Spice Inventory : How to Keep Your Recipes in Top Shape

Let’s be honest, how long have you had those jars of spices in the back of your cupboard? Chances are there’s at least a few that outdate your memory.

Dried spices are a staple in any home-kitchen. They are versatile, complimentary and in some cases mandatory to create your favorite recipes. If you’re a busy chef, you may burn through most of your spices before they even begin to gather dust, but for most of us, there is at least one or two jars that we absolutely needed for a special cooking project, but haven’t been able to use up.

Perhaps it’s time to clean house?

In general, the lifespan of jarred, dried spices is 1-2 years. Spices don’t spoil but they do lose their potency and strength. There is every possibility that if you do any amount of cooking and if you’ve lived in your home more than 4-5 years, you have some pretty much expired spices lurking in the back of a shelf. You know, behind the corn husks that you bought that one time you thought you were going to try to make Tamales from scratch – in 2006.

No matter how painful it seems, you may have to come to terms with throwing them out to make room for flavor. Spices aren’t cheap, and add so much to our cooking and recipes, but what good is an unopened jar of oregano past its prime? Let’s break down the most important spices to keep on hand in your kitchen and the shelf life of some of those (we’ll assume you have kosher salt and pepper on hand at all times).

Consider dating your spice jars with a permanent pen when you buy them, and always store spices out of direct sunlight and away from moisture sources. Boil or steam things on your stove? You probably shouldn’t store your spices and aromatics above your cooking space.

Two years stored in a cool, dry place

Whole bay leaves

Whole leaf dried oregano

Dried thyme leaves – whole

Whole cloves

Cinnamon sticks

Whole vanilla bean

Ground ginger

Whole black peppercorns (for grinding)

Whole nutmeg

One year stored in a cool, dry place for freshness

Ground cumin

Chili powder

Curry powder

Garlic powder

Ground Nutmeg

Ground Cinnamon

Ground clove

A few of these spices are seasonal, making one year seem impossible as a timeline for using them up.   Consider it a challenge. As pumpkin pie season nears, use that cinnamon as much as you can, the weather will call for it, but also look for opportunities to use it in other dishes like pork loin with apples or Mexican hot chocolate. Ground ginger can be used in chutney and with chicken, whole cloves can be used to brine meats and in poached dishes.

Expanding your use of spices will create a wider range in your cooking repertoire, and at the same time help cycle your ingredients out of the cupboard faster than before.

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