Don’t forget your spices

Farm Forum

FARGO, N.D. – After attending a conference with a session about spices, I was inspired to do an inventory of the spices in my kitchen cabinet. I needed to find recipes to enjoy the underutilized bottles.

As we arranged the spices, I recalled a question I received while doing a talk several years ago.

The person asked, “How long are the spices in my cupboard good to use? I have a bunch I received for a wedding gift.”

I kind of knew she was teasing me by the grin on her face.

“How long have you been married?” I asked. “It’s been 40 years now,” she replied. Everyone burst out laughing.

If you have old metal spice containers, you may have collectibles that may be worth some money. However, their contents won’t add a lot of flavor for your menu creations.

Sometimes spices and other ingredients get lost in our cupboards. We might not know exactly what to do with the thyme or cumin we bought for a specific recipe. Maybe the recipe you tried wasn’t that tasty. When we discover the spices again, they might not be at their best any longer.

You can add extra spice to offset the flavor loss. However, sometimes the amount you need to achieve the same flavor can affect the color and quality of your dish.

According to a leading spice manufacturer, unopened containers of ground spices maintain their freshness for three years. After opening the container, they remain fresh and flavorful for up to one year.

Unopened containers of whole spices, such as cloves, remain fresh and flavorful for four years. After opening the container, whole spices are flavorful for up to one year.

Don’t worry about vanilla extract, though. It has an infinite shelf life.

If you didn’t label your spices with the date you bought them or opened them, what are some other clues? You can “sniff” them or taste them. You can check their color. If the color has faded, that might mean the flavor has faded, too.

Where do you store your spices? If your spices are stored very close to your dishwasher or oven, you may be reducing their shelf life. Keep them in a cool, dry spot in your cupboard. Heat and moisture decrease the potency of spices. Don’t freeze them because that can introduce moisture into the containers.

Be sure your measuring spoons are dry when you measure spices into a recipe. Prevent spices from becoming damp and clumping by not opening them over a steaming pan of food.

Many spices are high in natural antioxidants and may have health-promoting effects. Antioxidants act as potential cancer fighters in our bodies. Spices add flavor and aroma without adding many calories. In addition, most spices contain little, if any, sodium.

For example, 1 teaspoon of cinnamon has the antioxidant capacity of 1/2 cup of blueberries.

If you are monitoring your sodium intake, be sure to check the Nutrition Facts labels because some spice mixtures contain added salt. For instance, lemon pepper may contain more than pepper.

Consider doing an inventory of your spices. We had “spice cabinet chaos” until my kids helped me align them in alphabetical order a few months ago. That system is working pretty well.

To enjoy spices at their best, be sure to label your spices with the date of purchase and opening. Buy smaller containers of spices unless you plan to use a larger amount within the best storage time.

Here’s a tasty recipe that makes use of one of the most popular spices in many kitchens: cinnamon. In the U.S., we typically use cinnamon in baked goods. In the Middle East, cinnamon is added to stews and curries, especially dishes containing lamb. Cinnamon accents the natural sweetness in foods. Try sprinkling some on fresh apple slices, ice cream, yogurt, tea or coffee.

Apple Coffee Cake

5 c. peeled, chopped tart apples

1 c. sugar

1 c. raisins or dried cranberries

1/2 c. pecans, chopped

1/4 c. canola or sunflower oil

2 tsp. vanilla

1 egg, beaten

2 1/2 c. all-purpose flour

1 1/2 tsp. baking soda

2 tsp. cinnamon

Preheat oven to 350 F. Lightly oil or spray a 9- by 12-inch pan. Rinse, core, peel and chop the apples. In a large mixing bowl, combine apples with the sugar, raisins and pecans; mix well. Let stand 30 minutes. Stir in oil, vanilla and egg. Sift together flour, soda and cinnamon; stir into apple mixture about one-third at a time, just enough to moisten the dry ingredients. Place the batter into the pan. Bake 35 to 40 minutes. Cool cake slightly before serving.

Makes 20 servings. Each serving has 180 calories, 5 grams (g) of fat, 33 g of carbohydrate, 3 g of protein and 100 milligrams of sodium.