite way to go meatless; Watch Rosie Gill make smoky "pulled" portobello mushroom sandwiches; And let Wes Martin teach you the proper way to clean mushrooms.

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