As spring approaches, the weather turns warmer and there are more hours of sunlight for outdoor activities. The grill comes out and across the country, you begin to smell that familiar scent of warming charcoals. Of course, with all these exciting things come a few more boring but necessary things as well! Spring cleaning comes to mind. Washing your windows, cleaning out your wardrobe (why do you have so many clothes with tags on them? Didn't you buy them to wear them?), and finally putting the snow shovel away without worrying about pulling it back out for a sudden, surprise snowstorm. Something that a lot of people tend to forget about is cleaning out their spice cabinet. This can be done all year round, you don't have to wait for spring! If you have waited, the "out with the old, in with the new" mentality is one you should adopt this spring.
You want to be certain you are using herbs and spices that are at their prime! You don't want spices that have been hanging out on your shelves for a few years, you want fresh, colorful, romantic spices with a lot of life left in them. Food should taste good and having the freshest herbs and spices will help ensure that you are having the most flavorful meals you can. Good food contributes to a good mood, since being satisfied with what you are eating can really affect your feelings about the day. If you are eating something you don't really love, you'll just be thinking about what else you can eat later. Having delicious food helps you really live in the moment and savor what you are eating.
This is the first and most important step of the whole cleaning process. Get together a list of all your herbs, extracts, spices, and seasoning blends. If you are the kind of person who tends to accidentally purchase duplicate herbs, spices, or spice blends, this step is essential for you. Pull everything out and put it on the table, writing down what you have as you go along. Organizing by alphabetical order may help you see where you have multiples a little easier. If you don't have a spice rack, this may be a good time to invest in one so you don't accidentally go about purchasing 3 more containers of garlic salt than you should have. Putting the spices back with some forethought will also help keep your cabinets more organized.
What Should I Toss?
The next step in your spring cleaning is figuring out which spices you should keep and which you should throw away. Begin with spices that have actual expiration dates. Use your eyes, nose, and fingers to figure out if your spices are still good enough to use or if you should get rid of them. Are the colors vibrant, or are they faded and washed out? Are the spices still aromatic, or do you really have to try to find a scent? Do they feel crumbly and brittle or do they still have a little fight in them? You want colorful, aromatic herbs and spices that have fight to them. If they fail to pass even one of these tests, it is time to throw them away. Any herbs or spices that are not dated with an expiration date can be tested the same ways, and then discarded if they don't pass. Don't simply rely on the expiration date, either! If you have been improperly storing your spices, you may have accidentally shortened their shelf life. Test each spice you have for freshness before you decide if you are going to keep it or toss it.
If you find that you have duplicates and they are both still fresh enough to use, experiment and see what you can do to make your own spice blends! Date and label these so you know when your blends were made, and you can gauge when you should check for freshness again. If you have something that you were planning on using to make dinner tonight that isn't exactly in top form, you can probably salvage a little of it by lightly toasting it or blooming it in some oil, depending on the spice and the recipe you were hoping to use it for. Discard any leftover spice and purchase new ones.
A good rule of thumb to use regarding shelf life of spices is as follows:
|Spice, Herb or Seasoning||Shelf Life|
|Ground Spices||1-2 years|
|Seasoning Blends||1-2 years|
|Whole Spices||2-3 years|
These suggested shelf lives are applicable to most things, but of course you will find that some spices outlive others or lose their flavor way quicker than anticipated. Extracts are especially finicky- some you will discover last only a year before they smell too much of alcohol while others can last for up to four years. Use your senses to figure out which are still good, and which are ready to fall directly into the trash.
Other Things to Consider
Do you have spices or spice blends in your cabinet that are still good, but you can't think of what you would make with it, except for that one recipe you bought the spice for? Be honest with yourself when sorting these kinds of spices out. If you aren't going to use it again, toss it. If you are an ambitious cook and you like to try new foods, make it a point to find recipes that will incorporate this spice or spice blend so you can use it up before it goes bad and you have to get rid of it anyway!
How to Store Your Spices
The final step of cleaning out your spice cabinet is the reorganization. Figure out where and how you want to store your spices. Make sure to keep them away from heat, light, and moisture. Light includes direct sunlight- even if it's good for you to get a little extra vitamin D, your spices absolutely do not need any more exposure to the sun! It will hasten the evaporation of the oils in your spices. Do not freeze your spices because repeated thawing and refreezing may lead to condensation that will damage the spices. The refrigerator should only be used as a place to store capsicums like chile powders and paprika, as refrigeration will help maintain color, but this is not entirely necessary. They can be stored alongside your other spices just fine. Some people store their spices in small mason jars in drawers, while others store theirs up in a cabinet on a lazy Susan. Just don't store your spices in the cabinet above the stove! This will harm the spices because they are exposed to more heat when placed above the stovetop. You can organize your spices alphabetically, by flavor profile, by how often you use them, or even by color! This is completely up to you. You may even find that you organize them one way and they naturally shift into another style of organization based on usage. You may think you want them alphabetically for example, then discover you are constantly pulling garlic and onion to the front because they are the most frequently used. Just remember to keep an eye on the spices you don't use as often!
How Much Spice Should I Buy?
Buy your new spices in smaller quantities to ensure that you are using them all up before they reach the end of their life. Buying whole spices will also help them hold their flavor and complexity for longer, though you will need to grind them as you need to use them. Invest in a high-quality spice grinder or get a coffee grinder that you will use for spices only and grind the whole spices in small batches on an as-needed basis. If you purchase your spices in bulk, label and date your containers so you know when they were opened. Check for freshness often and discard as necessary. Buying in smaller quantities really does help to ensure that you are getting the best flavor and the best bang for your buck.
The quality of the herbs and spices you buy will also affect how long they remain flavorful. If you are purchasing them from the grocery store, keep in mind that they have probably been sitting on those shelves for a long time, but before that they were in a storage room waiting to be stocked, and before that they were sitting in a warehouse waiting to be distributed across the country by a huge manufacturer. They've already had time to break down and begin losing their flavor by the time you purchase them. Buying a higher quality product, like those we sell, means your spices will have a bigger, brighter flavor for much longer than you would find in those grocery store spices! Of course, our products are also free from additives and bulking agents, so these ingredients are not detracting from the scent or flavor of our products either like they would in store bought spices.
When is the Best Time to Start Spring Cleaning?
It doesn't have to be spring to start spring cleaning! You can do this in the dead of winter too, if you'd like. After all, the best time to clean out your spice cabinet is right now! You probably have at least three old spices just lurking back there in the darkest corner of your cabinet. One of the absolute best times of the year to start cleaning out your cabinet is right before grilling season begins. This is a time when you are more likely to break out many spices, since you will be doing a lot of outdoor cooking and you may have more guests over to enjoy your food.
Springtime comes with heavy associations of spring cleaning, and this is a perfect time to take inventory of your spices! Just like everything else in your house, your spice cabinet deserves the attention it requires to thoughtfully sort through and discard what you no longer need.