Storing Herbs And Spices

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Storing Herbs And Spices

Fresh spices should smell fresh and flavorful. They shouldn’t be wilted, have brown spots or mold, or feel slimy.

Fresh spices like ginger or garlic should feel plump and firm. Avoid specimens with soft spots or a musty odor.

Dried herbs and spices are trickier to evaluate because they’re usually in sealed containers. Shop in stores with a high turnover, and check expiration dates.

Avoid dusty bottles and ground spices that appear clumped. If possible, buy whole spices and grind them yourself.

Think twice about buying in large quantities, unless you’re sure you’ll use the herb or spice within six months. Air drying spices is not only the easiest and least expensive way to dry fresh plants, but this slow drying process also doesn’t deplete the greens of their oils.

This process works best with herbs that don’t have high moisture content, like Bay, Dill, Marjoram, Oregano, Rosemary, Summer Savory and Thyme. Moisture dense spices, like Basil, Chives, Mint, Tarragon preserve better in a dehydrator, or try freezing them.

Use a microwave or oven to dry plants only as a last resort. These actually cook the greens to a degree, diminishing the oil content and flavor.

Harvest before flowering. If you’ve been harvesting all season, your plants probably haven’t had a chance to flower.

But non-hardy plants will start to decline as the weather cools, so late summer is a good time to begin drying your herbs. Cut in mid-morning. Let the morning dew dry from the leaves, but pick before the plants are wilting in the afternoon sun.

Cut healthy branches from your herb plants. Remove any dry or diseased leaves and shake them gently to remove any insects.

If necessary, rinse with cool water and pat dry with paper towels. Wet plants will mold and rot.

Remove the lower leaves along the bottom inch or so of the branch. Bundle 4 – 6 branches together and tie as a bunch.

You can use string or a rubber band. The bundles will shrink as they dry and the rubber band will loosen, so check periodically that the bundle is not slipping.

Make small bundles if you are trying to dry greens with high water content. Punch or cut several holes in a paper bag.

Label the bag with the name of the plant you are drying. Place the herb bundle upside down into the bag.

Gather the ends of the bag around the bundle and tie closed. Make sure the plants are not crowded inside the bag.

Hang the bag upside down in a warm, airy room. Check in about two weeks to see how things are progressing.

Keep checking weekly until your herbs are dry and ready to store. Store your dried herbs in air tight containers, like in zip closing bags or small canning jars.

Be sure to label and date your containers so you know which plant is in each container. Your greens will retain more flavor if you store the leaves whole and crush them when you are ready to use them.

Discard any dried herbs that show the slightest sign of mold. Place containers in a cool, dry place away from sunlight.

Dried greens are best used within a year; as your herbs lose their color, they are also losing their flavor. Once they are cut from their plant, fresh greens have a short shelf life.

Maximize it by wrapping the stems in a damp paper towel, and placing the herbs in a plastic bag in the refrigerator. Most will keep for at least a few days.

You can also clean and puree leafy greens, like basil or parsley, spoon into ice cube trays, cover and freeze for up to three months. Spices like garlic and ginger can be kept at cool room temperature.

Dried herbs and spices do not have an indefinite shelf life, but for optimal flavor, use within six months to a year after opening. Store them in a dark, dry place away from heat sources, such as stoves or appliances.

Tom Selwick has worked the past 21 years in the food storage industry. He suggests buyingfood storage from a quality company so you know your food will last.

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Tom Selwick

Photo by sara marlowe

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