Are your spices dead or alive?
How to keep spices and herbs singing with flavor

By Marion Owen, Fearless Weeder for PlanTea, Inc. and
Co-author of Chicken Soup for the Gardener's Soul


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Spices and herbsIn the next day or so, I want you to go to your kitchen and open the spice cabinet. Okay, now while you’re staring at the bottles, ask yourself, how long have those spices and herbs been sitting there?

Hmmm, can't remember?

While your spice cabinet might be harboring crusty, old spices and herbs, the good news is that dried herbs and spices never spoil, per se. The bad news is their flavor fades. The trick is to keep and use spices as long as they have flavor. Here are some tips to prolong the power of your seasonings.

Stored in airtight containers and in a dry place, spices retain their potency longer than you’d think. As long as:

  • Four years for whole spices like peppercorns and cinnamon sticks
  • Two to three years for ground spices such as paprika and nutmeg
  • One to two years for leafy herbs like parsley and oregano
  • Really potent whole spices, such as cloves and cardamom will last a long, long time

Generally, dried herbs lose their flavor faster than spices. To check, crumble some herbs in the palm of your hand. If they have no color, and little or no smell, they’re a waste of your cooking time. Toss them out, or sprinkle them the compost pile.

To test ground spices, shake the jar, let it settle and give a sniff. If there’s essentially no smell, toss it. If the spices have SOME fragrance left, and less than you remember, simply use more in recipes.

The most important thing is to store herbs and spices well -- away from the heat of the stove and the humidity of the dishwasher, and nowhere bright and sunny. And when cooking, sprinkle the desired amount into a cup or spoon, not directly over the pot, which allows steam inside the bottle.

Here's to keeping spice in your life!

-- Marion Owen



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