It may be time to edit your spice cupboard. Dried spices and herbs lose flavour and pungency over time and that affects your cooking. So weed out the old and replace with the new.
– Throw away dried herbs that are over a year old as they will have lost their aromatic qualities and flavour. Dried oregano or thyme can lose their flavour in under six months. You’ll know when you smell them: if you find it hard to identify the herb by aroma alone with your eyes closed, throw it out.
– When you buy dried herbs and spices, they are often quite old to start with so check the sell-by date on the packet and buy ones that have a long shelf-life – if you buy them when they are about to expire, they won’t last any time, even though the packet is new to your storecupboard.
– Harder spices are less volatile and cardamoms, bay leaves, whole and dried nutmeg, star anise and cloves will last longer than a year, even if they will never be as sprightly as they were the day you bought them. Cloves and whole nutmegs can last for years for example.
– Saffron lasts for years though it will lose some of its potency.
How to know if dried spices or dried herbs are fresh
– The best way to check if herbs and spices are still fresh enough to cook with is to smell them, and if they don’t sparkle or smell musty, dump them – they won’t improve during cooking. If you haven’t used them by now, the odds are you won’t later.
– Label your spice jars or containers with the date of when you first opened the pack and the expiry date.
– If you buy too much of any dried spice, grind it to a paste with a little cold water, freeze it in an ice cube tray, and pack the cubes into labelled freezer bags. Or set up a spice-sharing scheme with friends so you can take advantage of the cost-savings on larger bags. The Asian, Indian and middle-eastern shops offer the best value on spices but you have to buy larger quantities than you may need, so sharing is a good way of saving money.
– If you transfer some of the contents of a large bag of spice into a container, store what’s left in a sealed freezer bag to keep it fresh for the next refill. It will also stop it spilling out into the cupboard.
How to store fresh spices and aromatics
– Wrap whole ginger and galangal in clingfilm and store it in the freezer, grating it straight from its frozen state. If you are using it in slices, store the bulb in a sealed container in the fridge and chop or slice it as needed (it is impossible to slice from frozen) or slice it, then freeze.
– Ginger, chillies and galangal can be stored in the fridge and will last for up to 3 weeks if kept in a sealed container.
– Store lemongrass in the fridge, in a container, wrapped in kitchen towel. It will last up to 2 weeks if it is very fresh. Make sure to batter it with the blade of a knife to release the oils before you cook with it.
– Keep tubes of tomato paste, spice pastes, ginger and garlic purées for up to 6 weeks from the date you opened them. Closed tubes will keep until their best-by-date.
– Dried tamarind will last for up to 2 years in its original packaging – rehydrate before using.
– Vanilla pods last for up to 2 years in a sealed container (otherwise they dry out). If you have any that are older than that, leave them in your baking sugar container and they will make vanilla sugar that you can use when you are baking cakes or icing. Or pop them into a bottle of gin or vodka and make vanilla gin or vanilla vodka (or drop a splash or two into a sugar syrup and add fresh or frozen berries for a quick dessert).
Where to buy the best spices in the world
– If you are in Paris, drop into Goumanyat
, one of the best kept-secrets in the city – it’s a world-class spice shop where the finest french chefs shop. They sell some of the best saffron in the world. (The weekend is the best time to go – when we were there last it was mid-week and the shelves were fairly empty.) You can also buy online. Goumanyat/La Boutique Thiercelin
1809, 3 Rue Charles-François Dupuis, 75003 Paris, France. Read David Lebovitz’ article on the joys of a visit to Goumanyat here.
Photograph copyright foodpixies.com