|Frugal Café Site Search:|
Frugal Kitchen Tips: More Bang for Your Buck... Keep Your Spices and Dried Herbs Fresh LongerBy Vicki McClure Davidson
Spices and dried herbs have flavored foods and been revered and enjoyed for centuries — they also have many medicinal and therapeutic properties. Long before European explorers searched for spice routes and exotic new spices, the ancient Egyptians preserved their mummies with herbs and spices.
Once only available to royalty and the wealthy, spices and dried herbs are now cheap enough for the average person to purchase. But compared to other food items, many can still be quite pricey (saffron is one of the most expensive spices in the world and was once sold at the price of gold). So you want to make sure, after making your purchase, to do what you can to make every bit bursting with intense flavor for as long as possible, to prolong its life.
Spices and dried herbs, while they store well, don't last forever. Here are some tips to extend their freshness, thus saving you money.
Storage of Spices and Herbs
One of the hottest areas in the kitchen is the area over the stove and/or oven. Home builders love to place cabinets directly over the stove, but that is the worst place to store spices or herbs. Warm temperatures cause seasonings to prematurely release their essential oils and flavors. Storing spices directly over a heat source will age them faster. For the same reason, be sure to not store them near a window.
- Don't store spices in the refrigerator. The humidity in there can be absorbed by dry spices, making them moist. The moisture causes them to deteriorate and often mold. Instead, store them in a dark, dry cabinet, drawer, or container. The exception to this rule are members of the red pepper family, such as paprika and chili powder. These will retain their color and remain fresher longer when they are stored in the refrigerator.
- For the same reasons given for not storing dried herbs or spices in the refrigerator, be sure to not store them near the dishwasher or the sink. Those areas are the most humid in the kitchen.
- Light fades and ages spices and dried herbs, so the darker the enclosure, the better. Spice/herb racks hanging from the wall near the stove or a window, in transparent bottles, will diminish their flavor quickly.
- Bottled seasonings often have more flavor than bulk products. Because they have limited exposure to light or air after being packaged, they will last longer.
- If you buy spices in a cellophane package, such as dried bay leaves or peppercorns, transfer them to a glass bottle or container with a lid. Keeping dried herbs and spices airtight will prolong their flavors.
Spice/Herb Life Span
- Expiration dates on bottles indicate when the spice or herb is past its prime. While using a seasoning past an expiration date isn't dangerous, the flavors do become diminished or stale over time. Mark the date of the purchase next to the freshness date on your spice containers. You'll be better able to keep track of when you purchased a spice or dried herb and when it is time to replace it. A good rule of thumb is to try to use up dried herbs within a year, although many should still be flavorful for up to 3 years. Many ground spices, such as salt or cinnamon, can also be kept for up to 3 years. Seasoning blends should be used up within 1 to 2 years.
- Whole spices, such as whole cloves or peppercorns, can be kept up to 4 years if stored in a cool, dark, dry place.
- Flavoring extracts, such as vanilla extract or almond extract can be kept up to 4 years. Pure vanilla can be kept indefinitely.
- If you're not sure if your spice or dried herb is still fresh enough to use, look at its color. If the product is still vibrant in color, it's still good. If it's faded, it is time to replace it.
- After opening a spice or dried herb bottle to add to a dish, be sure to immediately put the lid to the jar or container back on tight. Don't leave the container opened beyond what is necessary. Extended exposure to air will zap flavor of dried herbs and spices.
- Before adding dried herbs to a dish, crush and crumble the leaves between your fingers. This will release volatile oils and increase the herb's flavor, so you'll use it more efficiently. Less will give more.
- Never shake a bottle or container of spices or dried herbs directly over the top of a steaming pot. The moisture can enter the spice container and cause the product to cake and perhaps develop mold. Trapped moisture will destroy a spice or dried herb. Instead, measure it to the side or into your hand before tossing it into the pot.
- Robust herbs such as thyme, sage, and bay leaves stand up well in long cooking. Milder, more fragile herbs like parsley, basil, and marjoram should be added at the last minute for best results.
- When cooking a meal slowly in your crockpot or soup kettle, add dried or fresh herbs near the end of cooking time. Long, slow cooking times diminish an herb's intensity.
- If you're using whole spices in a recipe, they will need a longer time to release their flavor. They work well in longer cooking recipes, like soups and stews.
