Sunday, January 31, 2010

Much Ado About Spices

Over the past five years I have been delving deeply and passionately into cooking, baking, and cake decorating. Though I still consider myself an Intermediate in all fields, people have started coming to me with a myriad of questions. One of the questions was, "How long should I keep my spices?"

Many people will tell you that spices last forever, not to waste time and money buying new ones. Well, that is most definitely not true, that statement makes me cringe just a bit. The only item that lasts indefinitely is pure vanilla, though in my house vanilla doesn't last that long anyway. Here are a few good indicators that it’s time to throw out that old jar:

  • The expiration date has passed – (This is an obvious one, but not all jars/tins have expiration dates. In fact dates are relatively new on spices.)
  • Your spices have faded (paprika is supposed to be bright red, thyme is green. It’s not a good thing when fading happens)
  • When you open the jar you can’t smell anything (or you have to stick your nose right on the product. Spices bring flavor and aroma to any dish, if you can’ smell it don’t eat it.)
  • Your powdered products are clumped in hard balls (this happens a lot with garlic/onion powder if you can’t easily break it free throw it out).
  • The tins your spices are in have rusted (rust is bad, the only spice McCormick puts in a tin is ground black pepper, every other tin is at least 15 years old, throw that out)

These are some good old stand by’s, my favorite is the smell method. That should answer most questions on whether those spices in your cupboard are still going strong. I have heard many chefs say they will only use spices 6 months after opening, this assures the best flavor, since those spices are degrading the moment they are bottled and shipped, if not before. I stick by the six month rule on my powdered or fine spices, a year on seeds, whole cloves, etc. The website below has a chart of how long spices last, though I wouldn’t hold onto spices as long as some on that list.

Now, the next question I’ve heard a lot is, “How do I keep my spices so they last longer?” Well, there are a few things you can do and they are all pretty simple, and most of you do these anyway:

  • Keep your spices out of direct sunlight (or severe heat or cold, too much temperature change is not only bad for spices but most food)
  • As soon as you use the spice, put the lid back on (this assures that it’s not exposed to too much air, moisture, etc. that can take away the aroma or flavor)
  • Don’t pour your spices directly into a steaming pot (remember those clumps in your garlic powder, this is why it happens)
  • If you don’t use a lot of a certain spice buy small (most spices come in mini sizes, also fresh is a good alternative)

So, there you have it, a simple explanation to your spice questions. Remember unless you have a child under one it might not be good to brag that your spices are older than they are; I say this with much love of course. As that old saying goes, “When in doubt, throw it out.”

Need to check your McCormick spices? Here is a website that will help you out! :

McCormick Website

All photos copyright NoAVale Photography

1 comment:

  1. Very informative article. I think I have spices that are older than my son and I guess that's pretty bad. (As you know, he's 25.)