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Storing dried spices

Discussion in 'Cookery' started by auntmatilda, Mar 6, 2011.

  1. Following on from the curry threads and the tip about making sure your spices are fresh I wondered on the best way to store dried spices and what the shelf life is.
    Many thanks
  2. Following on from the curry threads and the tip about making sure your spices are fresh I wondered on the best way to store dried spices and what the shelf life is.
    Many thanks
  3. nick909

    nick909 Star commenter

    Best way is in airtight containers in a dark cupboard. Those little jars they're sold in in the supermarkets are best, I find, rather than loads of little tupperware containers. I buy little bagged refills as I need them and pop them in the jars. The spices we seem to use a lot of, such as coriander, we keep in tupperware boxes. As a quick fix, those little plastic seals can be popped onto bags.
    Some of our Indian friends swear by the large round stainless steel spice tins which contain smaller individual tins of the most commonly used spices. If my memory serves me correctly, it's called a dabba.
    I'd say ground spices have a realistic shelf life of about 2-3 months, and whole spices, 6-12 months before they lose their vigour. Whole spices, freshly roasted and ground are best, but we wtill use lots of ground ones for convenience, and where whole ones aren't readily available, such as turmeric.
    I think it's best to buy spices in smallish quantities, unless you use lots of them. The big bags of spices in Asian grocers seem temptingly good value for money (much cheaper than in supermarkets!) but unless you use them quickly turn out to be a waste. Smaller bags are the way forward.
    As a quick fix though, when you find a spice is a little stale and you've no way of replacing it as you need to use it, a quick roast in a dry frying pan can rejuvenate them quite a bit! It's good to get into the habit of checking your spices fairly regularly if you don't use them all that often, to replace anything that's gone a little musty or stale.
  4. Thanks Nick, I think I would like a dabba. I did a search and looked at this site
    I was a bit shocked at the price until I realised it was for the oven!
  5. henriette

    henriette New commenter

    I usually buy my spices at my local "Exotic" store (that is actually what it is called!) in cellophane pre-packs. I store them in jam-jars in my cupboard.
  6. I buy spices twice a year from the local Asian stores.
    I buy the largeish bags, take them home and split them down into little bags that I then take into work to sell off.
    It's surprising how many people suddenly find our staffroom armed with 50ps.
    The ground spices do tend to lose some pungency but I find keeping them in airtight, dark containers reduces the loss. So my refills live in bags in a dark cupboard and my spice rack has little metal containers that get emptied and refilled twice a year!
    Why didn't I think of that!
    Well.... I have now [​IMG]
  8. i've been thinking about this for a while. but scientifically, why would roasting improve the flavour of a spice? surely you are losing flavour to the air rather than imparting it to a liquid?
  9. nick909

    nick909 Star commenter

    Because spices contain oils which contain their aromas and flavours. Frying or dry roasting the oils encourages the release of these oils which enhances the flavours and aromas.
    I suppose in theory, yes a small amount of their flavour would be lost to the air, but the dry roasting should only be done until the spices can be smelt and then stopped. Thbey burn if over roasted as well. If not roasted at all, the oils wouldn't be sufficiently heated in the liquid (given that most stews/curries etc. are predominantly water) and so the flavours wouldn't be as pronounced.
  10. i agree it tastes better, but in part i think its because you smell the spices when you are cooking and that smell makes you enjoy the meal more, or it does for me.
    i was googling oleoresins and their production, and it appears the main method of extracting them from the spices is with a solvent that is then evapourated, i imagine that one could get a similar effect with an alcoholic solution.
  11. nick909

    nick909 Star commenter

    Don't forget that flavour is inextricably linked to smell. If you block your olfactory system, you will not be able to differentiate flavours. Your tongue can only differentiate 4 basic tastes - salty, sweet, sour and bitter (there is a school of thought that now states there is a fifth: savoury or umami), whereas your nose can differentiate thousands of aromas and flavours. This is why when you have a bad cold, you can't taste anything.
    You taste with your tongue, but flavour can only come from your nose.

    I'm not sure about the practicalities of dissolving spice resins in alcohol - sounds a bit Heston to me! But the roasting of spices works. The heat possible in dry roasting or frying in oil is far higher than cooking directly in water based liquids (which will only be 100C or thereabouts). The oils will not be hot enough at 100C to release their full potential of aromas.
    I think I'll also consult Harold McGee when I get home re all this - he's my oracle on all things scientific related to food!
  12. i'll be interested to hear more on this.
    i was reading about the different boiling points of some of these oleoresins, and they are quite different for different spices. i imagine that those with higher bp's are the spices that one tends to add first, ie mustard seeds.
  13. When you dry roast spices, essential oils (volatile oils) and the oleoresins (non-volatile oils) are released. The volatile oils are responsible for aroma, the non-volatile oils for flavour.
    Thus dry roasting releases both aroma and flavour and enhances and intensifies the taste of your meal as soon as you add the rest of your ingredients.
  14. nick909

    nick909 Star commenter

    Indeed - read up on this on the net earlier.
    McGee is uncharacteristially quiet on the matter. I'll post what he says later - tea awaits!
    That makes sense.

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