March 08, 2010

Homestead Basics -- Herbs & Spices - Storage Tips

Herbs and spices are staples at nearly every meal. They just make things taste better. If you're limited on space you can have just the basics like Parsley, Basil, Oregano, Thyme, fresh ground Black Pepper, Rosemary, Paprika, and Cinnamon. These are the ones I use most often. If you have more space, the sky's the limit. I have so many herbs, spices and blends that they take up 2 cupboards!! They all get used though and dinner is always tasty because of them.

Now that you've got them, where do you keep them?

If your spice collection sits neatly beside and/or on top of your stove, you've committed spice manslaughter.

How To Tell If Spices & Herbs Are Good To Use

If you have no expiration date listed on the package and you’re not sure when you purchased the seasoning, here are a few tips to help figure out whether or not your herbs and spices are stale or still good to use:

  • Look at the color, is it still rich and vibrant? Old spices and herbs can lose their color over time. If it looks old and faded, it probably is.
  • Crush or rub the herbs and spices between your fingers. Is the smell strong like it should be? Is it weak or musty smelling? If the smell has lost its punch, the herb or spice is likely too old to cook with. If it still smells pretty good (just not as strong as it should) and you’re in a pinch, simply use more than the recipe calls for (you’ll need to taste test to determine how much more).
  • Taste a bit of the spice or herb, you can usually pick up on the staleness right away. If there’s no taste to it, it’s old and not worthwhile to cook with.
  • Is the spice clumpy or cakey? Chances are moisture got into the container and the flavor may be reduced. You can break apart the clumps and use if the taste is still good.
How Long Can Herbs & Spices Be Stored

Spices don’t spoil or go bad, but they do lose strength. Here’s a general guideline for storing your herbs and spices…

  • Whole Spices & Seeds: 3 to 4 years
  • Ground Spices: 2 to 3 years
  • Leafy Herbs: 1 to 3 years
  • Seasoning Blends: 1 to 2 years

Storage Tips

  • Keep the herbs and spices in a cool, dark location. It’s common to see spice racks above the kitchen stove, but the heat affects the quality of the herbs and spices so this isn’t the best place.
  • I like to buy herbs and spices in bulk (if I don’t grow them fresh), portion them into small spice bottles for ease of use, then store the rest in individual ziploc bags (keeping them in their original packaging). Press out as much of the air as possible, seal the bag closed, then stack them all in a solid rubbermaid (or tupperware) container (something with a good fitting lid). I keep this container in the pantry and refill my bottles as needed.
  • It’s suggested to refrigerate spices from the red pepper family (paprika, cayenne and chili powder) to prolong their flavor and freshness.
  • Make sure to keep the herbs and spices dry, don’t use a wet measuring spoon to dip into the bottle and don’t hold the bottle near steam.
  • As you buy herbs and spices, try getting into the habit of labeling the bottles and packaging with the purchase date–this will help you determine whether or not your herbs and spices are still good to use or if they’ve gone stale.

Quick Tips

  • Try growing your favorite herbs, snip them directly from your kitchen herb pot and you’ll never get fresher.
  • Dried herbs are stronger than fresh. If a recipe calls for fresh herbs and you only have dry on hand, a general rule of thumb is to use one-third the amount asked for in the recipe. For example, 3 TBS fresh would be 1 TBS dried.

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