Almost every home kitchen contains jars of spices, herbs and seasonings mixes. Aside from salt, which is a mineral, almost every common flavoring ingredient has a definite shelf life. They do not become inedible, as most foods do when past their "best before" date. Instead, their flavors deteriorate with age, weakening or becoming rancid. Diligent cooks use a variety of methods to assess the freshness of their seasonings. None is difficult, and few require any special equipment.
Things You'll Need
- Magnifying glass
- Adhesive labels
- Pen or fine-tipped marker
Remove your spices and seasonings from their cupboard or rack. Check the packaging for expiration dates. Use a magnifying glass if necessary. Discard those that have reached their expiration date, and return the rest to storage.
Taste a small amount of the spice or seasoning. The flavor compounds in most spices are activated by moisture, so it may take a few moments for the flavors to develop. If there are any any musty or stale flavors, discard the seasoning.
Examine your spices and herbs for color changes. Oxidation and exposure to direct light are damaging to herbs and spices and have a strong effect on their flavor. Discard any that are noticeably changed. For example, discared paprika that has gone from vivid red to a nondescript brown or orange.
Clean out your spice rack or cupboard annually. Most herbs and spices lose their potency after a year or more of storage, so discard any that were not purchased within the past year.
Label and date newly purchased herbs, spices and seasonings. Write the date on an adhesive label and attach it to the jar or packaging. Alternately, use a different color of label each year. Either way, discard the old ones when a year has passed.