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Throw your aged spices out...


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There's a previous topic on consumer friendly spice packets.  I sell a brand called Pinch Plus which are 1 tablespoon quantities for $1.  Convenient, no waste, but not good value.

Find a bulk spice seller either localy or online and buy the smallest amount they sell. Go in with a couple of people and split a package or maybe work some trades.

Krogers, Ralphs and food-4-Less sell small packs of herbs and spoces for reasonable amounts. I am sure others do to.

This is a good suggestion. My shop has a bulk spice and herb section and customers bring their old spice jars to fill up. We deduct the tare weight of the jar and charge by weight of the product. Most dried herbs weigh very little, and filling up a jar might cost only 50 cents or even less, a fraction of the supermarket price. Most natural food stores carry bulk spices such as the display in my shop:

gallery_18120_2331_83020.jpg

Ilene

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There's a previous topic on consumer friendly spice packets.  I sell a brand called Pinch Plus which are 1 tablespoon quantities for $1.  Convenient, no waste, but not good value.

Find a bulk spice seller either localy or online and buy the smallest amount they sell. Go in with a couple of people and split a package or maybe work some trades.

Krogers, Ralphs and food-4-Less sell small packs of herbs and spoces for reasonable amounts. I am sure others do to.

This is a good suggestion. My shop has a bulk spice and herb section and customers bring their old spice jars to fill up. We deduct the tare weight of the jar and charge by weight of the product. Most dried herbs weigh very little, and filling up a jar might cost only 50 cents or even less, a fraction of the supermarket price. Most natural food stores carry bulk spices such as the display in my shop:

gallery_18120_2331_83020.jpg

This is the way to go. My local health food store has a similar arrangement and the price is significantly lower than the big brands. I, like JimH, have been slowly over the last few years replacing the ground with the whole in bulk form and putting the new whole spices in the old jars. All you need is a mortar and pestle or an old coffee grinder............

My general rule of thumb is that herbs last about a year, ground spices about two (although I have a jar of cayenne that is at least three years old and still has its original potency and aroma), and whole spices a heck of a long time.

Regarding McCormick, 15 years seems reasonable, unless we are talking about whole nutmegs.

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A timely topic. It's about time for me to replace many of my herbs and spices. I have been getting mine from Penzies for several years and think they are fresher than most products that show up in the average grocery store. I find that whole herbs generally last up to two years, but ground herbs and spices may fade after six months or so. I too prefer to grind my own.

I may try buying larger quantities and freezing the excess in small canning jars. Has anyone else tried this?

The McCormick's chart of how long to keep herbs and spices is generous if anything. I would usually prefer to replace mine a little more often.

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I work for Philippe de Vienne, who owns Olive et Epices at the Jean-Talon Market, and the Epices Cru brand. I'll pass on what I've learned from him and what I've gathered from my own experience.

In general, the fresher the spices are the better. The essential oils that give spices their charateristic flavor and aroma are subject to deterioration over time. They can "evaporate", react with chemicals in the atmosphere into flavorless compounds, or otherwise disappear. In general the shelf life for whole spices at room temperature (20c) in an opaque container is about two years, dried herbs a year, and ground spices 1-3 months. These are rough limits for peak quality, often they will still be good after this but the quality will start to suffer. But this all depends on conditions, with a few basic principles in mind you can work out the situation for yourself.

Surface area: the more surface area you expose, the more chance you are giving essential oils to react or escape. When you grind up a spice you are essentially exposing the maximum surface area to the environment and catalyzing it's deterioration. Light and Heat: these are the main enemies of spices, they promote chemical reactions and will cause your spices to deteriorate much faster. And moisture of course, you need to keep your spices dry; if you live in a humid climate, storing in an airtight container is preferable.

So keeping this in mind it's pretty obvious that things like whole cinnamon, cardamom, and cloves stored vacuum packed in a deep freezer in an opaque container will keep much better than ground cayenne pepper in a small glass jar on a shelf next to the window. The former are in conditions that minimize their oppurtunity to react with the environment.

That said, some spices do improve with age. Dried mandarin peels for example, the older they are, the better they are (provided they have been aged in appropriate conditions). We have some 10 year old peels from china that have the most wonderfully complex aroma. It's possible that some spices might improve when stored in a cold, dark environment, but its hard to say without empirical testing. At any rate, even ground pepper will store pretty well if stored vacuum packed in an opaque container in cold/dry storage; so they're may be some truth to their claim.

But it certainly isn't necessary to buy their aged spices, and its dubious that they are even of better quality. Health food stores and Indian shops are excellent places to buy spices as they generally have a very high turnover, and you can expect your spices to be fresh and inexpensive. I usually have about 30-60 spices kicking around in my kitchen, and I use simple strategies to manage this without wastefulness. I buy whole and in small quantities generally, and grind myself. The spices I use a lot of I keep the bulk of in large opaque containers in a cool dark place, and keep smaller quantities in small jars out in the kitchen. I periodically grind and replace them as I need them, and do an inventory check every so often to toss the stuff that needs to go.

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I agree they deteriorate over time. I had been nursing along a bunch of old stuff that I couldn't replace until Penzeys arrived in town. One sunday morning, I sat down and went through my two spice drawers and threw away almost everything. I finally convinced my mother to do the same thing when I gave her some paprika and she used it in the same quantity that she had been used to with her old stuff. It knocked her socks off, she had no idea that paprika could be so strong. She thought it was just for color.

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I don't cook as often as I'd like to and have some dried spices I use very infrequently. I really don't know if it helps or not but I keep all of my dried spices in the freezer.

When I spotted those McCormick's ads I immediately read them as saying that spices lose their capabilities after X number of years and need to be replaced. My mother definitely has cans way older than 15 years - Cream of Tartar and Alum for sure.

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My mother definitely has cans way older than 15 years  - Cream of Tartar  and Alum for sure.

Those do not break down the same way.

I have a can of ehlers Thyme that is quite old. It has been in the family for quite a whil. Since it is a tin can it blocks all light and most air. I compaired it to some new stock and was supprized that there was less of a shift than one would expect.

I keep most of my stuff in tin or brown glass and suspect I get more mileage than they would like to admit. Having seen recomendations to replace product every six months seems excessive to me.

My test is if it not performing or looks or smells wrong it gets replaced. As most of us know you can even fudge for most small shifts.

Living hard will take its toll...
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Cream of tartar and alum would both be considered mineral, not vegetable. There's nothing volatile, air-sensitive, or light-sensitive. These aren't particularly water-sensitive either.

Baking powder and baking soda (both members of the mineral kingdom also) are water-sensitive. That's why you need to consider replacing these, whereas cream of tartar and alum would probably still be fine after decades, if a little hard.

MelissaH

MelissaH

Oswego, NY

Chemist, writer, hired gun

Say this five times fast: "A big blue bucket of blue blueberries."

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That's why you need to consider replacing these, whereas cream of tartar and alum would probably still be fine after decades, if a little hard.

A short spell in the freezer in an air-tight container will fix that. I still thin that most spices and herbs do not decay as fast as some would want us to think. Especialy if you take the right percautions.

Living hard will take its toll...
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