If your spice rack/drawer/shelf is anything like mine it is a total hodge-podge of little plastic containers. Some which have only been used a handful of times. Several that I purchased more years ago than I would like to admit. Let’s just say there is a good chance I have spice jars older than my children. A few years ago I discovered how easy it was to buy bulk organic spices. Seeing what a difference it makes in flavor and to my budget, I am hooked! Buying “in bulk” doesn’t mean you are purchasing a large amount. You are taking only what you need from a larger supply instead of the pre-portioned jars that you have no control over.
When we moved into our first house 12 years ago I bought one of those big, spinning, pre-filled spice racks. About 2 years ago I realized at least half of the spice jars on that rack still contained their original ingredients. According to the McCormick spice company, the longest a ground spice should be kept is 3 years. It is hard to throw away old spices, they don’t really go bad. It’s just that after a few years they don’t really do any good either. It feels wasteful to throw away spices just because they might not taste as good, but before you know it you could easily have spices more than a decade old. Where else in your food supply is that acceptable?
I decided there was no reason to hang on to old spices that I never use. Most of the glass jars got dumped out and run through the dishwasher. Next I washed the lids and used a sharpie to label them with names of spices I actually use regularly. Then I filled them from the bulk jars at Whole Foods. Not all grocery stores sell herbs and spices in bulk, but many health food stores do as well as ethnic grocery stores. If you can find them it is so worth it to be able to use as little as you need.
When you are using spices as ingredients, they serve a purpose in your recipes. Great tasting spices can really take your dish to the next level. When I started using fresh spices I noticed a real change to the flavor of my food. In particular the chili powder I now buy has a distinct sweetness to it that really takes the taste over the edge.
A lot of dishes I make regularly call for 1 or 2 tablespoons of chili powder so I always buy enough to fill my jar up. On the other hand, we are not big curry eaters. If I am making a recipe that calls for curry or garam masala I just buy a few teaspoons. I keep it in the little baggie from the store until needed instead of buying a whole bottle that will just sit and lose quality.
Even if you don’t have a spice rack to convert it is super easy to start fresh. Little glass spice jars are available at kitchen stores and online. Slightly larger jars are a great way to keep spice mixes like taco seasoning and ranch dressing on hand. Making your own mixes saves you money while eliminating nasty chemicals and preservatives that are added to those packets.
I still have the shelf of random bottles in addition to my spice carousel. I am working to clear out all the old spices. And of course I can’t find everything in bulk. There are a few bottles of spices I use a lot of that I continue to buy.
The cost savings is pretty surprising as well. No, it probably won’t make a dramatic dent on your average receipt but I can fill up most of my jars with organic spices for under $1.00. Over time that really does make a difference. I recommend looking for your stores generic organic line in the spice aisle. That will be the best value when you can’t find what you need in bulk.
I suggest you find a store that sells organic bulk spices and herbs. Get your own system in place so you are not using old spices with watered down flavor. To get the most from your dried herbs and spices make sure you always crush them between your fingers as you are adding to a recipe. This is important when you use fresh and even more when using older spices.