Spice Up Your Life

Spices and herbs There are plenty of wonderful vintage items you might want to inherit from your grandmother, but spices shouldn't be one of them, especially if your grandma was anything like this customer's: "My dearly departed grandmother, bless...

Spices and herbs
Spices and herbs

There are plenty of wonderful vintage items you might want to inherit from your grandmother, but spices shouldn't be one of them, especially if your grandma was anything like this customer's: "My dearly departed grandmother, bless her heart, couldn't stand to part with any pantry item, most likely as a result of growing up during the Great Depression. Growing up in a low-income household myself, I get it. But when she passed, I inherited her entire pantry including what I thought were spice tins full of dust." Food is expensive and precious. Spices can be especially so. Nonetheless, when they're dead, they're dead.

The question is, what's the best way to prolong their life as long as possible and when do you know they've contributed their last flair of flavor? And ultimately, how do you eliminate waste and save money?

First, let's tackle the buying. There are certain spices we use day in and day out - salt and pepper for instance. Then there are those spices we buy for one certain recipe we are trying out for the first time that may or may not become a regular menu item. Either way, you've bought a heaping tin of Fennel Pollen that now sits in the back of your cupboard losing potency and value every day.Like many of the spices we buy in a larger-than-we-need quantities, it will become nothing more than dull-colored dust. However, you shouldn't be afraid to try new, exotic, recipes for fear of wasting expensive spices. Just rethink your buying avenues. Many ethnic markets or healthy food stores have bulk bins of spices where you can buy only what you need. Some stores even have stations where you can freshly grind your own.

Buy in stores with bulk bins
Buy in stores with bulk bins

Any spice that you invest in should be kept in an air tight vessel, away from heat, light, and moisture. When it comes to your green spices like parsley, oregano, thyme, and rosemary, it's better to get freshly dried than a tin that's been sitting on the store shelf and the warehouse's shelves before your own. Allow me to clarify. Often recipes call for fresh herbs as well as dried. Well, unless you have a handy herb garden, you're more than likely buying huge bundles of cilantro and parsley that will turn to puce slime in your veggie drawer. Instead of letting it liquefy, use what you need for the recipe, then tie the remaining bundle up and hang upside down where there is good ventilation. It will naturally air dry and the dried herbs will be much more flavorful than the oxidized, processed tin varieties. Also, don't add your herbs til the end. Prolonged exposure to heat in your dish is just as bad for their flavor as prolonged exposure to heat in your cupboard.

Finally, if you're unsure whether your spices are still worth the space they're taking up, just have a sniff and a taste. The natural oils in spices make them fragrant and as they age and dry out, the fragrance dissipates. If you open a tin of cinnamon and your nose isn't filled with spicy, sweet tendrils of aroma, toss it. If you're dried parsley is looking gray and smells stale, toss it. If you don't trust your sense of smell, just take a tiny, a very tiny, amount of the spice and put it on the tip of your tongue taking a deep breath as you close your mouth. If the flavor of the herb or spice isn't distinctive and evident, toss it. Just remember, spices are vibrant and passion-inspiring. People used to sail the seven seas and start wars over them. If your nose or tastebuds don't even tingle after exposure to the spice's in your cupboard, there's an issue.

So, if you have a stockpile of spices and herbs in the cupboard, now is the time to sort and discard. It can be difficult, but your tastebuds and eventually, your budget will thank you! If you are especially attached to the cute little tins, just toss the spices, wipe them out, and keep the tins as dispensers of paper clips, thumbtacks, and other miscellaneous items.

Contact us for more hints and tips on saving your money, time, and recipes!