Thursday, November 8, 2012

Spices in Food Storage

November 8th rolled around today and I had not received one email in reply to my question on how people like to use spices in their food storage. I was pretty bummed. My sister Holly tried to make me feel better by saying, "Don't sweat it, nobody obsesses about spices the way you do."

I appreciated the try, Holly, but I don't believe you.  OK, yes, I do obsess. But I believe people enjoy a delicious well spiced dish and are concerned about what their food will taste like when they are reduced to eating only food storage.

I'd decided to just write up what I had on spices when we stopped in on Debra T. for Visiting Teaching and she offered up her wisdom on spices. I felt so much better! Thanks Debra!

So... here goes with Spices:

Whole spices will last from 2 to 5 years on your shelves, where ground spices only last 1 to 2 years, so it's worth your while to buy spices whole and grind or mash them yourself. Of course each spice is different - a whole nutmeg can be good for decades where dried parsley is disgusting after two months. Use your best judgement. (Debra freezes her extra ground spices.)  

I like to buy my spices at the Indian grocery stores around town. They know their spices and the prices are much less expensive than what you'd find in the regular grocers or spice shops. The turn over is usually good so you'll get fresh spices.

Debra gets her spices at Cash and Carry. Good prices and brand names, plus a nice selection in large plastic jars of both ground and whole spices.

Costco is also a good place to find spices in large size containers but their selection is limited so keep checking to see when different types of spices appear. They also package in plastic.

Winco has bulk spices at very nice prices as well as many interesting spice mixes and dry rubs. However, most of their spices are ground. Their stick cinnamon is probably cassia, not cinnamon, but an excellent price and fine for use especially in liquids. They also sell small glass bottles and large plastic bottles with good lids.  While you're there check their Latino section. There is another spice rack hidden on that aisle with spices sold in small plastic sleeves. It's also a good place to get your whole dried chilis.

If you want to go a bit crazy stop into Penzeys Spices in the Beaverton Town Center.  They have a fabulous selection and samples of everything for you to smell. I love the way they run their company so often I'll buy something from them even thought it's far more expensive than I can get elsewhere.  You might just stop in and browse the shelves to get ideas. They have free catalogs with lots of recipes.  Or you can browse their list online.

There are several other spice shops in downtown Portland with fabulous selections.  They all tend to be quite pricey but worth it for browsing and making your lists of "must haves" and "oh do I wish" lists.

My "Go To" Spice List

These are the spices I wouldn't want to be without.  Your list will vary but hopefully this will get you started thinking about what you do and don't have:

Whole spices

  • Caraway seed
  • Cumin seed
  • Mustard seeds (black and yellow)
  • Peppercorns (white and black)
  • Cardamon (black and green, I prefer green in the pod)
  • Cinnamon Sticks
  • Cloves
  • Coriander
  • Crystallized Ginger
  • Nutmeg
  • Star Anise
Ground Spices and Herbs

  • Bouquet Garni
  • Chili powder (your choice of heat from cayenne to ghost chilis. I like Aleppo or Chipotle.)
  • Dill
  • Herbs de Provence
  • Oregano
  • Poppy Seeds
  • Rosemary
  • Sage
  • Smoked Hungarian Paprika
  • Smoked Salt
  • Thyme
  • Ground Allspice
  • Ground Ginger
  • Ground Mace
  • Lemon, Lime Powder

Some things I left off my list but that many people like

A few of these I refuse to eat dried (cilantro leaf, lemon grass, basil and parsley), some are just redundant (Turmeric, really? who needs it??), some that are too expensive and some I don't care for. However, maybe you'll like something you see here. 
  • Aniseed
  • Basil
  • Bay leaves
  • Cilantro Leaf
  • Curry Powder
  • Garlic powder
  • Lemon Grass
  • Marjoram  
  • Mustard powder
  • Parsley
  • Onion powder
  • Saffron
  • Savory
  • Tarragon
  • Turmeric

Interesting spices you might try
  • Sumac - a Middle Eastern spice with a mild lemony flavor. (Related to poison ivy!! but yummy.)
  • Nigella - a small black oniony flavored seed. You'll find it topping many Jewish breads.
  • Machalepi - a rose scented Greek spices for breads and pastries. Quite hard to find, but available in Portland!
  • Fenugreek - great in currys, chutneys and with meats.


Hands down, glass is best. Plastics are of course convenient, especially when the spices come packaged in them, but be sure to check the recycling code on the bottom. If it's a code 1 or a code 7 you'll not want to keep the spices in the bottle long term. 

I like using small wide mouth mason jars to store my spices, but I've lately started collecting all the used Starbucks Frappuccino bottles at work.  Sterilize those puppies and you've got 9 and 13 ounce spice bottles that look like the old fashioned milk bottles and have a good seal on them. 

Remember light, heat and air are your spices worst enemies, so avoid pop top lids and shakers which let in far too much air.  Go for screw on lids where possible. If this isn't an option consider using plastic film to seal the jars over the lids (then just whip it off when you need to dig in). It's not perfect, but better than nothing.

Other tools

While the holiday sales are on, be on the look out for a small electric coffee grinder. You ask, what would a good little Mormon girl need a coffee grinder for? Yup, grinding those spices! You can buy used coffee grinders at garage sales and thrift stores, but I find that once coffee has been ground I can't get the taste out, yuck! So I suggest buying one new.

Mortar and pestles can be found at most kitchen ware stores now. I've even seen them at Target and there's a great selection on Amazon. These are good finds at thrift stores as they can be cleaned and sterilized easily.

Nutmeg grater. No home should be without one. (At least if you have any Scandinavian or Celtic blood in your veins.)

Microplanes can be good for dealing with very small quantities of the larger spices like star anise, crystallized nutmeg or stick cinnamon, just watch those finger tips!

A few more spice tips
  • I happen to know that Theresia uses bay leaves to keep pantry moths out of her flour. 
  • You can make a nice cinnamon-honey facial masque for oily skin. (Don't leave it on too long because the cinnamon can be strong and give you a sunburn like redness.)
  • Cloves, Mace and Cinnamon have been used for hundreds of years to repel moths in clothes. (Moth balls are just yucky.)
  • I know this is preaching to the choir, but let's say it out loud - never ever ever measure your spices over a steaming pot or above the stove.  Keep the jar away from heat and moisture at all costs.
  • Paint the outsides of glass jars and bottles with non-toxic paint to block out the light.

Wheeew! Thanks for staying with me!
I hope you'll find something here of help to you as you fill out the Spice section of your Food Storage.



Jessica Botsch said...

I look forward to the day when I know as much about spices as you! I'm taking an online herb class right now but it focuses on medicine and not cooking. THANK YOU for sharing your passion and knowledge. This is an area that I will study in the future :o)