Keeping it Spicy

Spring is officially in full bloom. It’s time to open the windows, let the fresh air in, and tackle the cleaning “to do” list. Just like closets and pantries, a spice cabinet deserves some love and attention. A clean and organized spice area not only makes food prep more efficient, but it also helps keep us healthy. A recent study revealed that spice containers can be a vehicle for cross contamination that could lead to foodborne illness. Quite often spice jars are never wiped down before being put away which gives bacteria a chance to thrive. 

Carve out some time for your spices this month. The benefits are well worth the effort.  Breakdown the task into 4 easy steps!

Step 1: Take inventory.

  • Pull out all your herbs and spices, including those items hidden away in the back of your cabinet. Arrange the herbs and spices alphabetically or in seasoning groups. You may find you have duplicates of some items, while you are running very low on others. Consider how and where you will store your spices moving forward. Does your current spice rack or cabinet work for you? Or do you want to make some changes? 

Step 2: Decide what to keep and what to toss.

  • Dried herbs and spices make a huge difference when it comes to recipes and the finished product. Old seasonings may not always yield the best results. Look at each individual spice jar. Some herbs and spices have expiration dates which should be respected during the cleaning process. However, if improperly stored, the date on the jar becomes meaningless. Use your eyes, nose, and fingers to determine if your spices are good enough to use or if they need to be tossed. If the colors are faded and washed out, if the spices have a muted scent, or if the herbs are crumbly or brittle, the seasoning needs to go. Remember, herbs and spices should be colorful, aromatic, and have a potent taste. A lack of any of these attributes can suggest the herb or spice is past its prime. 
  • According to the McCormik Spice Company, the suggested shelf lives of the difference categories of spices are:
    • Ground Spices – 3 to 4 years
    • Whole Spices – 4 years
    • Dried, Leafy Herbs – 1 to 3 years

FYI: An herb is the green, leafy part of a plant, like basil or parsley. A spice may come from the root, stem, seed, flower or bark of a tree or plant, like cinnamon or black pepper.

  • If you have seasonings that are still good but likely will never be used, give them to somebody that might appreciate the gesture. 
  • Finally, before tossing anything out, consider repurposing the old spice jars. Be sure to wash and thoroughly dry before reusing.

Step 3: Organize.

  • Perhaps your spice cabinet or rack is perfect. Or, maybe it is time to get creative, relocate your spices and/or invest in a a new spice rack. Regardless, putting herbs and spices back with some forethought will help keep your cabinets more organized.
  • Remember, herbs and spices should be stored away from heat, direct sunlight and from moisture. Do not freeze your spices as repeated thawing and refreezing may lead to condensation that will negatively impact quality.
  • Organize your spices alphabetically, by flavor profile or by how often you use them. There is no right or wrong way – you do you! You may find that your herbs and spices may naturally shift into another style of organization based on usage.

Step 4: Replenish.

  • When buying new seasonings, consider how they might be used. Smaller quantities will help ensure that they will be used up before they lose their punch. 
  • Consider that whole spices hold their flavor and complexity longer than ground spices. Keep in mind that hole spices need to be ground before using, either in a spice grinder or a coffee grinder dedicated for spices only. 
  • If you purchase spices in large containers, be sure to label and date when they were opened. 

Now that all your herbs and spices are freshly organized, it is time to get cooking: 

  1. This healthy Baked Ziti Recipe calls for an Italian herb mix or herbes de Provence. 
  2. Give your new and improved spice cabinet a whirl with this Tandoori Chicken Recipe. Cumin, turmeric, pepper, paprika and garam masala will have all your senses on high alert in a good way.
  3. This Sweet Potato Salad calls for pepper and paprika, but also includes fresh dill and fresh parsley. 

Don’t sweat it if you do not have fresh herbs on hand. Improvise with dried. The ratio from fresh dried herbs is typically a 3:1. In this recipe, simply substitute 1 tablespoon of dried dill for 3 tablespoons of fresh and 1 teaspoon of dried parsley for 1 tablespoon of fresh. 

Have fun getting spicy with your new and improved herbs and spice cabinet!

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