Organize your spice cupboard today

February 7, 2008

SpicesThursdays just aren’t the same for me these days. A normal winter Thursday evening used to be highlighted by watching Ugly Betty and 30 Rock. With the full effects of the writer’s strike now limiting the new programming on the airwaves, I find my evenings sadly empty. The good news is that I’m finding the time (at last) to do many of the things that I should have been doing when I was instead staring at an overpriced rectangle for hours on end.

One of my recent Thursday evening accomplishments was to clean out my spice cupboard. Although I have often advised readers to use fresh, frequently purchased dried herbs and spices, the fact is my own shelves are crowded with bottles and boxes of dubious age. Some herbs can even be used to fight a cold or aid an achy stomach, so it’s especially important to store them well.

Purveyors like McCormick’s spices recommend the following guidelines for keeping spices and seasonings on hand:

• Ground spices 2 to 3 years
• Whole spices 3 to 4 years
• Herbs 1 to 3 years
• Extracts 4 years except vanilla which lasts longer if unopened
• Seasoning blends such as rubs 1 to 2 years

Whether your spices are brand new or a weeks or months old, remember that all seals should be air tight and the containers, if not opaque, should be stored in a dark, cool cupboard. A spice rack on the counter or a collection stored in the cupboard over the stove are two of the worst places to keep herbs and spices. Instead, choose a spot where heat, light and steam exposure will be minimal.