Tip — 13.08.2018

Spices and tips for storing them

The most colourful, delicious, sweetest-smelling ground and seed spices are lined up in your kitchen cabinet. Look how innocent they look in those small jars. Are these ingredients what shook empires, caused discoveries, migrations and wars of independence five hundred years ago?

People used to pay their rent in the same black pepper that we now use in meatballs at home. The nutmeg that we add to our desserts was once more valuable than gold. Spain and Portugal spent most of the 16th century fighting for those cloves some might chew on when leaving a restaurant!

The value of spices is now taken for granted but we can’t imagine life without them. Spices can turn a “good dish” into a “masterpiece”.

They can add the sweetness or bitterness required for a particular dish. Spices can also enhance the natural flavour of other ingredients. This is generally what salt does but when spices, such as cumin, are combined with other ingredients they can really bring out their natural flavour. Another reason for using spices is to transform the colour of your dish. Turmeric, paprika, saffron etc. All of these spices have the ability to change the colour of a dish.

Spices are essential not only for their taste but also for their health benefits. This is why the Chinese started a spice trade over 2000 years ago. In India, which is considered by many to be the homeland of spices, the most significant aspect of a healthy diet is the spices. Each one has a different health benefit. For example, cayenne pepper is great for cardiovascular health and the immune system; cinnamon balances blood sugar, and turmeric improves memory.

A well-organised spice cabinet can make cooking much easier. First of all, put the spices you use the most in the front and those you rarely use to the back. It is a good idea to organise them into categories. Put the spices you often use together close to each other. For example, you can put sweet spices like cloves, nutmeg and cinnamon in one group, peppers and salts in another group and then have a group of exotic spices. Stackable jars save you space. Always make sure that you write the name of the spice on the jar along with the expiry date from its original packaging.

Spices usually last for a long time. They can last months, even years, without losing their flavour and aroma. There are still some things you can do to properly keep those precious ground spices and seeds fresher for even longer.

  • You need to seal the jars very tightly to prevent air from getting in. We sometimes forget to close the lid tightly when we are cooking in a hurry. If we don’t tighten the lid fairly soon, the spice may lose its flavour very quickly.
  • Store your spices in an enclosed, dark environment. They may look pretty on an open shelf, in front of the window or next to the cooker but sunlight may cause spices to lose their aroma. It is best to keep them in a drawer or closed cupboard. If you really want to display them in colourful jars lined up on a shelf, try to buy your spices in small amounts and use them up as soon as possible.
  • Keep spices away from heat. The most practical way to reach spices while cooking is to get them from the cupboard next to the cooker, but this isn’t a good idea as the heat causes them to lose their flavour. You may want to keep them away from the dishwasher as well.
  • Just like heat, humidity is not your spices’ friend. For this reason, always make sure your spoons are completely dry before putting them into spice jars. Sprinkling spice directly over food that’s cooking may increase the moisture inside the jars. Instead, use a spoon to add spices to your dishes.
  • Seeds last longer than ground spices. Buy your spices as whole seeds and grind them just before using them at home. This will maximise the flavour.
  • Tiny worms and insects particularly love red spices and chillies. You may want to store them in your fridge.

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