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Be Good To Your Spices - They'll be Good You.

Solutions for your Spices

It’s time for Spring cleaning in your kitchen. Take a look at all those containers of spices on your spice rack. How long do you think you can keep them before they go bad? Forever? Yes, that’s correct. Spices don’t really “go bad”, but on the other hand they don’t “stay good”. What happens is that they lose their potency.

Here’s the general rule:

Whole spices can be used up to 4 years without a problem. Think of peppercorns for example. They’ll last much longer if you don’t grind them until you are ready to use them. Pepper flakes might only be useful for 1-2 years. Time varies depending on how you store them. Moisture and oxygen are their enemy, so keep your spices dry and sealed until you’re ready to use them. After a quick check in my pantry I found this bottle of chopped parsley.


Look at that date…”Best by Sep 08, 13″. So this bottle is now a Gone Girl. Turns out that fresh parsley is in season anyway! (I know Parsley is not a spice, It’s an herb. But the point is the same anyway.) While spices can lose their potency over time, they can’t gain strength. The lesson here is to buy good spices. Below is a photo a spice vendor at her stall at a market in the South of France (Provence).


I was in this midieval town on market day and took this photo. The spices here came mostly from North Africa, just a short trip across the Mediteranean. You may not have the budget to travel to Morocco whenever you need saffron, but think of your local Mediterranean Deli rather than Ralph’s Grocery when you need just the right spice for your Paella.

While it makes no sense to just throw out all your spices and start over every 6 months, here are some tips that will help.

  1. Store your spices whole when possible and grind them as needed.
  2. Buy small quantities. Especially, when the spice you need is infrequently used, such as on a holiday.
  3. Purchase spices from someplace that specializes rather than a supermarket. They’re likely to be from a better source and fresher.
  4. Adapt recipes. If your spices are starting to age, you might need to increase the amounts of spices in your recipe to get the same effect.

Your food tastes better when it’s properly seasoned. Take care of your spices and they’ll take care of you. ENJOY!

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February 26, 2015
Food and Wine
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