When doing your Fall or Spring cleaning you may have realized that you have a lot of expired spices. As part of the Organized Life Series, we’re spending this week Organizing Our Food. Sometimes that organization requires replacement of old items.
Are your spices old?
There’s a quick and easy way to find out. McCormick offers a Spice Dating Service. No, you don’t help your spices hook up with other spices. You find out when they were made, and if they are still good.
How long are spices good?
Ground spices lose their potency after 6 months.
Whole spices (think basil leaves instead of ground basil) are good for a year.
Peppercorns are good for 5 years.
My spices are bad? What does that mean?
Bad spices aren’t going to make you sick. However, spices have a certain flavor that you expect. When they are old, the flavor loses its potency, meaning you’ll have to use more of it. Good spices often have complex layers of flavor that get lost over time. When spices lose their power, they should be discarded and replaced with fresh ones.
If you are a serious cook that needs to count on the flavor and freshness of your herbs and spices, the ideal thing to do is purchase them whole and grind them yourself. Additionally, there is no way to tell how long the prepackaged spices have been in storage or sitting on a shelf.
Realistically, most of us just don’t care that much. You don’t HAVE to replace your spices every 6 months. Most of us are lucky to remember to change the batteries in our smoke detectors every six months. However, in checking my personal spice stores I had some that were purchased in 1995 and most of mine were from 2002. You should probably aim for a better track record than that.
I need to replace a lot of spices. How do I do that on a budget?
Spices are not cheap. You can get budget versions of basics at the grocery for $1 for a roughly 1.3 oz bottle. Some better spices will cost you upwards of $10 for that same size bottle. That means you’re paying from $13 to $130 a pound for your spices. The key to getting fresh, good spices is to go to a whole foods store or a coop and buy them by the pound.
This is less expensive because you are not paying for the glass or plastic bottle. You’re not paying for label printing or the designers that make them. You’re not paying for marketing for the spice company. You’re just buying the spice. That means you’ll need to take in your own spice bottles. I strongly recommend you pick up some bottles on Amazon, or better yet, some bottles on a nice rack that fits in the cabinet. (I bought the rack.)
How does it work?
First, I called my local Whole Foods Market. They didn’t have bulk spices but your area store might. However, when calling my local Good Foods Coop, they told me they DID have spices and to bring my bottles on down. They told me to stop by and measure my empty bottles when I came in, though. Here’s what you do:
- Purchase and/or wash any bottles you will be using. If you’re purchasing them, it’s good to get some with the plastic shaker lids. Again, I bought THIS.
- Make your spice list. If you need 10 spices, take 12-14 bottles in case you see something you didn’t anticipate.
- Number the bottom of the bottles with a sharpie or something so you don’t have to label on the fly. Don’t label ahead of time or they might not have something you need.
- When you go into the store, have someone weigh an empty bottle for you. (with the lid ON)
- Head to the spice bins and get your spices. As you get things on your list, write the bottle number next to the spice name on your list so you know what is in which bottle later. Also jot down the PLU# from the source bottle or bin so they can ring you up properly at the register.
- Pay for your spices and head home.
- At home, take out your spices and print out some nifty labels for the lids or bottles, based on your plans for the display.
How much does it cost?
Check out the receipt for all my replacement spices:
I paid $9.58 for all of the spices I need. The best part about buying in bulk is that you don’t have to buy a whole bottle of things you don’t use often. I was able to choose a full container of garlic powder and garlic salt, but a small amount of thyme that I rarely use.