It’s been a few years since this one was put up, but well worth reposting…
Venture bravely into your pantry one day and you will find a terrible and frightening things. Items so horrid, that Julia and August are ROLLING in their graves! What horrid things might they be?
Some canned this,
Some tepid sauce that?
No, far worse!!! ancient, faded JARS OF HERBS AND SPICES!!!
What can be so bad you may ask?
The answer can be found in a question. Do you remember during which presidential administration you purchased that uber tub of “Italian Seasoning” from your local discount mega club? How about that tiny and dusty little metal tin of ground nutmeg that hides in the back of your pantry? Wait, does that grocery store still exist? I bet you have no clue. Worse yet, just how much do you think you spent on those items?
Let me tell you friends. That it was too long ago and too much respectively.
Okay, reality check. There is nothing REALLY wrong with dried herbs, so long as you are not using the petrified and dead stuff that you happen to have purchased during the Carter administration. Dried herbs are a descent substitute for the fresh stuff when used properly. But what is your solution you may ask? Check out your friendly neighborhood “high end establishment”. Places like Central Market here in Dallas and Whole Foods Market on a nationwide basis, have a fantastic area of bulk bin dried herbs that you can purchase what you need as you need it. Here is the kicker. That $6 plus dollar jar of herbs will cost you PENNIES from bulk bin. You are paying a high premium for the fancy glass jar. I will spend no more than a dollar or two on a bag of dried herbs that can be as large as of not bigger than the glass jar “premium” brands at your local megamarts! PLUS, you know when you bought it!
Why is the when so important? Time! Open that bag of dried herbs. It smells pretty good huh? That aroma is the volatile oils that give the herb its flavor. What is volatile? It means that when exposed to air, it will dissipate into the atmosphere. In other words, your herbs will lose their flavor. Rule of thumb? I would not keep dried herbs in my pantry for any longer than 6 months. If you store them near your stove or oven, no longer than 3. Heat will speed the process of degrading the oils and flavors.
Now for their culinary bunk mates, spices….
They are a little different. When you buy the jar, 9 times out of 10 you are getting the ubiquitous brown powders. They pack a punch! The time rules that apply to dried herbs tend to play the same with pre-ground dried spices. Here is the exception. When you buy them whole, and I recommend that HIGHLY, you can keep them for almost an indefinite period of time. Why? The volatile oils are contained within the whole spice, and are not released until you break them down. Cool, huh? Added bonus? With whole spices, you can do cool stuff, like toasting! Why? Adding heat to whole spices like cumin or caraway will enhance the aromatic properties and deepen some of those wonderful substances that give those spices their depth of flavor.
Okay, so what do you DO with those whole spices? Invest in a coffee or spice grinder. They are not that expensive and can be used for most any whole spice to process down to whatever size powder you desire. Exception being nutmeg. Microplaners are handy tools that are relatively inexpensive and can be used in multiple applications OTHER than removing that fantastic fragrant powder….
By small amounts when you need it. Don’t keep it long. Your food will thank you for it!
One last add on. There are lots of places that are spice “specialists” They have high rent building and expensive properties. I do buy one thing from those guys. Glass jars. Great for storage.
One MORE last thing. “Truffle Oil” Don’t do it. There is as much real truffle in that stuff as there is as there are honest politicians in Washington. You pay a pretty penny for cheap olive oil and in some cases flavoring chemicals.