Archive for the ‘FAQ’ Category

Spices 101

“Ken, talk to us about spices. How to keep them fresh, which ones are the best to cook with.
I have spices that are a bazillion years old, are they still good?”

OK, so how cool is this? My first question from a reader on my blog. Thanks to Terri (my cousin) for breaking the ice. Spices that are a bazillion years old are not good. Spices that are a year old are not good. Spices 6 months old are pushing it. Although I’ve never heard of anyone getting sick from old spices I can tell you from experience they lose their flavor over time. I can also tell you that I may have a problem, after reading this question I counted my spices and found that I have 147 dry spices alone. I’m sure there are ones over one year old and will be replaced when I find a recipe calling for them.

To keep spices fresh they should be stored in airtight containers away from light, heat, and moisture. Some argue that keeping them in the refrigerator or freezer extend their lives up to a year. I recommend labeling your spice jars with the date and contents if not already done by the spice company.

Which ones are best? That depends on what you are cooking. When I first moved out I was shocked at the prices of spices on the supermarket shelves. I purchased them one at a time and concentrated on dishes that didn’t call for many spices. Now I am hooked on bold and unique spices that go with many different cuisines. For instance I love Indian food. I have some Indian recipes that call for 14 different spices not counting chili peppers and fresh herbs.

Buy whole and grind your own. Whenever possible I buy my spices whole and in bulk. This is not only more economical but whole spices stay fresher longer. What’s the best spice grinder? Well according to my favorite magazine Fine Cooking, it’s a coffee grinder purchased here. Do not, I repeat, do not use a grinder for coffee and spices. You need one for each so that your dinner doesn’t taste like a Starbucks coffee and your coffee doesn’t taste like Chana Masala. So where does one buy whole spices cheap? Well you buy them at small ethnic grocery stores. We are spoiled in the Detroit area with small ethnic grocery stores. You see them everywhere, don’t be afraid, go inside and start saving money.

Do I ever buy spice blends already ground? Absolutely! Some specialty spices or blends are so decadent that you just cant do them yourself. Well, maybe you can but when you find something that works just go for it. Like the truffle salt pictured to the left. I experienced french fries with rosemary and truffle salt while enjoying a microbrew at the Jolly Pumpkin Brewery in Ann Arbor. I’m telling you it was french fry magic and I had to try to duplicate that magic for myself. So where did I find it? Unfortunately for you in South Carolina visiting family. All is not lost though, you can order it here.

Are my spices too old? What do I do if I don’t know how old they are? Try what I call the crush test. Place a small amount of the dry spice in the palm of your hand. With the thumb of your other hand crush the spice with your thumb. Smell it and taste it and decide for yourself. If it tastes ok use it, if it tastes like the spice but is weak, increase the amount in the recipe. If it tastes like sawdust go to the store and replace it.

OK, so let’s do a quick list of do’s and dont’s.

Do store spices in airtight containers.

Do keep them away from heat, light and moisture.

Do buy whole spices and grind them yourself.

Do shop at small ethnic grocery stores.

Do label all spice containers with dates.

Don’t store spices on your counter in direct light.

Don’t store them above your stove.

Don’t keep your spices for more than 6 months (well maybe longer it’s up to you).

%d bloggers like this: