Castella Imports

Spices 101

A dash of spice is nice....

Spices have been used in food for centuries as an exciting addition to everything from meat and seafood to soups and sauces. European explorers have been credited with helping spread exotic spices from their origins around the world.

Not only do herbs and spices enhance the most mundane meal, they possess a wealth of health benefits, too. Many spices contain an impressive list of phyto-nutrients, essential oils, antioxidants, minerals and vitamins that are essential to overall well-being.

Adding Herbs and Spices to Food

With a few exceptions use herbs and spices sparingly, to enhance and accent other flavors rather than dominate them. For starters, try 1/2 teaspoon of spice for a dish that serves four to six. (For herbs, use 1/2 teaspoon powdered, 1 1/2 teaspoon dried, chopped, or 1 tablespoon fresh chopped.) Because oils are concentrated in the drying process, it takes about half the quantity of dried herbs as fresh.  To release the flavor of dried herbs, crumble them in your hand before adding them to your dish

Add whole spices during cooking to allow their flavors to permeate the food. When you use whole, dried spices in cooking, tie them in a cheesecloth or metal tea strainer for easy removal.Add ground or cut herbs and spices midway or towards the end of your cooking time, so their flavors won't dissipate. For uncooked foods, such as salad dressings, fruits or juices, add spices and herbs several hours before serving to allow flavors to blend. For salad dressings, add the spices to the vinegar and allow to mixture to stand before adding the oil.Allow for the buildup of intensity with red pepper or spice blends containing red pepper. First taste tests often seem mild.

Spice Longevity

To preserve peak flavor and color, store spices and herbs in a cool, dry place away from exposure to bright light, heat, moisture, and oxygen. If possible, avoid storing spices and herbs too close to the stove, oven, dishwasher or refrigerator, where rising steam or heat can come into contact with them. Dampness can cause caking or clumping of ground spices. Store herbs and spices in airtight containers, such as glass jars, plastic containers or tins, to protect against moisture and preserve oils that give spices their flavor and aroma.

Red-colored spices, such as chili powder, cayenne pepper and paprika can be refrigerated to prevent loss of color and flavor. The best storage temperature for herbs and spices is one that is fairly constant and below 70º F.  Temperature fluctuations can cause condensation, and eventually mold, so if you store spices in the freezer or refrigerator, return them promptly after use.

The shelf life of each herb and spice is different, and all age, even under the best conditions. Check your herbs and spices -and those you consider purchasing- to see that they look fresh, not faded, and are distinctly aromatic.

Here are some guidelines:

Whole Spices and Herbs

Leaves and flowers-1 year

Seeds and barks-over 2 years

Roots-over 2 years

Ground Spices and Herbs

Leaves-6 months

Seeds and barks-6 months

Roots-1 year

Spices and herbs do not spoil, but they do lose their strength. Old seasonings however, will not flavor your meals the way they were intended.

Which Spice to Use:

The correct spice or herb for any food is the one that tastes right for you. When experimenting with a new spice or herb, crush some of it and let it warm in your hand; then sniff and taste it. If it is delicate, you can be bold and adventurous. If it is very strong and pungent, use a light hand the first time that you use it.