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spice rack: Spice Shelf Life


Shelf life. Over time, spices can lose their flavor. To make sure you are cooking with the freshest flavor, check the “best buy” date on your spices’ packaging.

To prolong their shelf life, be sure to store herbs and spices in airtight glass jars in cool, dry surroundings, away from heat, humidity, or direct sunlight.

Ground Spices
2–3 years

Whole Spices
3–4 years

Blends 1–2 years

1–3 years

4 years
(except pure vanilla, which lasts indefinitely)

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spice rack: Cloves


Comfort spice. As outside temperatures drop and we turn to our kitchens for warmth, many of the comfort foods we seek contain cloves. Cloves are the dried, unopened flower of an evergreen in the tropical myrtle tree family. They are sold both whole and ground. Like many other dried spices, the whole form is used in sauces and soups in which the flavor will integrate during longer cooking times and is removed before serving. Ground cloves are more commonly used in baking.

Cooking with cloves. Cloves are perhaps best known for their presence in cold-season favorites gingerbread and pumpkin pie, and they go hand in hand with cinnamon, nutmeg, allspice, and other warm spices. Stud hams with whole cloves before baking or stick them into oranges, apples, or onions to bake alongside a roast. Add whole or ground cloves to your favorite soups, stews, and sauces while simmering. To infuse flavor, add whole cloves to oils while heating. Remember, whole cloves are removed before eating.

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spice rack: Star Anise

Star Anise

What is it? Native to China and Vietnam, star anise is the fruit of an evergreen tree in the Magnolia family. The name is derived from its star shape, with eight pods, each containing a pea-size seed, extending from a central point. It makes for a pretty garnish, but serve with caution; taking a bite of a whole pod would be extremely unpleasant to the palate.

Flavor profile. Like the similar tasting, yet unrelated, aniseed, star anise provides a pungent, though slightly more bitter, licorice flavor and produces a slight numbing effect on the tongue, much like cinnamon does. Despite having an inherent sweetness, star anise is commonly used in savory meat dishes in Chinese, Vietnamese, and Indian cuisines.

Common uses. Star anise is available in the whole pod and ground form, and it is also a component of Chinese five-spice powder. The whole pods are often used to flavor sauces, soups, and poaching liquids and are usually removed and discarded before serving. Ground star anise may be used in stir-fry dishes or mixed with other warm spices such as cinnamon and nutmeg for a confectionary application. Use the ground form with caution; it is much more potent than the whole variety.

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spice rack: Turmeric


Ancient beginnings. Turmeric, a relative of ginger, is a native of the ancient Eastern world. It is now cultivated in India and the Caribbean. It has been heralded for its many medicinal and cosmetic applications in addition to its place in the culinary world. One of the main ingredients in curry, turmeric is most often associated with Indian cuisine, but its warm, bitter taste and bright color make it a common ingredient in dishes from many countries.

Health benefits. Turmeric has antiinflammatory, antiallergen, antibacterial qualities, and it stimulates the digestive process and boosts immunity. Summertime—when sun exposure and allergies are at their peak—is a great time to increase your turmeric intake. Eating spicy food also helps to raise your internal body temperature to match the hot temps outside and provides a cooling effect.

Using it. Spice up creamy tomato sauces with turmeric, use it in a spice mix to marinate beef and pork, boost the flavor in chicken stock, and add it to your favorite barbeque sauce recipe to amp up the heat. You can find ground dried turmeric in the grocery store. Like many of the spices in its family, a little turmeric goes a long way. And take care when handling; it is a powerful yellow dye, often used in place of considerably more expensive saffron.

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spice rack: Wasabi


What is it? Wasabi is a member of the mustard family and is an integral part of Japanese cuisine. It grows wild in wet, cool mountain river valleys in Japan and is harvested by hand. Like horseradish, the root is grated to form a distinctive green paste. Wasabi has a strong heat that resides on the back of the tongue, but it is quick to dissolve and leaves a nearly sweet aftertaste.

Beyond sushi. In America, wasabi is most often an accompaniment to sushi, but it is gaining popularity in traditional American recipes. Grocery stores commonly carry such wasabi-infused condiments as mayonnaise, mustard, and hot sauce, plus flavored snacks such as nuts and crackers. Look for recipes that use wasabi in cream sauces for meat and fish and flavorful dips.

