After spending several minutes trying to find chili powder on my spice rack, it occurred to me that my system wasn’t working. I hate to admit it, but I have nearly a 100 spices in my cabinets or sitting on my counter in racks. Everything from Aleppo Chili to Zaatar. There’s even more at the farm. I’ve tried to alphabetized them, but they vary in size and frequency of use. I don’t need coriander seeds sitting front and center and the more often used garlic salt shoved out of sight.
Finding a System That Works
So I’m attempting a cross between an alpha system and one based on frequency of use. I’m giving my various salts and peppers a front row seat within easy reach. Priority space goes to paprika, curry, garlic blends, turmeric, whole nutmeg, red pepper flakes, because I use those more. Everything else goes in the alpha lineup.
Family and friends, helping in the farm kitchen, can’t figure out MY system, because it’s so highly personalized and slightly illogical. They get fussy when they can’t find a needed spice quickly. I do, too.
A Very Personal Question
While we’re spice talking—though I hate to bring this up—have you checked the dates on your spices lately? You’ll be surprised at how old some of them are and, like all things elderly, waning in strength. Spices don’t spoil, they just lose their flavor. Smell, taste and color are the best ways to determine if there’s still some potency remaining. But if the date is anywhere near your baby’s birth year and the kid just went off to college, you might want to consider replacement.
Time to Pitch
The general rule of thumb is that ground spices and blends maintain peak flavor for one to two years, maximum, and dried herbs up to three years. The spice maker, McCormick, says if you have any of their spices in a metal can or they read “Made in Baltimore, MD,” they’re over 25 years old. The company hasn’t used tins or manufactured in Baltimore since the early 90s.
It takes a good amount of culinary courage to evaluate a spice rack, to toss, rearrange, and replace. I’m not there yet; maybe next winter.