The Challenge- The Pantry- Part 2 Herbs and Spices

Do you know the difference between herbs and spices? Read to the end for the answer.

I love cooking with herbs and spices. Grow a fair amount of herbs myself. They add flavor and can help to use less salt. They don’t last forever, though so its a good idea to go through them once a year to check for freshness. Ideally you should only keep leafy herbs for a year or so for best flavor. The easiest way to check is to open them up and smell them. If they smell fresh- great. If they have little or no smell toss them into the compost pile or trash. When you buy herbs get them in leaf form as opposed to rubbed or powdered. Bigger pieces hold their taste longer. Same is true when you dry your own. Break them up as little as possible for storage.

Store dried herbs in a cool, dark and dry environment. While a lot of people like to store their herbs near the stove that is the worst place. Kitchens are warm- but try to find the coolest place in an otherwise warm room. Avoid storage next to appliances. Refrigerators give off heat as do dishwashers and even microwaves- although not constant heat. Another place to avoid is above under counter lights. We all leave these lights on. Put your hand on the shelf right above them when they have been on for a while. It gets really toasty. I know, I know, I’ve eliminated a lot of spaces. Still find a cupboard away from these heat sources to keep your herbs fresh.

As to the red seasonings- cayenne pepper, paprika, chili powder, red pepper flakes- these should all be stored in the fridge- especially once opened. They are all made from peppers and contain pepper seeds. The seeds contain oil which will go rancid in time. If you have a big old jar of paprika, which sits by the stove and has been there since your first marriage I ‘d say its time to get a new one. You may find you actually like parikash. Maybe the last batch was made with paprika that was old and rancid.

Buy herbs from busy stores and buy amounts you will use up in a year or less. Bulk buying is no bargain if you end up tossing a lot of it out.


Spices are a different story. If you buy whole spices they last for ages. Even cinnamon ground up will keep its flavor for several years when stored properly. Also, if you have something really pricey- like saffron or cardamom- feel free to store them in the freezer or fridge to keep them longer.

Unseasonably warm tomorrow so I am off to a picnic with friends. I had rye bread in the freezer along with Swiss cheese and sauerkraut, plus the makings for Thousand Island Dressing- someone is contributing turkey pastrami so we’ll have modified Reubens.   I am also bringing coffee and soft drinks. I’ll also be making carrot oat bran muffins from stored ingredients for a healthy dessert.

I hope this helps with some of your pantry and food storage issues.

Almost forgot- the difference between herbs and spices is where they will grow. Temperate zone plants are herbs- tropical plants are spices. Spices tend to be pods and seeds and bark- herbs are almost always leafy greens. But dill seeds are an herb as is saffron- which is the pistols and stamens from a fall- blooming crocus!

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