Buying wasabi. Fresh wasabi root may be available at specialty grocery stores, but it’s often available in paste or powder form in the ethnic aisle at your grocery store. Be careful—a little wasabi goes a long way!

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spice rack: Cumin


Native to the Mediterranean regions, cumin was one of the most accessible—and therefore most popular—spices for Europeans in the Middle Ages. Today cumin is present in many cuisines, especially Thai, Indian, and Mexican, and is becoming more common in the United States. It is the main spice in curry powder and is commonly found in chili and other Tex-Mex dishes.

Popular spice.
Although we refer to cumin as a seed, what we eat is actually the dried fruit of the mature plant. Cumin has an earthy, nutty flavor and is used as commonly as black pepper in some cultures. In fact, it is second only to pepper as the world’s most popular spice. Poultry, fish, pork, beans, and potato dishes are among the best matches for the bold flavor of cumin.

Use sparingly.
Cumin is a powerful spice, but if used correctly it can play well with others. Grinding with other spices helps to unify the flavors. Infused oils are also a great way to incorporate cumin into your cooking. Add cumin at the end of cooking to keep the oils from overpowering the other flavors in your dish.

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spice rack: Vanilla Bean

vanilla bean

The basics
Vanilla beans come from the tropical vanilla orchid, which grows in Madagascar, Mexico, Indonesia, and Tahiti. Vanilla bean takes a bit more effort to incorporate than vanilla extract, but the enhanced flavor is worth the time.

When to use
In baking or cooking during which the vanilla will be exposed to high heat for a long period of time, vanilla extract is more practical because the vanilla bean’s flavor will not hold up to the heat. However, in other uses, such as infusing its flavor in warm liquids, vanilla bean offers a greater flavor profile. Vanilla bean is a perfect addition to ice cream, custard, coffee, hot cocoa, syrups, and sauces. Remove the bean before serving.

How to use
To remove the seeds from the vanilla bean, split the pod lengthwise with a knife, then scrape the seeds from both sides of the bean. The seeds should be soft and oily and have an intense vanilla aroma. Flavor can be extracted from both the seeds and the pod, so use them together or use the seeds in one recipe and save the pod for another. Remove the pod before serving.

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spice rack: Oregano


Many people think of pizza when they thing of oregano, but this wonderful herb can add a warm, balsamic and aromatic flavor to many different dishes, especially Mediterranean cuisine. Native to northern Europe, oregano grows throughout the world. Recognized for its aromatic properties since ancient times, the Greeks and Romans held it as a symbol of joy and happiness. In fact, it was a tradition for brides and grooms to be crowned with a laurel of oregano.

Whenever possible, choose fresh oregano over dried, since it is superior in flavor. The leaves should look fresh and be a vibrant green color, while the stem should be firm and free from dark spots or yellowing. Store fresh oregano in the refrigerator wrapped in a slightly damp paper towel. It may also be frozen, either whole or chopped, in an airtight container.

If purchasing dried oregano, look for superior quality and freshness and try to buy organically grown, which will not have been irradiated. Dried oregano should be kept in a tightly sealed glass container in a cool, dark and dry place where it can be kept fresh for up to six months.

Oregano, either in its fresh or dried form, should be added toward the end of the cooking process since heat can easily cause a loss of its delicate flavor. Try it on pizza, in sauteed mushrooms, added to an omelet or sprinkled on garlic bread.

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spice rack: Ginger


What it is
Ginger comes from the gnarled and bumpy root of the ginger plant. This versatile spice is widely used in both cooking and herbal medicine. Ginger has a peppery, slightly sweet/citrus flavor and a pungent aroma. It mellows with cooking and turns bitter if you burn it.

Natural Remedy
Ginger has been used for centuries as a natural remedy for anything from colds, cough, and sore throat to nausea and pain relief for migraines. These possible benefits are thought to be due to gingerol, an active ingredient in ginger. Some studies suggest gingerol may work like anti-inflammatory drugs such as aspirin and ibuprofen.

Choosing & Storing
When buying fresh ginger look for a firm and heavy root with the least amount of knots and/or branching. Length is a sign of maturity, and the more mature ginger is, the hotter it will be. Avoid roots with wrinkled flesh; this shows the ginger is past its prime. Fresh ginger can be kept for several weeks in the refrigerator if it is left unpeeled. Store dried and powdered ginger in airtight containers.

