Quick Tip

Spicy Spring Cleaning

by Kate Heyhoe


I hate to admit it, but my spice cabinet has all the organization of candy in a pinata. I don't mean for all those glass jars, shaker tins and teeny plastic bags of herbs to be arranged so helter-skelter. It just happens over time, especially when I discover some new culinary treat to cook with, like sumac or pomegranate molasses, and always lacking enough space, jam it into whatever few inches of territory I can dig out. I keep promising to reorganize my cabinets, but it's kind of like spring cleaning: I do it once a year and in the meantime, everything piles up the way it was before. So, on a day-to-day basis, I add more goodies to the cabinet and every March or April dive into a day of spicy spring cleaning.

Spice Tips

Speaking of spring cleaning, you (and I) really should clean out the spice cabinet twice a year. Not solely to reorganize it, but because spices and herbs lose potency over time. Test dried herbs and spices by crumbling a bit of them between your fingers. If the scent is dull or lacking, replace them. Most spices and ground herbs are past their prime by six months unless stored in the freezer, while whole herbs may last up to a year.

Another way to tell how old your spices are is to date them when you buy them. Buying spices in small quantities makes for better cooking as they tend to be fresher when you use them. You can usually find small quantities at reasonable prices in natural food stores or from mail-order spice supply houses. Be careful about buying from bulk bins, though. Unless the store has a rapid turn-over, the spices may be old and stale. Crush and smell them before purchasing them.


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This page originally published as part of the electronic Gourmet Guide between 1994 and 1998.

Copyright © 2007, Forkmedia LLC. All rights reserved.


Modified August 2007