Storage of Spices
Spices and herbs will lose their colour, taste and aroma over time. To preserve peak flavour and colour, store spices and herbs in a cool, dry place, away from exposure to bright light, heat, moisture or oxygen. If possible, avoid storing spices and herbs too close to the stove, oven, dishwasher or refrigerator, where rising steam or heat can come into contact with them. Dampness can cause caking or clumping of ground spices.
Store herbs and spices in airtight containers, such as glass jars, plastic containers or tins, to protect against moisture and preserve oils that give spices their flavour and aroma.
Red-coloured spices, such as chili powder, cayenne pepper and paprika can be refrigerated to prevent loss of colour and flavour. The best storage temperature for herbs and spices is one that is fairly constant and below 70º F. Temperature fluctuations can cause condensation, and eventually mold, so if you store spices in the freezer or refrigerator, return them promptly after use.
The shelf life of each herb and spice is different, and all age, even under the best conditions. Check your herbs and spices — and those you consider purchasing — to see that they look fresh, not faded, and are distinctly aromatic. The shelf life of herbs and spices will vary according to the form and plant part, too. Those that have been cut or powdered have more surface area exposed to the air and so lose their flavour more rapidly than whole herbs and spices.
Here are some guidelines:
Whole Spices and Herbs
Leaves and flowers — 1 year
Seeds and barks — over 2 years
Roots — over 2 years
Ground Spices and Herbs
Leaves — 6 months
Seeds and barks — 6 months
Roots — 1 year
Adding Herbs and Spices to Food
With a few exceptions, use herbs and spices sparingly, to enhance and accent other flavours rather than dominate them. For starters, try 1/2 teaspoon of spice for a dish that serves four to six. (For herbs, use 1/2 teaspoon powdered, 1 1/2 teaspoon dried, chopped, or 1 tablespoon fresh chopped.) Because oils are concentrated in the drying process, it takes about half the quantity of dried herbs as fresh. To release the flavour of dried herbs, crumble them in your hand before adding them to your dish.
Add whole spices during cooking to allow their flavours to permeate the food. When you use whole, dried spices in cooking, tie them in a cheesecloth or metal tea strainer for easy removal. Add ground or cut herbs and spices midway or towards the end of your cooking time, so their flavours won’t dissipate. For uncooked foods, such as salad dressings, fruits or juices, add spices and herbs several hours before serving to allow flavours to blend. For salad dressings, add the spices to the vinegar and allow to stand before adding the oil. Allow for the buildup of intensity with red pepper or spice blends containing red pepper. First taste tests often seem mild.
Whole spices can be ground in a small coffee grinder, small food processor, pepper grinder, or mortar and pestle. To clean coffee grinder after use, add small amount of sugar or uncooked rice and process.
Toasting or Dry Roasting
This process can accentuate the taste and aroma of spices such as cumin, coriander, mustard seeds, fennel seeds, poppy seeds and sesame seeds. To toast, heat a heavy skillet over medium heat until hot. Add spice(s); toast 2 to 5 minutes or until spices are fragrant and lightly browned, stirring constantly to prevent burning. Remove from heat.
Which Spices to Use
The correct spice or herb for any food is the one that tastes right for you. When experimenting with a new spice or herb, crush some of it and let it warm in your hand; then sniff and taste it. If it is delicate, you can be bold and adventurous. If it is very strong and pungent, use a light hand the first time that you use it. When you’re at a loss about what to add to a dish, try something from the list below.
Beans – avocado leaves, cumin, cayenne, chili, epazote, mexican oregano, oregano, parsley, pepper, sage, savory, thyme
Beef – Aleppo pepper, basil, bay, black pepper, chili, cilantro, curry, cumin, garlic, kebsa spices, marjoram, mustard, oregano, parsley, pepper, rosemary, sage, savory, tarragon, thyme
Breads – anise, basil, caraway, cardamom, cinnamon, coriander, cumin, dill, garlic, lemon peel, orange peel, oregano, poppy seeds, rosemary, saffron, sage, thyme, zatar
Cheese – basil, caraway, celery seed, chervil, chili, chives, coriander, cumin, dill, garlic, horseradish, lemon peel, marjoram, mint, mustard, nutmeg, paprika, parsley, pepper, sage, tarragon, thyme
Chicken – Aleppo pepper, allspice, basil, bay, cinnamon, chili, curry, dill, fennel, garlic, ginger, lemongrass, mustard, paprika, pepper, ras el hanout, rosemary, saffron, sage, savory, star anise, sumac, tarragon, thyme
Eggs – basil, chervil, chili, chives, curry, dill, fennel, ginger, lemon peel, marjoram, oregano, paprika, parsley, pepper, sage, tarragon, thyme
Fish – anise, basil, bay, cayenne, celery seed, chives, curry, dill fennel, garlic, ginger, lemon peel, mustard, oregano, parsley, rosemary, thyme, saffron, sage, savory, star anise, tarragon, marjoram, zatar
Fruits – allspice, anise, cardamom, Chinese 5-spice, cinnamon, cloves, coriander, ginger, mint
Lamb – Aleppo pepper, basil, bay, cinnamon, coriander, cumin, curry, dill, garlic, kebsa spice, marjoram, mint, mustard, oregano, parsley, ras el hanout, rosemary, savory, tarragon, thyme
Potatoes – basil, caraway, celery seed, chervil, chives, coriander, dill, marjoram, oregano, paprika, parsley, poppy seed, rosemary, tarragon, thyme
Salads and Salad Dressings – basil, caraway, celery seed, chives, dill, fennel, garlic, horseradish, lemon peel, lovage, marjoram, mint, mustard, oregano, parsley, rosemary, sumac, tarragon, thyme
Soups – Aleppo pepper, basil, bay, chervil, chili, chives, cumin, dill, fennel, garlic, marjoram, parsley, pepper, rosemary, sage, savory, star anise, thyme
Sweets – allspice, angelica, anise, cardamom, cinnamon, cloves, fennel, ginger, lemon peel, mace, nutmeg, mint, orange peel, rosemary, star anise
Tomatoes – basil, bay , celery seed, cinnamon, chili, curry, dill, fennel, garlic, ginger, gumbo filé, lemongrass, marjoram, oregano, parsley, rosemary, savory, tarragon, thyme
Vegetables – chili, chives, curry, dill, marjoram, parsley, savory, thyme