While some get the urge to super clean their home when the sun finally starts to shine through those dirty windows, I get the urge to purge spices. This may come as a surprise to some, but McCormick spices in the tin from 1966 are no longer viable.
Having some basic high quality spices in your spice drawer is essential to better home cooked meals. Let’s talk about what those spices might be and how to keep them tasting great.
In order to keep a handle on your spices’ age, you need to mark on the bottle either when they were bought or when to discard. Most spices will last a year kept in a dark place in a jar with a tight fitting lid. I personally don’t write dates on my everyday spices like coriander, cumin thyme, oregano, peppercorns, bay, etc. I go through most of them several times throughout the year. There are some that don’t get used up in a year. For me its things like poppy seeds, anise, fennel and rosemary. For those I toss every spring and replenish.
Buying spices in bulk at the PCC or Ballard Market is fine for most. There is a lot of turnover, so you don’t have to worry about old product. There is, however, a difference between bulk spices and higher quality spices found at the World Spice Merchants or Mountain Rose Herbs for example. You will pay more for these spices. If you want to become an expert in spices, go down to World Spice Market and chat up one of the clerks. Make sure you set aside at least 2 hours.
To choose the spices you will need to have in the house, look at the recipes you use most often, check the back of your favorite cookbooks, usually there’s a pantry list. Keep your spices organized. I use 3 jar types for all my spices; a 2 and 4 ounce glass spice jar and a ½ pint wide mouth Kerr jar. Label all jars. Do not store spices out in the open or near any heat source. If you have no room and have to store spices on your wall, find a nice piece of dense fabric to cover them when you’re not cooking.
Finally, take a weekend day and make up some spice mixes. I make a basic curry powder, garam masala, Chinese 5 spice, Mexican mix, Moroccan and creole mix. Designate a coffee grinder for grinding spices. Once your mixes are done, you can go to them in a flash and create great tasting dishes without spending a lot of time finding and grinding on a weeknight. If you want the recipe for any of these mixes, you can find them here.
Cooks tip: You can take a spice jar to the market and have the clerk weigh it empty. They will mark the weight on the jar. Then, next time you need a spice, take it to the bulk bin and fill ‘er up. Smart.
Dr. Buxton wrote a great post on spices here.