- Grind whole peppercorns, nutmeg, and cumin in a mortar and pestal, a spice mill, or a coffee bean grinder. If using a coffee bean grinder, process a bit of white rice or bread in the grinder before and after grinding to absorb any lingering flavors and oils.
- Avoid the accidental transfer of moisture by using a completely dry measuring spoon when dipping it into a spice or herb.
- When doubling a recipe, increase spices and herbs by just one and one-half, not double. TASTE the dish, and then add more if necessary. In most recipes, one and one-half times the seasoning will be sufficient to provide the desired flavor. It's far easier to add more spice or herb to a dish than it is to remove it.
What exactly is the difference between a spice and an herb? Spices and herbs can consist of seeds, flower buds, bark, leaves, or other parts of a plant. The definitions for spices and herbs have changed over the years. In the past, spices have been categorized as fragrant, aromatic plant products like anise, cinnamon, cloves, ginger, nutmeg, turmeric, vanilla, saffron, and pepper; they tend to be more woody. Spices are found in plants grown in tropical and subtropical regions of the world. Herbs, on the other hand, have always been recognized as the more green, leafy products like mint, oregano, basil, rosemary, savory, lemon balm, and thyme. These grow in more temperate regions. In some cases, when not considering where it is a grown, a plant product can be accurately called both a spice and an herb.
While some people are adament that fresh herbs are "better" than dried, I don't agree. Both are good, depending on the dish to which they'll be added. And when herbs are't in season, unless you want to pay top dollar for a hothouse or imported herb, dried is a better cost-saving alternative. In most recipes, substituting dried herbs for fresh and vice versa works just fine. Not so, however, when the texture of the herb leaves are an imperative, such as with making pesto. Dried basil won't make a creamy pesto like fresh basil leaves will. But in the majority of recipes, you can substitute one for the other.
The ratio for using dried herbs to fresh is 1:3. Dried herbs are more concentrated than fresh. If a recipe calls for 1 tablespoon of fresh rosemary and you will be using dried, use just 1 teaspoon.
Take advantage of sales on herbs when they are in abundance at the peak of their season. Many areas in the country have wild herbs growing in public places, so become familiar with them and their growing seasons. If you and a neighbor both have herb gardens, trade with each other to give each other variety in your pantry inventories. Make it a point to prepare more meals using that/those herb(s) while they're in season. Being frugal means paying attention to when food/seasoning items are at their greatest abundance and lowest prices.
If you can't possibly use up all the cilantro, dill, rosemary, or parsley you've bought or grown before they go bad or wither in the garden, consider drying them yourself and storing them to use over the next six months to a year. Click here for information on drying your own herbs at home.
From a nutritional standpoint, a number of herbs and spices are high in antioxidants. Here is a list of those with the greatest abundance, courtesy of EatingWell.com:
Top 10 Dried Herbs & Spices for Antioxidants
Top 6 Fresh Herbs for Antioxidants
- Lemon balm
EatingWell.com, "Top Fresh and Dried Herbs and Spices for Antioxidants," (http://www.eatingwell.com/nutrition_health/
Hanus, Shauna, Ezine website, "Keeping Spices Fresh Keeps Flavor at its Peak," (http://ezinearticles.com/?Keeping-Spices-Fresh-Keeps-Flavor-at-its-Peak&id=130850)
Larsen, Linda, About.com Busy Cooks, "Get the Most Out of Dried Herbs,", (http://busycooks.about.com/od/quicktips/qt/usedriedherbs.htm).
McCormick website, "Keeping It Fresh," (http://www.mccormick.com/Spices101/HowOldSpices/KeepingItFresh.aspx).
Sunflower Farmers Market Magazine, "How to Keep Spices Fresh," August 2010.
