I love using herbs & spices in my cooking! If I have access to fresh that is the first preference but sometimes I’ve got to dig around in the pantry. Storage & organisation are the keys to using your herbs & spices regularly – otherwise they languish in the back of the pantry forgotten (& a total waste of money)!
First up, get them all out & on the counter. Honestly, probably also a good time to also clean the spice space. Take stock & see what you actually have (& what you need to throw out). Sometimes you purchased a spice thinking you would use it a lot, but nah – it didn’t hit the mark. Occasionally you get gifted random spice mixes, or you got it from the Indian grocer & the instructions aren’t in English – whatever the reason you have it – are you going to use it?
Generally ground spices keep for 5-8 months or a year for whole spices such as cinnamon quills, whole nutmegs or cloves. It will of course depend where your spices where sourced from. The supermarket spices generally have a lesser lifespan (longer in transit & storage, unknown harvest methods, etc) when compared to a similar spice purchased at a spice store (fresher with expiry dates & generally a higher quality product). Just remember spices don’t get better with age, nor do they enhance your cooking when they have no flavour left.
Open the jars & smell the contents. Be careful you don’t get a snoot full & have a sneezing fit. Has the cayenne’s spiciness faded, does the cinnamon smell like nothing & look like dirt? Basically, if it smells funny get rid of it – honestly, it is not going to make your cooking fabulous at this point.
What to do with those spices that are still usable but didn’t live up to expectations? The best tip I found for this is to put things together into one jar & make a ‘house’ blend. Of course, there are different flavour combinations which are specific to particular regional flavours, but some random mixes work OK too. Currently my ‘house’ blend is smoked paprika, lemon zest & dried rosemary with some dukkha. Loving it on the roasted vegies however depending on your ‘house’ blend you could also use it in marinades & sauces. Remember, to keep it near the stove so you use it.
OK the inventory is done. You now need to choose how you want to organise your spices. Mine are on a lazy susan in the corner of the pantry, arranged as baking on one side & savoury the other (there are about 10ish there – so not a huge amount). Looking at various arrangements on the internet: I’ve seen alphabetised, colour coded labels, or flavour profiles. The most interesting one, was by common & colours, let me explain it a little further. Common was everyday players – salt, pepper, onion & garlic powder. Then it got interesting – brown spices (THINK cinnamon, nutmeg, cumin), the green herbs (THINK oregano, thyme, mint), then came yellow (curry, mustard, turmeric), & finally red (THINK cayenne, paprika, chilli powder). Whatever you choose it will depend on your personality, style & if you share the kitchen with other house cooks.
How you store them can also be a big decision. How much space are you giving over to your spices? The best arrangement I’ve had, was a drawer where you could see all the labels. There was a piece of dowel through the width of the drawer – so the tops were raised a little & easy to read, when the drawer was open. I’ve also seen an oven slice tray as a container – so labels were on the tops & easy to read. There is of course the wire rack inside the pantry door, or the magnets on the side of the fridge. Whilst I love the look of the magnets, I shudder at the thought of a lid not on & curry all over the floor!
Whatever method you choose, keep it easily accessible so you can see what you have – otherwise you will be back where you started digging past cans & jars; or finding half used packets of bay leaves tucked behind the weetbix box. Experiment & find a system that suits you. If it doesn’t work, try a different way.
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