Few q's about spices
I want to place a big order for spices, pretty much every spice that I needed so far and every spice that I need for dishes I want to try.
I counted 51 spices so far :) I just want quality spices and I'm tired of paying $7 for 2oz of Mccormick spices.
Here's few questions I have:
-How long do spices hold their flavor ? Thinking what amounts should I order.
-Are glass jars ok for holding spices ?
-What cinnamon sticks should I use for Indian cooking ? Ceylon, Indonesian, Saigon ?
-Dried Red Chilli in Indian recipes, is this Chile de Arbol or Tien Tsin Chinese or Sanaam ? Not sure which to order.
I agree with the recommendations to buy whole and grind it upon demand - it'll keep fresher much, much longer this way.
Cinnamon - use Ceylon cinnamon if you can. It tastes far, far better in my opinion. (I lived in Sri Lanka for 9 years - it's all you can get there, and boy howdy was I happy at that).
My spice teacher was a Penzey's catalog, and I recommend obtaining one here: http://www.penzeys.com/cgi-bin/penzey...
If there is a Penzey's in your area, then you can visit in person, but I learned a lot from the printed catalog. (You can download it if you prefer.) I learned about the different sorts of cinnamon--I prefer Vietnamese--and lots about the different chiles. Also, they carry an amazing variety of curry powders.
If you are cooking for a crowd, you should buy more, because you will use it up and it is less expensive per oz, but if your household is small, buy small containers. I find that spices and herbs start to taste off in a year or so. You need to store them away from the stove.
re: Perilagu Khan
Actually chiles arbol are what I normally use at home. I find they have a subtle flavor that is fine when I am making a tadka or a dry saute that requires whole chilies. My Penzey tien tsins don't have enough flavor and though I haven't tried the sanaam, they are probably the ones I get at the desi market in an unlabeled baggie.
To the OP, I replace my ground spices at least once a year. Whole spices like cloves, nutmeg, cinnamon and anise last me a little longer. Glass jars are fine. I tend to buy Swad brand spices, which come in plastic bags, and they fine in their baggies as well so long as I keep them air tight.
IMO, that 1 year "shelf-life" for spices/herbs is something MADE UP by commercial spice companies!?! If a dried herb still has a nice aroma when rubbed in palm of hand... I'd NEVER replace it just cuz of its age.
I'm another who recommends finding an "ethnic" market to shop around in. Probably NOT a "spice" by definition, but I buy sesame seeds (white & black) at favorite little Asian market... 4 oz (a LOT) for $.99... WAY more than those little jars from supermarket and surely much fresher.
Buy whole spices, buy 2 oz amounts. World Spice Merchants has an extensive selection of spices, very knowledge people, 2 oz per spice orders are allowed, whole or ground, sold in jars or in bags. They have a wonderful recipe file on their site showing how some more unusual spices are used. A phone call to their store is an educational experience. Ask them for recommendations.
the shipping info is here.
Whole spices last indefinitely. Store them in the freezer to maintain freshness.
The cinnamon and bay leaves available in Indian stores are different. Cinnamon bark is used in savory dishes in Indian cooking. The curly cinnamon found in the grocery store is better suited for sweet dishes IMO.
The advice to buy spices from Indian stores is a good one. They are cheaper and fresher because the spices are in high demand and stock is constantly being replenished.
I've never ordered large quantities of spices, so I'm not really answering your question...
Can you access 'ethnic' grocers?
I get most of my spices from the local Indian grocer: very fresh and very cheap.
I'm not too specific with spice varieties/origins: I mix and match spices between food cultures, which ensures freshness and minimal shelf-space. To me, cinnamon's all pretty much the same (as long as it's not cassia...).
It end to judge chillies on heat rather than variety, unless they're a special Mexican mole chilli or something.
I'd aim to use most of my spices within 3-5 months.
Some, like star anise and cloves, seem to hold their flavour for ages, while coriander degrades quickly.
I buy all my spices whole and whizz them in an electric coffee grinder as I need them. They keep much better whole, are loads better freshly-ground, and I only need one jar: cinnamon sticks? Sure. Ground? One moment...
Glass is jars are ideal, but I think keeping them out of the light is more important.
Mine are in plastic.
re: c oliver
It seems like half of the items at my nearest Seattle area Indian grocery come by way of Canada. That's certainly true of the breads, flour, and some other legumes and grains. Admittedly we are close to Vancouver which is well known for its south Asian restaurants. But I imagine it's just as easy to get Indian spices in Toronto.
I've read that spices should be replaced after a year. I'm not sure if this is true for ALL spices, but I would definitely agree that some of the spices that I tossed in the big purge, a few months ago, had lost most of their flavor.
So why spend lots of money on spices that might degrade before you ever use them? Order enough for the foods you actually cook and buy more as needed. I agree that the supermarket jars cost too much for too little -- but I buy my spices at my food co-op, where they are much cheaper. I spoon them out of large jars in the amounts I need. Is there such a place where you live?
Glass jars? Sure. Just keep them in a dark cupboard or drawer, away from heat and light.
Dunno about the cinnamon sticks and chili peppers in Indian recipes. I would just go to my local Indian market and check out what brands they carry.
I would imagine that Indian peppers would probably come from the annuum, frutescens, and chinense varieties. NOT from the South American pubescens and baccatum. Which turn out to be hard to get out here in Honolulu. I just ordered a bag of dried aji amarillo online, so I can make some Peruvian dishes.