Use fresh ginger root in curries, marinades, stews, sauces, stir frys, and fruit dishes—just make sure you chop it finely, or you’ll end up with spicy pockets of ginger in your dish. Powdered ginger is used widely in all sorts of baked goods and also works well in lemonade or tea for a spicy kick.

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spice rack: Sea Salt

sea salt

Sea salt differs from common table salt not in chemical makeup, but rather, in taste, texture and processing. As its name suggests, sea salt is harvested by means of seawater evaporation. Receiving little or no processing, the minerals and trace elements from the water it came from are left intact. These minerals, which vary depending on the water source, add a unique flavor and color to the salt.

Because these salts can be pricey, keep in mind that they lose their unique flavor when cooked or dissolved, so adding sea salt to food should be the last step.

Some sea salts are even enhanced with natural wood smoke, or freshly-dehydrated natural flavorings, such as garlic and lemon. Explore the versatility and exciting flavors it can bring to your dinner table!

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spice rack: Nutmeg


NOW RICH IN FLAVOR. This little hard seed has a warm, spicy-sweet flavor. When Columbus sailed from Spain looking for the East Indies, nutmeg was one of the spices he was seeking. Now you can just pick it up at the local grocery store!

LESS IS MORE. The best advice when grating whole nutmeg to dishes: use sparingly. A little goes a long way, whether sprinkled over eggnog or mixed into a pumpkin pie, a chicken dish, or white sauce.

BUY & STORE. Store whole nutmeg in an airtight container away from heat, moisture and direct sunlight. The spice is available whole and ground. Whole nutmeg can last over a year if properly stored.

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spice rack: Cilantro


MISTAKEN IDENTITY. Cilantro causes some confusion. The herb is actually the leaves from a coriander plant. The seeds are called coriander. Also the leaves are often mistaken for flat-leaf parsley, but they are smaller. 

LOVE IT OR LEAVE IT. To some, fresh cilantro makes a salsa; to others, too much cilantro is the equivalent of eating soap. This green leaf is a popular addition to Indian, Mexican, and Vietnamese dishes. Always add cilantro at the end of preparation. Cilantro is best fresh and uncooked because it loses color and some oils in the heating process.

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spice rack: Parsley


MORE THAN GARNISH. Parsley may get a bad rap as nothing more than a throw-away piece of greenery at the local steakhouse, but parsley is so much more. Go with the flat-leaf parsley for flavoring foods; it has a nice peppery taste. Curly-leaf parsley is much more bland.

WHAT TO LOOK FOR. Choose bright green leaves free of wilting and yellowing. Wash with cold water, roll in paper towels, place in a plastic bag, and store in the fridge. It should last about a week. 

ADD IT IN. Sprinkle chopped parsley on rich, creamy dishes like fettucine Alfredo and egg casseroles to add a nice light flavor and cleanse the palate.

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spice rack: Cayenne Pepper

cayenne pepper

Cayenne pepper is a hot red chile pepper used to spice up dishes. It can be used as a fresh pepper, dried, powdered, and dried flakes.

HEALTH BENEFITS. Not only does cayenne pepper add flavor to your favorite dishes, it also is said to have a slew of health benefits, including fighting inflammation, preventing stomach ulcers, clearing congestion, boosting immunity, and helping some to lose weight.

ENJOY. Try adding a bit of cayenne to heat up anything from a veggie saute to chili. Add a new dimension to any sort of canned beans with the red spice or try sprinkling the hot stuff and lemon juice on cooked kale.

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spice rack: Chives


PAST THE POTATO. Sure, we’ve all thrown some chopped chives on a baked potato for that light oniony taste, but you can use chives to garnish anything from blue cheese to chowders. Try growing chives in your garden to control unwanted pests!

CHIVES VS. SCALLIONS VS. GREEN ONIONS. Often people will refer to chives when they actually mean scallions or green onions. Green onions and scallions are indeed the same; chives do not have that small white bulb. Choose chives when you want a splash of color and a hint of onion and garlic. Choose scallions when you want a bit more texture and a stronger onion taste.

