Do you want to add a lot of flavor to your meals without you having to worry about adding additional fat, sugar, sodium or calories? There is a readily available and ultra convenient solution, you can cook using lots of spices and herbs. Different combinations provide a variety of tastes and can be used to add ethnic flair from around the world to your menu, with out ever having to leave your own kitchen. Not only do they delight the taste buds but they may also carry many health benefits as well. Preserving the quality, freshness and flavor of your spices will result in better tasting dishes, more of the associated health benefits and save you money.
What are herbs and spices? Herbs are usually the green, leafy part of aromatic plants grown for culinary use. Spices are the seeds, berries, bark, root, or other parts of the plants. As a general rule, when cooking spices should be added to the dish at the beginning so their flavors will meld and blend into the dish and herbs should be added near the end of cooking process to retain the most flavor.
The shelf life of these seasonings varies, spices generally keep longer than herbs. Herbs will stay fresh for about one year when stored properly. Ground spices will keep for several years and whole spices will keep much longer when stored carefully. Heat, light, moisture and air are all enemies of dried herbs and spices therefore, exposing them to these elements will greatly reduce the quality, color and flavor.
Purchase dried herbs and spices in small quantities that you can use up in reasonable amount of time. Store them in a tightly sealed container in a cool place out of direct light. They will retain more of their essential oil content and flavor when stored in glass jars or metal tins. Direct sunlight will fade the color and reduce the quality of your herbs and spices so store them in a dark cupboard. Also try not to store them above the stove or near other heat sources as heat will degrade the quality as well.
Replace faded herbs and spices and ones that are over a year old with new. Early fall is a good time of year to go through your cupboard, restock low quantities and replace any that you’ve had for too long. This way you’ll have a good supply of your favorites readily available for your holiday cooking and baking needs.
Various herbs and spices contain many nutrients and phytochemicals which carry health benefits. Purchase the very best good quality you can afford for the highest essential oil, nutrient content as well as better flavor. Using a superior quality brand will also increase the health benefits and actually save you money in the long run because you’ll need to use less to achieve the right flavor.