by Valerie Demetros
Spices are a staple in every kitchen. Even the best recipes need a little extra, and you can usually find that in your spice cabinet. Better yet, many of them offer substantial health benefits.
But before you start cooking, let’s go over the basics.
You can simply pick up what you need in the supermarket. But to get the most out of your spices, you will want to buy whole spices and grind them yourself. Pepper, cinnamon and nutmeg can be ground in a grinder or with a microplane.
Buy spices where you know they’re fresh, like Penzey’s, Whole Foods or other retailers you trust. Buy in bulk if you use a spice frequently, like kosher salt or peppercorns and know when to buy just a little. If you just need a pinch, don’t go overboard. It will end up just sitting in the back of the cabinet.
Also, consider growing your own basil, cilantro, parsley and oregano for starters.
Light, heat, air and humidity will shorten the life of your spices. The better the storage system, the longer shelf-life. Store in a cool, dark place and keep moisture away, don’t use wet utensils and avoid shaking over a steaming pot. Avoid light and heat.
The best containers are glass, and you get extra points if they are dark to keep out the light. Make sure you have well-fitting lids.
You can also freeze spices, just make sure they are sealed tightly. Be sure you track the date. You’d be surprised how long they stick around before you check.
When cooking, break down the spices in the best way for your dish. Generally, add heat to most to get the molecules dancing and release flavors and aromas.
Break them down even more by grinding, crushing or chopping to release flavors. And finally, add fats when appropriate like oil, butter, ghee or animal fat to release even more flavor.