Ever bought spices on a whim and can’t remember what for?
Come on guys, open up that spice cupboard or rack and refresh your memory – why did you buy them, what were they for, and even better, how old are they?
Unlike certain food items and dare I say us humans, spices do not mature with age, they deteriorate and become a former shadow of themselves. Powdered or ground spices barely make it past a year, whereas whole spices will survive their dark existence for at least two, possibly three years. Spices will lose their aroma and certainly their flavour when unused for too long, but they will not make you ill, just disgruntled if your lovingly prepared meal doesn’t taste so loving. As spices age and are exposed to oxygen, their essential oils evaporate, consequently drying the spices out, so they become less vibrant. Once you open that lid or packet and humidity hits, this will undoubtedly ruin the flavour profile. Taste test – open the top and smell the spice – if it smells like a mere carbon copy of its former self, it will certainly taste like it! Only one thing to do, chuck it out.
Things to do with spices near their use by date
When you are having a spice spring clean, if you check the dates and find one almost ready to expire, use it up in these ways (we have chosen some spices that aren’t in all cupboards, but may have been something you bought for one particular recipe you made).
Caraway seeds are a good example. You may have purchased them to put in a cake or muffin, but they go equally well in cabbage dishes, sauerkraut, soups and stews. Try using them in pickling and brining and they also go together well with garlic and pork. If you’re following a recipe that calls for ground cumin, you can use caraway seeds as a replacement but only use half the amount requested. A delicious loaf straight from the oven benefits from caraway seeds, and the aroma in the house is sumptuous as the bread bakes. I always get a hint of aniseed when I taste caraway.
Sumac hit the headlines when Middle Eastern food really started to catch on in the UK and parts of Europe, but has been widely used throughout Asia and the Far East for many years. Its amazing deep red colour comes from the berries of the sumac bush, indigenous to the Middle East. It has a mild lemony taste and is fantastic in rice dishes such as pilaffs, and the Iranians use it as a simple condiment alongside salt and pepper! Add it wherever you use lemon or lime, spice up potato wedges with it, roast your chicken with it, then toss your roasted veg in with it! So versatile and can be used almost after expiry date for a subtle but amazing flavour. Pairs well with other herbs such as rosemary or thyme, or with garlic. Salads such as beans or chickpeas happily get into bed with sumac, as do fish, salad dressings and baked feta! An all round spoonful of taste and goodness.
Cardamom (green) You may have bought this at some stage to make an authentic Indian curry, but its versatility goes further. Cardamom features well in sweet dishes as well as savoury, but biscuits and buns are very common near Christmas time. One of the summer ‘raves’ was Cardamom Ice Cream. Put it in your plain custard or make a yummy chocolate torte with a touch of cardamom. It is wonderful in savoury dishes such as Indian butter chicken, but (and please note our Souper in Chief) it is also great in soups!
Chilli – a great deal of us will have chilli powder, dried chillies and fresh chillies in our stock and are guilty of letting them go to waste. Some like it blistering hot, whilst others just a more subtle hint (Mr Dean Moncel, please take note!). Use up any milder versions in ice creams, chocolate dishes (nothing like a hot chilli chocolate drink on a snowy, cold day), even use it as a chilli chocolate avocado mousse, really yummy. If you enjoy a blasting ‘make yourself sweat’ kind of chilli beef, dried chilli near use by date just won’t crack it! Got any chai going to waste? Try a chilli chai tea or coffee, or banana, chilli and chai pancakes to spice up your life!