Keeping spices, herbs is easy with proper use and storage
April 9, 2020
Everyone knows any homemade dish comes to life when you cook with spices and herbs. Whether they are fresh or dried; these two additions boost flavor, aroma and color to your food. The Old Farmer's Almanac has said the difference between an herb and a spice is that they come from different parts of the plant. "While they share many similarities such as their ability to offer flavor, vitality and diversity to our meals, there are many factors that differentiate them," according to the almanac.
A spice is made from the root, stem, seed, fruit or flower part of the plant, whereas an herb is the leafy, green part of the plant. A single plant can contain both an herb and a spice at the same time. Dill seed and dill weed, mustard seed and mustard greens, cilantro and coriander seeds are all examples.
When cooking, herbs and spices require a different approach in order to utilize their maximum flavor. While spices are always used in their dry form; herbs can be used as either dry or fresh, and often times will add a more delicate flavor. To optimize the flavor of fresh herbs, it's best to add them when the dish is at the end of its cooking time. Spices, on the other hand, can withstand a longer cooking time, and their flavor becomes more enhanced when they are added in early during cooking.
Whole spices that are not ground and kept intact, will retain their flavor and potency much longer than ground spices and herbs. As a spice is ground down, the surface area is increased, which exposes the spice to oxygen. As the spice is mixed with the air, it begins to break down faster, and it will lose its potency. Which is, argumentatively, the main reason to buy whole spices.
When it comes to storing spices, there are a few simple guidelines to remember.
As previously mentioned, air will cause spices to lose their potency, so all spices should be kept in airtight containers. Keeping those containers in a cool, dark place is the next step to retaining the shelf life. You want to keep a consistent temperature when storing. You will also want to keep your spices away from heat, extra light, and moisture; as these are the true enemies that will cause your spices to lose their effectiveness much quicker.
The shelf life for all spices will vary, but in general, whole spices keep longer than ground spices do.
A general rule for the shelf life of spices:
Whole spices will stay fresh for up to four years
Ground spices will keep for three to four years
Dried, leafy herbs have a shelf life of one to three years
To test whether your herb or spice is still potent; rub a small amount in between your hands, then smell and taste. If the aroma is weak and there is no smell, it is time to replace the product.