Mindful spice selection adds flavor and fun.
Every home chef has a pantry filled with seasonings and go-to spices. The more you enjoy cooking, the more expansive the collection probably is. However, whether you’re a newbie to the kitchen or an accomplished cook, you may find yourself wondering about some spice basics, such as: When do they expire? How should I store them? Is there a scientific method to the madness, or am I just supposed to dash and sprinkle as I see fit?
We tracked down some experts in the local spice industry to shed some light and help us add flavor to our dishes in the best way possible: with confidence.
What is the average shelf life for spices?
Kristen Jaskulski, vice president of business development and sustainability at Pure Ground Ingredients in Minden, and Dawn Sanlorenzo, director of research and development at High Quality Organics in Reno, agree that two years is the standard shelf life of most spices. After that, spices can begin to lose their flavor, color, and fragrancy.
At HQO, all spices are tested when they reach two years and evaluated for aroma, appearance, and taste. Home consumers can use the same testing protocols to ensure their spices are fresh.
“One way to evaluate the quality of any spice in your cupboard would be to follow our example — by opening your spice container and smelling [each spice]. Secondly, place a small quantity of it in the palm of your hand and check the visual; then, lastly, do what we call ‘finger tipping it.’ Simply wet the tip of your finger, place it in the spice, and taste it. If your product passes your quality check, it is still ‘usable,’” Sanlorenzo says.
How are spices best stored?
Spices often come in clear plastic, but solid containers actually do a better job of protecting them. You should always store spices in a dark, dry spot such as a pantry or cupboard, where they will not be exposed to a lot of light and humidity.
What spices should every home chef have in their spice cabinet?
“In the ’50s, our spice cupboards held about 10 common spices, and today’s spice cupboard boasts an easy 40,” Sanlorenzo says.
Jaskulski of Pure Ground adds that go-tos include ginger, garlic, cumin, black pepper, chili, and salt. At HQO, Sanlorenzo says, top organic sellers are ground paprika (smoked or sweet); garlic or onion in granulated, minced, and powdered forms; crushed red pepper and cayenne in varying degrees of heat; herbs such as sage, bay, oregano, thyme, rosemary, basil, dill leaf, marjoram, tarragon, and parsley; and various salts, including specialty flavors.
Do you have any tips for making the most of your spice cabinet?
“Always buy organic,” Jaskulski advises, suggesting that home cooks experiment. “Try a different origin for a variety in flavor. We multi-origin source for diversity in our offerings and flavor profiles of single ingredients, like ginger.”
Also, Jaskulski says, when cooking, it’s best to add spices slowly and let flavors simmer over low heat. She calls garlic, ginger, and salt “a magical trio.”
The team at HQO calls out black pepper, cinnamon, basil, nutmeg, rosemary, fennel seed, onion, garlic, and Grains of Paradise as favorites.
“Introduce one new spice at a time, but experiment with the ones you already know that you love,” Sanlorenzo says. “Use them at the recommended usage first, building up to your personal taste, until you have found your preference.”
Nora Heston Tarte is a local food writer based in Reno. You can follow her local and travel exploits on Instagram @Wanderlust_n_wine.
High Quality Organics Hqorganics.com
Pure Ground Ingredients Puregroundingredients.com