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spice rack: Thyme


THROW IT IN. Thyme complements other herbs and spices such as basil, sage, and lavender. A major player in French cooking, thyme stars in both herbes de Provence and bouquet garni herb mixtures. Thyme’s tiny leaves are also important in Middle Eastern cuisines. Mixed with oregano and marjoram, it seasons everything from pitas to roasted meat and poultry.

BUY & USE. Choose fresh thyme that’s bright green. Store in a plastic bag in the crisper section of your fridge. Using your fingers, strip the small leaves off the woody stems.  

GIVE IT SOME THYME. Thyme is an antioxidant. Because it also has immune-enhancing properties, add thyme to soups for a health boost during this cold and flu season.

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spice rack: Mint


AROMATIC ESSENCE. Mint’s beautiful smell comes from menthol, the oil in the leaves. This green herb has been around for thousands of years and traditionally was used as medicine to treat stomach pain.

BUY & STORE. Look for bright green leaves without wilt. To store, place, stems down, in a glass of water, cover leaves with a plastic bag, and refrigerate. Refrigerated mint will keep about a week.

EXPERI-MINT. Mint has over 20 varieties, but peppermint and spearmint are the most common. Use fresh mint in both savory and sweet recipes. While it’s great in tea and as a chocolate flavoring, don’t be afraid to try this delicious herb in lamb dishes, on grilled eggplant, or mixed in with cucumber and plain Greek yogurt to top salmon.

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spice rack: Fresh Basil

fresh basil

BASIL BASICS. Basil, a common flavor note in Mediterranean dishes, is a member of the mint family. Its flavors are a mix between licorice and cloves. Basil is best known for the role it plays in pesto sauce, in which it’s mixed with Parmesan cheese, olive oil, and pine nuts.

STORE. Fresh basil can be stored in the refrigerator for up to five days. The best way to keep it fresh is to place the stems in water, covering the leaves with a plastic bag or wrap. Change the water every other day for maximum freshness.

ADD IT. Basil can be added into a wide variety of foods. Try tossing it into salad dressings or onto pizza. Most pasta sauces can benefit from a little basil as well. Even potato salads could use a boost from the flavorful green herb.

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spice rack: Cinnamon


SECRET SPICE. Cinnamon has been around so long, the Old Testament mentions it. Ancient nations held the spicy stuff in high regard, and its source was kept mysterious in the Mediterranean world for
hundreds of years by spice trade middlemen to protect their monopoly as suppliers. The secret is out now: Cinnamon is native to Sri Lanka.

DIVERSE COMPANION. Not only lovely in pies, drinks, and breads, cinnamon can also add depth to chicken and lamb dishes. Take a cue from Cincinnati and toss a pinch in chili to add an entirely
new dimension.

ADD IT. Just one teaspoon of the spice has as many antioxidants as a cup of pomegranate juice, so start sprinkling it on anything from peanut butter to your morning coffee.

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spice rack: Black Peppercorns

black peppercorn

BUY & STORE. Black peppercorns are small berries from the East Indian pepper shrub. Pepper was once believed to cure a variety of illnesses, from gangrene to insomnia.   

WHOLE. Toss whole peppercorns in stocks to add delicious flavor and depth. When stored airtight
in a cool, dark place, the little berries will keep their flavor for at least a year.

CRACKED. The easiest way to crack peppercorns is to place in a plastic bag and lightly pound with a rolling pin. The nice texture and big flavor combine for a great rub for grilled steaks, salmon, and tuna.

GROUND. Keep the peppercorns in an airtight container until ready for use. Freshly ground pepper adds great flavor to just about everything.

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spice rack: Red Pepper Flakes

red pepper flakes

Red pepper flakes are crumbled and crushed dried chiles, usually ancho or cayenne, which add heat to a variety of dishes. 

PAST THE PIZZA. Red pepper flakes are best known for adding a little to heat to your favorite slice, but the fiery flakes, often called crushed red pepper, can spice up a variety of dishes. Try cooking them briefly in olive oil and minced garlic, then drizzling over your favorite pasta or sauteed veggies. And use them to shake up your eggs, soups, and stews.

BUY & STORE. Ever pile the flakes on at a pizza restaurant and not feel the heat? Because this spice loses its pungency quickly, buy every six months or so. Store in a cool, dry place.

