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Tips for Buying and Storing Herbs and Spices

“When you are selecting herbs and spices for your own pantry, there is no better way to judge character than with your senses of taste and smell. Buying spices and herbs should be a tactile experience, not just pulling a jar from a shelf.” – Tony Hill author of The Spice Lover’s Guide to Herbs and Spices

herbs and spices at the marketBuying Dried Herbs and Spices

You can readily buy dried herbs and spices at your local supermarket, fruit and vegetable shop or butcher. It is preferable that you purchase whole products (like the leaves, seeds, bark etc.) rather than the crushed form. Although it is a little more trouble to crush these whole products, the effort will be worth it in the final tasting.

Dried herbs and spices should be as fresh as possible. Once they become old and stale, they can easily ruin a dish.

Don’t buy large quantities. Buy only what you will use within 6 months or less.

If you grow your own herbs, you can also dry them for your own use.

Buying Fresh Herbs and Spices

You can purchase fresh herbs at your supermarket or green grocer, or you can grow your own, or you can get some from a friend who gardens.

When you shop for fresh herbs, watch out for leaves that are wilted, discoloured (yellow) or covered in black speckles. These are all signs that these herbs are not very fresh, and may be past their prime.

Remember to only purchase fresh herbs when you need them, and store them in the fridge in a clean plastic container or plastic zip packets. Beware of buying more than you will be able to use immediately.

Growing your own, even if it is just one or two herbs is a rewarding experience.

Storing Dried Herbs and Spices

The enemies of dried herbs and spices are light, air, moisture and heat. The best place to store them would be in airtight, dark containers in a cool place. Above your stove is definitely not a cool place, just as under the washing up sink in not a dry place!

Rather keep that beautiful spice rack (the one your mother-in-law gave you on your first wedding anniversary!) at a convenient height in the food cupboard. That’s after you have disposed of those ancient bottles that used to clutter it. And by the way…maybe the spice rack was a subtle hint from your mother-in-law that your cooking is dull and bland?

Dried herbs and ground spices can keep for up to a year, if they are stored correctly. Whole spices can keep for up to two years. After this, you should rather throw them away and replace them with fresh ones. Label the bottles clearly with the date when they should be thrown away.

Your fresh herbs will also lose their flavour and wholesome qualities soon after they have been harvested. Rather use them as soon as possible after harvesting, or if you need to, store them in an airtight container in the refrigerator.

How does your current storage space compare with the above? Is it suitable for storing your herbs and spices? Where will be a better place?