List of Basic Cooking Terms, Measurements, Abbreviations, & Recipe and Oven Temperature Equivalents Frugal Café Blog Zone: The Pantry Principle and Other Prudent Ways to Stock Up and Save Money on Food
Recipes for Awesome Arepas... Venezuelan Corn Cakes
Pardon My French... Homemade French Dressing from Grandma's Depression Era, That Is — Mystery Chef's Cheap DIY Recipes
Walk on the Wild Side: Frugal Dandelion Greens Recipes
99-Cent Only Store Gumption & Imagination... Delicious, Cheap Meals
Winging It: Three Hot Wings Sauce Recipes: Supreme Hot Wings, Hooters' Copy-Cat Hot Wings, & Honey Hot Wings
Frugal Café Blog Zone: Fab Food Friday Fotos & Recipes: Chili Chicken, Eggplant Hiziki Caviar, Leek & Potato Soup, Coconut Ganache Tartlettes, Brunswick Stew, Indian Spiced Beef Brisket, Chile Ancho Rellenos with Plantains, Halibut & Mango Salsa, Chicken Nuggets, Garlic Cauliflower, & Thrifty Recipes
Frugal Café Blog Zone: Fab Food Friday Fotos and Recipes: Bubur Ayam, Orange Ginger Chicken, Taco Soup, Banana Oat Bars, Egg Sausage Casserole, Potato Pizza, Spiced Wild Plums, Cute Bento, Red Rice Salad, Coconut Carrot Cake, Melon & Beef, White Miso Soup, & More Cheap Recipes
Frugal Café Blog Zone: Fab Food Friday Fotos: The Explosive Fourth of July "Salads, Salads, & More Salads" Food & Recipe Extravaganza
Frugal Café Blog Zone: Fab Food Friday Fotos & Recipes: Sunday Chuck Roast, Chilaquiles Casserole, Asian Lentil Rice Wrap, Chocolate Streusel Banana Coffee Cake, Zucchini Gratin, Gluten-Free Walnut Apple Cake, Bacon & Leek Risotto, Mac & Cheese Nacho Bake, More Thrifty Recipes
Frugal Café Blog Zone: <Fab Food Friday Fotos and Recipes: Bulgur Feta Mint Salad, Lemon-Strawberry Icebox Cheesecake, Chipotle Chicken Chowder, Sausage Casserole, Apple Bacon Stuffing, German Chocolate Cupcakes, Carrot Tangerine Curry, Lemon Cucumber & Heirloom Tomato Carpaccio, & More Recipes
Frugal Café Blog Zone: Fab Food Friday Fotos and Recipes: Retro Bread Pudding, Onion Frittata, Egyptian Kebabs, KC-Style Pork Spare Ribs, Maple Bacon Cookies, Egg-free Muffins, Cheesy Broccoli Rice Casserole, & More Thrifty Recipes
Frugal Café Blog Zone: Fab Food Friday Fotos and Recipes: BBQ Cabbage, Ham & Cheese Omelette, Banana Bento, Lentil-Nut Loaf, Pistachio Almond Cupcakes, Meatballs Toscana, Pasta, Chicken Fried Bacon, Potato-Herb Bread, Turkey Chili, African Kale & Yam Soup, Recipes, & More
Frugal Café Blog Zone: Fab Food Friday Fotos and Recipes: Sweet & Sour Chicken, Chickpeas & Baby Spinach, Frosted Donuts, Orzo Salad, Fishball Soup, A Perfect Red Apple, Sausage Skillet, Frugal Recipes, & More
Frugal Café Blog Zone: Fab Food Friday Fotos and Recipes: Golden-Crusted Brussels Sprouts, Asian Meatballs, Chocolate Cheesecake, Oxtail Suet Pudding, Marmalade Chicken, Pumpkin Risotto, Gluten-Free Leek & Potato Soup, Warm Spinach Mushroom Salad, More Frugal Recipes
Chefs' Cooking Secrets | Midwestern-Style Beer Bratwursts, with Paula Deen
Celebrity Recipes: Loretta Lynn's Crispy Fried Chicken
Celebrity Recipes: Oprah Winfrey's Un-Fried Chicken
Going Green: All About Leafy Greens and Lettuces | Leafy Greens and Lettuces Overview
Going Green: All About Leafy Greens and Lettuces | Profiles of Leafy Greens & Lettuces
Frugal Café Blog Zone: Common Sense & Frugality: Let's Bring Back Home Economic Classes
Baking Soda... From Frugal Cleaner to Thrifty Freshener to Beauty Aid, So Many Cheap, Easy, & Effective Uses
Creamy Tuna Skillet Casserole
Frugal Café Blog Zone: Pearl Bailey’s Spinach with Oil & Garlic
Celebrity Recipes: Aretha Franklin's Holiday Meat Loaf
Celebrity Recipes: Dave Lieberman's Sourdough Bread Stuffing
Celebrity Recipes: Rachael Ray's Steak and Eggs Rancheros
Video Demo: Garlic Broccoli Stir Fry, with Keith Snow
Chefs' Culinary Secrets & Cooking Philosophies | Paula Deen & Gordon Ramsay
Drying Your Own Fresh Herbs: Cost-Cutting and Convenient