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spice rack: Saffron


Saffron is the dried stigmas from the crocus flower. Each flower yields just three stigmas, each gathered by hand. About 13,125 stigma threads equal just one ounce. Therefore, saffron is the world’s most expensive spice, usually costing around $10 per gram and sometimes more.

EASY DOES IT. Bitter tasting on its own, saffron is often said to smell like metallic hay. Use it
sparingly because a few threads go far; too much saffron can taste medicinal. Toast threads before grinding them with a mortar and pestle or soak in water or milk to release the flavor. Try saffron in
risotto, paella, lamb dishes, and seafood soups.

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spice rack: Dill

While fresh dill has a nice sweet flavor, it tends to lose strength when cooked for a long time. Use dried dill for soups, stews, and a variety of sauces in order to keep that
stunning flavor.

WHAT TO LOOK FOR. Fresh and dried dill should both be bright green and fragrant. If either is dull in color, the flavor is most likely gone.

HICCUP CURE. While many use a spoonful of peanut butter, Charlemagne used dill at banquets to get rid of hiccups 1,240 years ago. So skip the Skippy and try a dill pickle like a king!

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spice rack: Paprika


Paprika’s most common variety is mild and sweet, but there is also a Spanish smoked paprika that adds some heat. Paprika is made in Hungary, Spain, and California and ranges in color from bright red-orange to rusty brown.   

MORE THAN DEVILED EGGS. Paprika has other uses than garnishing. Paprika adds a deep flavor and beautiful color to rubs and soups. Add the smoked variety to meats such as lamb, ribs, roast beef, and roasted chicken. Add the sweet to salad dressings such as creamy blue cheese, to potatoes, or even sprinkle it on your favorite shrimp dish.

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spice rack: Sage


Sage, a member of the mint family, is a small perennial evergreen subshrub. It’s been valued for centuries for its culinary and medicinal qualities. The Latin name for sage, salvia, means “to heal.” Sage has been found to be effective in the management of mild to moderate Alzheimer's disease.

STUFFED ON STUFFING. As an herb, sage has a slight peppery flavor. Toss a little in your Thanksgiving stuffing—it acts as a digestive to help with that overly full feeling after all that turkey. It’s also used to flavor a variety of side dishes and sauces and is common in French, German, and Mediterranean cuisine.

STORING SAGE. Dried sage can be stored in an airtight container for up to six months in a cool, dark place. Wrap fresh sage in a paper towel, seal in a plastic bag, and store in your refrigerator up to four days.

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spice rack: Fresh ginger


Not only does ginger add a distinct and deep flavor, it’s been used for thousands of years to treat nausea, motion sickness,
colds, and even to relieve the pain of osteoarthritis.

BUY & STORE. Look for fresh
ginger in the produce section of your local supermarket. Choose plump, firm, and not overly fibrous pieces that aren’t too light.

Ginger pieces can last up to 3 weeks in the fridge, wrapped in a paper towel and then a plastic bag.  When you’re ready to use, simply peel and grate or slice.

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spice rack: Garlic


Onions, ramps, and shallots, which are
all in the bulb-vegetable family,
are brothers to garlic. A garlic
clove doesn’t release its scent
until after it’s peeled. The best
way to preserve the smell and sweetness is to either roast or
gently sauté it. Be careful not to burn garlic or you’ll be in for one stinky surprise.

BUY IT. Garlic is sold in a myriad of forms: whole bulb, already-peeled cloves, presliced, and minced. Buy bulbs that are plump and firm. Avoid garlic that seems too soft, light, or is sprouting.

STORE IT. Keep the whole bulb in a cool, dark place like the back of a cabinet. Store-bought jars go in the fridge after opening.

POPULARITY CONTEST. Every year it’s estimated that each person consumes up to 4 pounds of garlic!

ROAD TRIP. Ready to go out on the open road for the love of garlic? Gilroy, California holds an annual garlic festival that features two tons of fresh garlic, four tons of calamari and 10 tons of beef each year. This year over 100,000 people attended.

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spice rack: Rosemary


JUST A TOUCH. A little goes a long way with this distinct, woodsy herb. Add to vegetables, fish, and grilled meats like lamb and flank steak.

STORING. Fresh sprigs are available in local grocery stores and farmers’ markets. Refrigerate in a plastic bag for up to 1 week. Dried rosemary can be sold as whole, ground, chopped, or crushed.


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