All About Spices: When to Toss, When to Keep and How To Maximize Flavor

by in How-to, January 4th, 2013

bottled spicesIf you’re wondering why your chili doesn’t taste as good as you remember, it might be the chili powder that’s off. You might not have realized it, but spices can actually lose their freshness and flavor over time. That’s why it’s a good idea to check them periodically to see if they’re still any good. What better time to do so than New Year’s? You might as well check it off your to-do list right after you change the batteries in your smoke detectors.

Spices are some of the most important ingredients when it comes to flavoring food. Just imagine an apple pie without cinnamon or an Indian curry without curry powder. Those recipes wouldn’t be the same without those spices. It’s easy to take spices for granted when you use them so often, but they need some attention, especially when it comes to storing them.

Ground spices lose their freshness the quickest and typically don’t last past six months. The best freshness test for ground spices is to give them a whiff — if they smell like nothing, then it’s time to say goodbye.

Whole spices, on the other hand, can be fine for up to five years. To liven them up, toast them in a dry skillet and then grind them before using. You’ll notice the flavor will be more pronounced than their untoasted counterparts. But if the whole spice looks faded, it may have seen its final days. That’s why you should always keep your spices in a dark cupboard instead of an open spice rack where daylight can penetrate the bottles.

If you use mixed spices a lot, you can sometimes get them in whole form from spice markets or online sources, but it’s more common to find them ground. It’s a good idea to label the ground spices to keep track of when you bought them. Also use the smell test to check their freshness periodically and replace them when needed.

To learn more about buying, storing and using spices, see Food Network’s Herb and Spice Guide.

How long do you keep your spices? Leave a comment below.

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