In the next two months, most of you will be hosting – or attending – gatherings of family and friends. Nearly every one of these events will involve food, some of it made by you. Now I know absolutely you want to bring something that will be flavorful. Of course this assumes that the herbs and spices you’re using will do the job.
Just how old is that oregano you have tucked away on the kitchen shelf? Those decorative spice jars over the stove may look great, but do their contents taste great? All too often we buy spice jars, put them on the shelf and just assume they will do the job when the time comes. But like all foods, they break down and stop tasting good when they are beyond their “Use By” date. Time for you to employ the Herb ‘n Cowgirl’s famous look-sniff-taste test to determine what to keep and what to toss out.
Look — Is the spice faded? Do the jar contents cake together when you shake the jar? Are there suspicious signs of insects (it happens, trust me)?
Sniff – Now open the jar. Can you smell the herb or spice? If there is no aroma, it’s probably missing the essential oils that provide scent and flavor. Time to get a fresh jar.
Taste – Take a small amount and taste it. If the distinctive flavor is still there, keep it. But if it tastes no better than dried grass, it won’t do anything for your foods.
Herbs and spices that fail this test are not worth keeping. Be ruthless. Throw them out and buy more. But how old is too old? According to the McCormick Spice Company, the average shelf life is:
- Ground herbs and spices: 1-3 years
- Whole herbs and spices: 4 years
- Whole seeds: 3-4 years
- Liquid extracts: 4 years
- Seasoning blends: 1-2 years
These guidelines are for spices stored under perfect conditions, away from heat and light and in an airtight container. Spices that are too old or have not been stored properly won’t do their job. Buy replacements now to help you make tasty foods for the holidays.