We see so many celebrity chefs and cooks on TV and cable that are always using fresh herbs and spices to prepare the recipes that they are teaching us. This is fine if you have access to fresh herbs and spices on a daily basis like if you grow some of your own. If you live in a situation where it is not possible to grow some of your own herbs and spices, have you seen how much it costs to buy 3/4 of an ounce of fresh any kind of herb in the supermarket lately? For many of us we use dried herbs and spices in our daily lives and believe me you CAN produce delicious recipes and meals using dried herbs and spices. Ever been in an Indian spice market? Lot’s of dried herbs and spices right? Of course!
Fresh herbs and spices only have so much “shelf life” to them before they go bad. Going bad means means that they are not fresh anymore, but dried and still able to be used for a certain amount of time. After that amount of time the fresh herbs and spices that have dried will only have a certain amount of time that they will be viable for cooking and then the precious oils in them will have dried out and the flavor and enhancement will not be there anymore.
Many folks including myself buy dried herbs and spice to use in our daily lives as it simplifies the process of daily cooking. Many people buy dried herbs and spices and keep them forever in the cupboards. This is not the optimum way to use these enhancements as stated before, the precious oils in them will have dried out and the herbs and spices will not impart the flavors that we are looking for anymore.
It is for this reason I thought I would share with you some basic guidelines for proper herb and spice storage in the home kitchen. Now, the first thing to do is to check your herbs and spices for freshness and for this we will use our eye’s and nose’s to do this. Are your green, leafy type herbs faded and not as dark as when you bought them? They will fade with time as they age and the potency of the oils dissipates. Now, check out some of your red spices like red pepper flakes, chili powders, paprika’s, red curries. Are they brown in color? They will turn brown over time once again as they dry out and the oils lose potency in these types of spices. Now, some people say to store this type of spice in the refrigerator and I don’t agree as the refrigerator has moisture in it and if the moisture invades the red spices there is a chance that they can mold.
They next thing you will want to try is to put a small amount of your test herb or spice in the palm of your hand and rub the herb or spice with your thumb or over the sink rub your hands together and see how the herb or spice smells. Do the aroma smell full bodied and rich like when you first bought it. Is the aroma coming to your nose immeadietly? If it is good, and if it’s not then chances are that the oils and potency is gone. If you are testing whole spices then you will need to crush them to test for the aroma. After crushing the spice if the pieces are big enough you can scrape them with your knife or a microplane or grater of somekind to test for fragrance potency. If you have any doubts, then throw them out. Many spices and herbs are not very expensive and you question the viability of them, then it would just be best to replace them ASAP!
Some general storage guidelines for your herbs and spices are as follows:
1. Make sure that you store your herbs and spices in a cool, dry place and keep them always away from direct light, heat and humidity as these conditions will deplete the oils and potency. It is a good recommendation to put them in a place that will not go above 70 degrees F.
2. If at all possible store your herbs and spices in air tight glass jars and make sure that the lids are on nice and tight after each use of the herb or spice.
3. When using dried herbs and spices you should never, ever shake them over a boiling pot because the moisture from the steam will add moisture to the herb or spice and reduce the potency of the oils of the herbs that remain in the jar. It is better to place the amount of herb or spice that you need in the palm of your hand and then add it to the dish as needed.
4. In general for ground spices I keep them for no longer than 1 to 2 years. With whole spices I try not to keep them longer than 2 years. For herbs I do not to go over a year. I occasionally use seasoning blends and I will keep them for up to 1 year. Extracts are a bit different because they contain alcohol and so I will store and use extracts for up to 3 years plus.
This is what I do: If and when I do buy dried herbs or spices I will either take a small piece of masking tape and put it on the jar I use for storage and put the purchase date on it so I know where I am at any one point in time. If you don’t have tape then you can take a marker and write the purchase date on the lid of the jar. This way you will always know where you are with your herbs and spices using these simple guidelines.