Here’s a quick 10-minute project — checking your spices and organizing them. I always put this off and then am pleasantly surprised at how little time it actually takes!
When I was a kid, accepted wisdom was that spices were good for only about 6 months, then began losing their flavor. These days, there’s no hard and fast rule, but if your boat is in a warm and/or humid climate, spices will lose their flavor much faster than in an air conditioned house.
So every 6 months or so, I take a few minutes and check the contents of all my spice containers. It’s also a good time to see what you’re low on, clean things up and straighten out your spice compartment. Many of my spices are in a bin, and labeling the tops — and setting them all upright — makes it much faster to just grab what I need.
I open each spice jar and take a quick sniff; for many herbs, you’ll need to pour a bit into your hand and crush them a bit. If there’s not much “smell,” the contents are not going to add much flavor to your food and it’s time to pitch them.
When I went through mine today, I found two long-forgotten jars of chili powder that had fallen out of the bin — and now had all the scent of a piece of paper. It hurt to throw them out, but frankly it would have bothered me more to use them in a pot of chili and have it lack flavor.
Last time, I discovered that my garlic powder was pretty dead, explaining why the shrimp scampi a few nights before hadn’t been quite what I had anticipated. If you try a new recipe and aren’t that impressed — as I hadn’t been — make sure it’s not the spice that’s gone bad!
For the longest life, store your spices in a dark locker that’s dry and cool (well, at least relatively cool). Those wonderful spice racks that so many boats have above the stove and next to a porthole are about the worst place that you can put spices!
Both heat and moisture are the enemies of herbs and spices. And yet, I know that I would often just open the top of a spice container and sprinkle some into a pot. That’s about the worst thing I could do for the remaining contents of the jar, as it’s hot and steamy over the pan! My solution is to remove those little shaker tops whenever I can, forcing me to use a measuring spoon and scoop out some of the spice . . . away from the pan. I’m getting a lot better.