Ever seen a yum spicy recipe you really want to try only to discover what you thought was your well-stocked spice rack is a sad affair of cement-like powders with faded colours and very little oomph when it comes to flavour? The convenient thing about spices is that they can last a very long time, but that also means it’s easy to take your spice rack for granted and lose track of how old they are, and even more importantly, not know when it’s time for a spring clean.
How Long Do They Keep?
Spices don’t really go off, they tend to fade away gradually, losing their potency and vibrancy. You may find they don’t do much for your dish or that you have to add much more to get that inspired flavour. The best-before date is a general guideline, but it also depends how you store your spices.
Many kitchen gurus recommend you use your spices within 6 months of buying them. If you’re not a professional chef you’re unlikely to use enough to merit that though.
A general rule of thumb is that ground spices have the longest innings out of your aromatic kitchen arsenal, and can last between 2 – 3 years. Whole spices such as galangal root, nutmeg and also whole seeds, last a bit longer than ground spices as they haven’t been exposed to oxidation yet – 3 to 4 years. Leafy herbs come in next, varying between 1 to 3 years. We’re talking about dried herbs and spices here, not the fresh variety.
When to Chuck Them?
A good indicator is when they no longer have their beautiful bright colours and begin to look a little drab. Green colours can begin to yellow, and reds become more of a maroon. Bright pigments such as the gorgeous gold of turmeric may fade and become dull.
Clumping is another sign your spices have overshot their glory days. This happens when your spices are exposed to moisture, either from poorly sealed jars, or from that (lazy) habit of shaking your spices straight out of the jar into the pot so that they are enveloped in steam. Rather use a dry spoon to scoop some spice from the jar or shake it into a cup, or even your hand for that ‘seasoned chef’ flair.
You can test your spices by rubbing a little into the palm of your hand to release the aroma. Take a whiff and you should immediately be hit by the aroma of spice. If you can’t really smell much chances are it’s not going to do much for your cooking.
Making Them Last
Dates: When you buy spices that don’t have a label or best-by date, you can make your own label with a sticker and the date you bought it. That will take the mystery out of the spice’s age a few years down the line.
Storage: Store your herbs and spices in tightly sealed containers and it’s always better to keep them in darker places, especially out of bright light. Use their original containers if they are in glass jars. If you buy your spices in plastic bags, invest in a spice rack with spice bottles or a tin you can stow them away in. Opaque jars and containers are a good idea as they won’t let the light get in.
Don’t keep them right next to your stove as the extra heat will shorten their shelf life. Also avoid keeping them near the dishwasher due to the humidity.
Accessibility: And use them! If you use your spices regularly to create delicious food that’s not only tastier, but also contains many health and healing properties, you’ll be unlikely to land up with those sad, colourless jars a decade later. Put them in an easily accessible spot near where you cook so you will be inspired and tempted.
Stocking a few simple, classic spices, instead of a bewildering array of rare exotics you may feel intimidated to use will also encourage you to spice it up. Get spices that go with the food you love to eat so you’ll want to use them.
There is a reason for the expression the spice of life. Their colours and fragrances are an endless pallet you can dip into to create an epic journey for your palate! Many of them, such as Turmeric and Black Cumin Seed are also gaining ground as anti-aging miracles supreme. These are some favourites in the spicy realms.
Some recipes to inspire spicy adventures…
- Warming Indian-Spiced Vegan Potato Curry
- Chickpea Curry
- Thai Sweet Potato Soup with Gluten-free Scones
- Chai Spiced Energy Balls
- Spicy Ayurvedic Teas