Do your know how old your spices are? If you cook at all, chances are you have accumulated a collection of spices similar to mine. But do you know their shelf life? What you don’t know may surprise you. Most spices start to deteriorate very quickly, they lose their flavor and some can become rancid. So, what can you do to prevent adding off-putting flavors to your food?
1) Date Everything
When I purchase spices, I mark the date of purchase on the bottoms of their containers or on the plastic bag. This way I always know how long something has been on my shelf. Once a year, I go through all of my spices, discarding the ones past their prime. What timeline do I use? Six to eight months for dried leafy herbs, like oregano, basil or parsley. Eight to ten months for woodsy herbs, like rosemary or lavender. Ten to twelve months for ground spices like mustard, nutmeg or cinnamon. Whole spices will last longer. If properly stored, whole spices can remain fresh for up to two and a half years. Which brings me to my next tip…
2) Proper Storage Is Paramount
Air tight containers or tightly closed thick ziplock bags are best. My preference: glass jars with tight fitting lids and removable sticker labels. But the container isn’t everything. Light, heat and moisture can damage your spices. So, try to keep them away from heat sources and out of the direct light. Make sure they are completely dry at all times. I keep some spices that I use often in a spice rack by my stove. These last about a month or so. The rest are tucked away in my pantry, away from heat, light and steam.
3) Never Buy In Bulk
You maybe tempted to buy spices in larger quantities. Don’t. Spices can be very pricey and it is always a shame to waste them. I never buy more than three ounces at a time. My only exceptions to that rule are salt, whole peppercorns and red pepper flakes. Those I buy in bulk, mostly because I use them for almost every meal and thus, go through them much faster. One to two ounces of most spices will last you a while, so don’t buy more than you can use in a reasonable amount of time.
Spices are the work horses of your kitchen. Make sure to do everything in your power to keep them fresh. Your dinner guests will thank you.
Gourmet Rambler is a bon vivant and a connoisseur of all things delectable ~ whether a gorgeous bottle of wine, an exquisitely elaborate meal, fresh farmer’s market produce or unique and unusual ingredients. She is an adamant advocate for the artistry of a chef, local and seasonal products. A chef once said: “There is a way that everyone else eats. And then there is this whole other world of how Gourmet Rambler eats.” Lover of Chicago, experienced diner, wine maven, home chef and bon vivant. Sassy and stubborn. That is why we love having Tatiana as our Food Editor! Follow her on twitter and read her musings on facebook and definitely check back every week for Tatiana’s feature article on FOOD FRIDAY!