photo: Unsplash / Calum Lewis
When is the last time you checked or even thought about the freshness of your spices?
When you purchased a new container?
The last time you moved and emptied your kitchen cabinets?
Well, you’re not alone!
It’s easy to assume that when a new container of dried herbs or spices is purchased that all is well – it will make any dish wonderfully flavored and will last forever, right? As it turns out, that may not be the case. Not all spices available on the market are created equal so the cooking and keeping results can vary greatly. Since spices play a leading role in cooking, it’s important to use the best quality products that you can. Starting with purchasing better quality dried herbs and spices and then periodically checking and refreshing them will reap big rewards at the dinner table.
To get started, here are 5 TIPS to help select high-quality dried herbs and spices that will infuse maximum flavor into your cooking.
Many of us are used to purchasing our dried herbs and spices from our local grocery store, which is convenient and can be fine. Some grocery stores are now upping their game and carrying their own brand of good quality spices, or are sourcing from other better quality producers. Outside of grocery stores, local ethnic markets, farmers markets, health-focused stores, specialty grocers, co-ops, spice stores, and online shops can be great sources for high-quality spices.
The keys are quality and turn-over. Are the producers using high-quality ingredients, are they handled properly, and are they packed and shipped in a reasonable timeframe so that freshness is preserved? No matter where you shop, find a source that has high turn-over and takes pride in quality.
2. BUY SMALL
Buy small amounts but avoid bulk bins and extra-large containers. First, smaller quantities provide an opportunity to evaluate the quality, and second, it keeps your supply turning over faster and, therefore, fresher. Large jars may seem like a good deal per ounce but they won’t be when they go stale before you are able to use them or are already stale at the time of purchase.
3. CONSIDER BUYING WHOLE
Consider buying whole spices (seeds, nuts, pods, sticks or roots) and grinding, grating, slicing or chopping them yourself, depending on the use and recipe. Good quality ground spices are available and I use them regularly, but just like with anything less processed, whole spices do stay fresher longer and maintain more nutrient value. Think about the difference in ground black pepper that comes out of the large tin container vs. fresh ground peppercorns. Or freshly grated cinnamon stick or ginger root vs. the ground version from a jar that has been sitting for a year or longer.
No spice grinder? I recommend Krups Electric Spice and Coffee Grinder. It’s inexpensive, provides a nice even grind, does not take up much space, and is easy to use and clean. Use it just for grinding spices, not for coffee beans.
4. USE YOUR SENSES
Whenever checking for freshness, allow your senses to guide you –
- Sight – Look for uniform, intense and vibrant color; avoid faded or grey.
- Smell – An intense herb, spicy or plant-like aroma is a good sign; cardboard, not so much!
- Taste – Not all spices taste pleasant when they are dried and uncooked. You certainly can sample them raw, but more than likely you’ll prefer to analyze how they taste in cooked dishes. Does the dish taste flavorful and seasoned or is it dull and flat?
5. STORE PROPERLY
Store spices in tightly sealed containers in a cool, dry, dark space. Label the container with a purchase date – you may not know when the product was processed but at least you will know how long you have had it.
For more in-depth reading on spices, check out any of these books –
- The Spice Companion: A Guide to the World of Spices by Lior Lev Sercarz
- Mastering Spice: Recipes and Techniques to Transform Your Everyday Cooking by Lior Lev Sercarz
- Spiced: Unlock the Power of Spices to Transform Your Cooking by Americas Test Kitchen
(NOTE: These are not affiliate links.)
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