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Shelf life for spices

By on May 27, 2012
assorted spices

 

Dear Sara:

How long do spices last? I know I have tons that have no expiration dates on them. Some spices still have a good smell, but I’m not sure if they will hold their true spice flavor during cooking. I hate to pitch them, but I’d also hate to use them in a batch of cookies and not have them turn out. Other than cinnamon and cream of tartar, I have several McCormick spices in tin cans: allspice, dill, paprika, mustard seed, etc. Any tips? — Tina, Midwest

Dear Tina:

McCormick’s website states that if their spices are in a tin can, they are at least 15 years old. The site states that ground spices have a shelf life of two to three years, whole spices three to four years, seasoning blends one to two years, herbs one to three years and extracts four years (except pure vanilla). Your cream of tartar should be fine if it was stored in your pantry and sealed. Much like pure vanilla, it has a very long shelf life. Spices with a good aroma can still be used. But you’ll probably need to use more than you would with newer spices because the potency definitely diminishes over time. I would toss out the dried herbs, though. They simply start to look faded and completely unappealing after a couple of years.

As for the use of herbs and spices, you can visit www.lontano.com/images/SpiceChart.pdf for a basic compatibility guide. Once you’ve read the guide, you could mix your own herb and spice blends to use up older spices, too. As you replace your herbs and spices, you’ll find that the containers sold at your local grocery store will provide a list of compatible foods, too.

Dear Sara:

I was making cookies for my son’s birthday, and when I opened two packages of brown sugar, they were both solid as a rock. They were stored unopened in the kitchen cabinet, so I’m not sure what the issue is. Is there any way to soften or salvage them? — Kelily, forums

Dear Kelily:

There are quite a few ways to soften brown sugar. You can use a hand grater and grate it. You can place the brown sugar in a zipper baggie and add a cut apple, a piece of bread or a small, water-soaked clay saucer. Leave it for a couple of days in the sealed baggie so it regains moisture. You can put the brown sugar in a bowl and place it in your microwave with a mug of water. Run your microwave for 30 to 40 seconds at a time and keep checking the brown sugar until it softens. In the future, you can store brown sugar in your freezer and thaw before using it.

Dear Sara:

Any tips for cleaning the inside of my dishwasher? — Hannah L., Ohio

Dear Hannah:

I remove the racks and use a green 3M scotch pad and an old toothbrush to scrub around the seal/gasket and drain, and to clean the interior walls. I use hot, soapy water (regular liquid dishwashing soap), too. I pour vinegar in the dishwasher and let it run on a hot cycle. Many of my readers swear by citric acid to clean their dishwashers. They fill the soap dispenser with either powdered Tang or lemonade Kool-Aid and run a full cycle. Lemi Shine dishwashing additive works well, too.

Dear Sara:

I made toast this morning and accidentally left the bread bag too close to the toaster oven. I now have melted plastic on the door. Any tips to remove it? — Crystal, Florida

Dear Crystal:

While the toaster oven is still warm, you can use a wooden or plastic spoon, a spatula or a plastic/nylon dish scrubbie to try to scrape off as much of the melted plastic as possible, then wipe the door with a damp cloth. Unplug your toaster oven, and once it is completely cool, apply nail-polish remover, rubbing alcohol, WD-40 or Vaseline on a cloth and rub it onto the melted plastic area. Rinse with a clean, damp cloth and keep wetting, wringing, wiping, rinsing until it’s as clean as possible. If there’s still some melted plastic left, try baking soda on a moistened cloth or sponge, then rinse with a damp cloth again. If there’s still some remaining plastic, make a paste from cream of tartar and vinegar on a sponge and apply it to the glass door. Wipe the door with a clean damp cloth.

photo by L. Marie
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About Sara Noel

Sara Noel owns Castalia Coffee Roasting Company, Follow me on Twitter

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