Want Your Food to Taste Better? Get Rid of Old Stuff!

I frequently cook in other people’s houses.  It’s fun.  “Let’s get together on Saturday and cook and have dinner!”  “Great! What time should I be there?”  Even though I’m kind of a knife snob I usually leave my knives at home.  (The exception would be times when I know that a lot of people will be cooking …) It’s just easier to use everything that’s there when I get there …. But there is one thing that drives me batty …

Old bottles of spices, herbs and olive oils.

I know …. Herbs and spices are dry and olive oil is expensive.  I get it.  You want to use it up.  The other problem is that for some unknown reason people decided at some point (probably in the 50’s) that storing their herbs and spices over the stove was a good idea.  It’s close to where you’re cooking, right?  But feel the bottom of those cabinets when you’re cooking and understand that that heat translates into what is stored in those cabinets.  Want your pantry ingredients to last longer?  Get them away from the stove.

Here are two easy to follow rules of thumb with your herbs and spices.

1.  Spices last longer than herbs.  Stored in a dark, cool (but not cold), dry place herbs can last up to three years and spices can last a little longer.  WOOPS!  Forgot I was writing this for guys….  Generally, herbs are leafy greens like basil, oregano, thyme, etc. and spices are ground powders like Cumin, Allspice, etc.  Sometimes it’s better to keep spices whole – this is the case with Nutmeg, which loses its punch quickly once it’s ground but will keep more or less forever as a whole pod.

2.  When in doubt, pour a small amount of an herb or spice into your hand and smell it.  Grind it a little with your thumb.  The smell should be pretty strong.  (and it should smell like what it is – Basil should smell like basil, not garlic…)  If it is then the ingredient is fine and you can keep using it. If it isn’t do everyone a favor and throw it away.  I know the jar is full.  Next time don’t buy the big bottle of celery seed to satisfy 1/4 teaspoon in a recipe.  Buy the little plastic container the first time so you know you like the dish. (you’ll also save about $4).

Oils go bad much more quickly.  As a rule I never buy the big bottles of olive oil.  Once opened, a bottle of high end extra virgin olive oil will only last about 3 months.  When they’re closed (factory sealed) they’ll be fine for quite a while – even a year or two, but once they’re opened there is nothing you can do to stop the process of oxidation and rancidity.  If you cook less often, buy smaller bottles of olive oil.   If you want to know if your oil is rancid smell it.  If it smells like anything but olive oil – it can smell nutty, or fishy and sometimes it can even smell like bananas-  it’s gone.  Throw it out.

If you’re inviting me over to cook, do this before I get there…  Then I won’t complain about your old spices and rancid oils.

Yes, I will complain.  I pretty much say what I think.  I’ve never been able to shut that off.  Not really trying any more.


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