Dry Spice Life
What is the shelf life for most dry spices? Is refrigeration a good idea? Does chilling extend the life of spices? How about freezing? How can you tell when dry spices are old?
I order my dry spices from Penzey's and they recommend buying as much as you can use in 6 months to a year. You can make the most of the spice life by only having a small amount out and keeping the bulk of your spices in a dark place. Penzey's says freezing your spices is a good idea because it keeps them in a cold dark spot where sunlight can't damage them. So I use my freezer to store the bulk of the spices and have small jars of them in the cabinet next to the stove. I replenish the small jars from what is in the freezer.
As for telling when they are too old, I usually sniff them and if it doesn't smell strong and spicy I know it is probably too old.
You mentioned that you get your spices from Penzeys, and I am wondering if you look forward to the recipes in the catalog as much as I do. I received that fall catalog last eek and I have already made 2 of the recipes. I baked the apple cake on Friday night and the stew with mustard dumplings was Thursday evening's dinner. I buy all my spices whole when possible and only grind what I will use in a 2-3 week time span.
BTW, Have you ever received free samples from Penzeys that you didn't order? I have been ordering from Penzeys for almost than 10 years and it is very rare that I don't find a surprise jar with every order.
I just received the fall catalog yesterday and was looking at the recipes. I haven't used any of the recipes, but many of them do sound good. I always love getting the catalog and drooling over the recipes and learning about the spices.
I always receive free samples from Penzeys. In fact, the first time I ordered from them I received the "sample" and thought they had made a mistake. I emailed them and told them about the extra and they emailed me back telling me they always put something extra in the order for me to try. I thought that was very cool since I didn't order very much my first time. Now I order a lot more and look forward to seeing what extra surprise I get. I really like how customer-friendly they are.
Spices and strong herbs last a lot longer, they just start to lose complexity. I still have Italian seasoning that is 27 years old because it was the last thing I purchased at the former, beloved Stern's Pickles in Farmingdale NY.....
This may be obvious but like coffee beans, dry spices keep better (in my experience) in their original form - like whole cloves vs. ground cloves, etc. ... and then grind immediately before use.
yes whole spices are better than pre-ground spices (just like fresh herbs are better than dried).
ideally, keep whole spices vacuum-sealed and frozen works well, but who has a vacuum-sealer.
cool, dry, place away from heat and light, in a tightly sealed glass or plastic jar, is best otherwise.
and definitely only buy the small quantities. those giant jars of ground whatever may be price-appealing, but they lose all flavor LONG before you could ever use it all.
powdered spices, as a general rule of thumb, when they start to cake-up, time to get fresh ones.
dried herbs last a long time but lose potency over time.
almost all spices will taste better when "toasted" in a hot pan before using.
What you don't want to do is store your spices/herbs over or near the stove. Also, avoid any lovely glass containers meant to be displayed in a rack on your kitchen counter: light (as well as heat} is bad.
I write the date (month and year) on the label of dry herbs/spices when I first open them and put them in the cupboard. This saves the guess work of how old they are. I also do that for baking soda and powder. I usually do a "deep clean" of the cupboard once a month or so.