Spice it Up!

| February 7, 2010

Valentine’s Day is coming up…need something to spice it up? This year, Valentine’s Day is also Chinese New Year (it comes on a different day every year so it’s a bit of a moving target), so I get to cheat.

I get to restart my resolutions and celebrate TWO New Year’s (what kind of cheating were you thinking of?). Whatever I f***ed up the first time around on the 1st or didn’t get around to (like cleaning my house), I get to do now. I actually love purging and throwing things out (grew up in a house of packrats), and look forward to this time of year when I literally throw out the old to make room for the new and good.

I started with my kitchen.

I realized I had some old, old spices that I had lugged with me from when I was living in Manhattan years ago. They had all but lost their identities. The parsley had gone from a vibrant green color to a dull gray…

The cardamom pods went from fragrant green to a washed out tan…

The chili went from vibrant red to a deep chimney brick.

It was time to spice up my spices.

Now I love spices. I love to cook with them, eat them, look at them. All kinds of spices, though I do have some of my favorite go-tos (i.e. basil, chili, coriander, cumin, peppercorns, rosemary, thyme).

Several years ago, I realized how much spice I was wasting buying those store-bought bottles, spending a fortune only to use a little bit and then the rest goes stale. I found these little metal tins on-line, some some double-sided magnets, and the bulk spice aisle.

I have never looked back. I keep my spices on the side of my refrigerator and use peelable stickies on the back so I know what they are. Since my I knew my spices had likely or were going stale. I tossed everything out, took my tins and went to Whole Foods. Why do I go there? Because:

  • Some of their spices are organic
  • Buying bulk is SO much cheaper (less than $1.00/tin to fill most of these) and I don’t end up with a huge bottle that will go stale in a few months
  • I can bring my tins and fill them directly and they take out the weight – so I don’t waste a plastic bag and I don’t have that hassle of pouring it into a bag, then into the tin, and then having a little too much over to toss out and it ends up cluttering my shelves.

Some things to keep in mind if you want to store your spices like this (or use all metal and label on front):

  • Keep spices away from direct sunlight
  • Keep spices in airtight containers
  • Keep them dry
  • Keep them in alphabetical order (or some other method, but not by color or usage…(if you put cayenne, chili, and paprika next to each other, you may easily pick up the wrong one!)
  • Be careful if your refrigerator gets too warm on the side because that can affect the quality and taste of quality
  • Don’t keep them over the stove (heat and steam can affect them)

How long can spices keep? Rule of thumb is that whole spices can keep far longer than ground ones. Whole spices that are freshly ground also have give a greater punch, and so are great to have on hand. Keep a mortar and pestle and a spice grinder (automatic or manual – like this little one from Turkey) nearby. This way, you can quickly grind spices that often do best when freshly ground – like coriander – their flavor just pops. Nutmeg is also good to have some whole when you just need to zest a bit.

Sometimes, though, you just don’t have the time to grind spices, so ground ones are great to have around. They just don’t keep as long. Some say 1 year, others say 2-3 years. It depends. If the ground spice has sat around for awhile and you’re not sure if it’s stale, gently shake, open the container and sniff. If it’s lost the flavor or color, it’s probably too old. If the spices are not as fresh, you may have to add more than the recipe requires. Toasting them slightly before cooking also can help to refresh the flavor.

Are spices good for you? You’ve probably heard it before – yes! For example:

  • Cinnamon: can lower blood sugar (1 tsp equals 1/2 cup of blueberries!)
  • Cumin: help digestion and bloating
  • Paprika: can lower risk of cancer
  • Rosemary: prevent damage to blood vessels
  • Turmeric: has curcumin, which inhibits cancer cell growth

For more information, check out Corinne Lutton‘s article or Fitness Magazine.

How do you cook with spices? So many ways! It can be as easy as sprinkling some cinnamon on your oatmeal. Cooking with spices can be a more affordable and healthier way to flavor your food without lots of oil or butter. Mixing and matching the same spices can also give you a totally different flavor profile. A fabulous way to use spices is to drink them, especially on cold days. I found a fabulous Masala Chai mix, but it’s easy to do your own. ZomppaTsering has an easy, fabulous Chai recipe here.

Regardless of how you use them, it’s always handy to have a few favorite spices on hand to enhance, add, and alter your flavors. Life, after all, is yummier with a bit of sugar and a lot of spice.

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Category: Featured Articles: Health & Nutrition, Health & Nutrition, Odds and Ends, TidBit of the Day, US & Canada

About the Author (Author Profile)

With a flair for spontaneity, pizzazz, creative excellence and her own unique sense of aesthetic grace and perspective, we have our very dear friend, Belinda (or B, to some of us). Although an incredibly accomplished professional and career woman, B’s down-to-earth approach and demeanor transcends all scenarios, communities and people. She manifests, in her day-to-day, the essence of the word “Zomppa” as demonstrated by her extraordinary commitment to creating sustainable and positive change for us and future generations to come. She’s asked for a dog every year since she was five. Check out Belinda’s work on global education research and coaching: www.hummingbirdrcc.com or more about her portfolio www.belindachiu.com.

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  1. TidBit of the Day: Spicy Diet | Zomppa - Food, Meet People | October 24, 2010
  1. kristy says:

    These little containers are sooo cool! And pretty cute too. I love the transparent top especially! Btw, thanks so much for the info as well. Have a great day!

  2. Tsering says:

    where did you buy the containers from? there are so cute.

  3. Belinda says:

    I’m pretty sure I bought them here: http://www.specialtybottle.com/index.asp?PageAction=Custom&ID=33&gclid=CMjgnq2D558CFRy4sgodtlzgHA – you can buy the regular ones so the spices are less exposed to light. I sacrifice because I like the look of them. They cost less than $1 a piece!

  4. lululu says:

    i dont think i can cook without spice! what a good collection you have there!

  5. Belinda you have lots of spices:) It’s a great idea to buy bulk spices and save money! I didn’t realize that you can bring the can with you. That’s what we called green shopping!

  6. Amy says:

    Hi Belinda, I am in the process of doing this, but having a difficult time finding a piece of magnetic steel metal to mount (and I am in San Francisco!). Where did you find yours? Thanks in advance!

  7. Belinda says:

    Amy, I’m so excited you are doing this! To be honest, I can’t remember whether I bought them online or in a store, but I use the ProMag 3/4″ Magnetic Buttons. They are double-sided. I found out Michael’s has them: http://www.michaels.com/art/online/displayProductPage?productNum=gc0460

    I bought two packs of 50 and still have TONS. They are great – I use 2 for the smaller ones and 3 for the larger ones. I like these double-sided because you can take the tin off the refrigerator sans magnet and they sit on the counter perfectly.

    Best of luck!!

  8. mavis says:

    It was nice meeting today (at Whole Foods). Thanks for the recommendation on bring my own containers to buy in bulk. I look forward to checking out your site some more!

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