How to Best Store and Maintain Your Spice Collection

Posted by Abigail Schmidt on July 31, 2014 (0 Comments)

Originally from New Hampshire, I was raised mostly on Yankee food: dinners of meatloaf and mashed potatoes, baked potatoes and roasted chickens, and pot roast. Roast meat and potatoes are great, but now that I've grown up I’ve acquired a palette that longs for seasoning beyond the limitations of the salt, pepper, and petrified garlic powder from Grandma’s spice rack. 

It's one of the great perks of adulthood -  I can cook and eat whatever I want! Sometimes I forget this and realize dinner’s gotten somehow less "fun", for lack of a better word. To bring the excitement back to meals, I start with a new recipe, which usually means that I need to pick up at least one new spice or a premixed exotic spice blend.  After all you can’t really make Garam Masala without ground cardamom or yummy tacos without ground cumin, it wouldn’t taste right.

So I, like many people, now find myself with a more abundant spice collection than Grandma ever dreamed of.  

Because spices can’t really go rotten, they can easily be forgotten about.  What is important to remember, I’ve discovered, is that they are delicate (once living plants) and can easily lose their potency. Improper spice care can thus abate one’s heartfelt efforts to conjure sumptuous flavor in a meal.

I know spices are pretty and they make you look cool, but take that spice rack off the counter!

Exposure to air, light, heat, and moisture are the main causes for your spices to lose their potency over time. Thus its best to find a cool, dark, and dry cupboard or pantry shelf. Avoid, for example, a cupboard near hot water pipes or a wall oven like mine where all the bordering cupboards warm up when the oven is on.

Here are a few more tips:

1. Find a spice purveyor - When creating international dishes, a spice purveyor will offer the best variety and deliver premium quality spices from verifiably pure sources. This means the best flavor, and purest ingredients for your recipes and for your health. Trust The Spicy Gourmet for those needs.

2. Buy whole spices - Buy whole spices that you can then grind freshly right before you use them. It will unleash the best flavor while allowing a longer shelf life for your spices. They will stay fresh for up to four years whereas ground spices really quit at about one to two years. Dinesh's spice mill is his greatest kitchen tool!

3. Store your spices in a tin - For exotic spices that come in a plastic bag or clear bottle, it's best to transfer your purchase at home to an air-tight tin to keep light and moisture out.

4. Use spice blends - If you’re not sure that you want to commit to a year of dinners from recipes that ask for, say, cardamom pods, try a pre-mixed spice blend that is perfect for one or two meals.  This allows you to find what direction you may want to go in as a chef. With this experience, buying individual spices will give you more control over the recipe of a meal you really love!

5. Date labels - For spices that you use less frequently, add a little label (or sharpied masking tape if you are lo-tech like me) that has the date you purchased the spice. This way there’s no question of how long those oregano flakes and bay leaves have been in the back of the cupboard.  Honestly, if you find a label dated four years ago - chuck it. That spice will not be that "spicy" anymore!


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