With the hundreds upon hundreds of spices available today, it's easy to forget about how important they were once considered to be -- black pepper was once as valuable as currency. But nowadays only a handful of spices have a place in our cupboards. We take them for granted and keep them in clear jars out on the counter, where the light kills their potency. But spices require some protection to reach their full potential in our cooking -- and it's really easy once you know how. Don't make the mistake of using ground spices or old spices that don't smell or taste of anything -- your cooking will not benefit in any way. Click through the slideshow below to learn how to buy, store, and use spices properly.
Buy Whole Spices, Not Ground
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Spices don't go bad -- they don't spoil, but they do lose their potency the longer you keep them, especially if they're already ground. The older the spices are, the less flavor they will impart in your recipes -- and who knows how long those spices have been sitting on supermarket shelves?
It's best to purchase whole spices but not all spices are available whole. Seed spices can be purchased whole or ground. Dried herbs are typically crumbled or ground. Root spices, like ginger and turmeric, are only available ground.
Spice purveyors are the best sources for purchasing spices because they offer so many options, among them, buying as little or as much spice as you need. So if you only need a bit of cardamom for an Indian recipe, simply buy what you need. Most likely you'll be purchasing the spice in a plastic bag, so when you get home, make sure to transfer any unused spice to a sealed tin.
Whole spices will stay fresher longer, for up to 4 years, whereas ground spices only stay fresh between 1 and 2 years. Dried herbs, though, shouldn't be kept for more than 1 year, because their delicate flavor wanes pretty quickly.