I grew up going to spice markets in Damascus from a very young age and my mother’s spice shelves were impressive- in fact, I spent more time sniffing all her spice jars instead of playing with my toys 😀
Here in Jamaica, we’re kinda lucky to have access to some really awesome spices. And at very affordable prices too.
So if you want to up your cooking game, you may want to start organizing your spices and paying attention to a few important things- which I’ll be sharing in this post.
FOR STARTERS: Y’ALL DON’T NEED TO BUY JARS FOR YOUR SPICES.
I dunno about you, but growing up, we never bought a jar in our life. My mom never threw a single jar away- there was always a new use for them: home made pickles, jams, spices and to pack the tons of chickpeas and fava beans we’d go through each week. Next time I pay them a visit, I will show you how the OGs do it (the OGs being my parents). They are the ultimate jar re-users and masters and the amount of spices, herbs & aromatics they have – and actually use – is quite impressive.
So ever since I moved to Jamaica, I’ve been saving up every jar I had to build my spice collection 🙂
All you need is:
- A jar
- Masking tape
- A sharpie-type marker
And that’s it. Cost: minimal.
And as you can see- I was low on jars at one point so I used a hummus plastic container and was also missing a lid- so I used foil paper to close the jar off. lol.
But when you end up with a collection like this, you need to know how to take care of your spices- because it doesn’t stop at closing the jar lid.
There’s more to know, namely:
- First things first: your jars & lids must be PERFECTLY DRY. Not a drop of water can be in those jars. Not.one.drop.
- Secondly: keep spice/herb jars away from heat (ex: heater, dishwasher, stove tops, ovens, etc). Heat speeds up flavour loss of your precious spices.
- Keep jars away from direct sunlight: some spices/herbs are actually light sensitive! These include paprika and parsley flakes. For instance, paprika is said to lose about 1% of its color every 10 days when exposed to sunlight & heat.
- Grind spices when you can: obviously, this is the IDEAL but we can’t all do that (you need a coffee grinder or something just as powerful to grind spices). So if you can’t work with freshly ground spices… here’s my advice:
- Purchase smaller spice bags (“small” depends on how often you use the specific spice). Let me explain this:
- Ex: you don’t use cinnamon so often. Instead of buying a HUGE bag of cinnamon and emptying it into a jar only to use cinnamon once in a blue moon… buy a SMALLER bag of cinnamon that matches the frequency of your usage of cinnamon. Once you open the bag, you are immediately allowing the flavour to slowly escape. Every time you transfer a spice from one packaging to another, you are “killing” it’s aroma.
- Don’t open spice bags until you need them! Everytime you open a spice packaging, the flavour escapes just a little more… you want to preserve it’s aroma and potency to the MAX.
- Use DRY spoons: when inserting a spoon into a jar, please be sure it is PERFECTLY DRY. This goes back to rule #1: jar, lid AND whatever goes into the jar must be dry.
- Try to not mix jars meaning: if you have cumin in a jar… then try to keep THAT specific jar for cumin always (if you can). You’ll notice that spices & other aromatics leave a long lasting scent in the jar… even after washing it.
- Try to not mix jars (contd): this one is specific to staining. If you have a jar of turmeric or paprika, keep those jars for THOSE spices. As you know, turmeric is very stainy- so it needs it’s own jar 🙂
- Careful with nutmeg: nutmeg is wonderful- I love it, and I use it in many “white sauces” type recipes and in my vegan mac & cheese. But careful with nutmeg- too much and you’ll end up hallucinating. Apparently a nutmeg “trip” can last up to two days! So use it, but don’t “accidentally” dump too much into your recipe.
Now that you have these basics, I’d like to share some other observations from my personal experience- this doesn’t necessarily mean what I’m saying is right- it is just advice that you may (or may not) find helpful 🙂
- Spices to use quickly: cumin, cinnamon, curry blends, garam masala, cardamom. I don’t know why, but those in particular… if you leave them in a jar for months and don’t use them up… their flavour really fades with time. That’s why I mentioned: buy smaller packs, and open them only when you know you need them.
- Turmeric- stay away from light coloured powders. I actually read about this on Instagram from a turmeric entrepreneur. And if you REALLY pay attention, you will actually notice a difference in shades of turmeric at the supermarket. Choose the darker, rustier colour if possible (they are also sometimes cheaper as they come from smaller producers).
- Garlic powder “cakes”: garlic powder (and onion powder as a matter of fact) “cakes”- meaning, that after some time, the granules start to stick to each other. To remedy against this: either work with small amounts OR if your jar has a sifter built inside, mix some rice grains with the garlic powder.
Other stuff that has to do with usage purposes:
- Garlic FRESH vs POWDER: you might be thinking hmmm… why would she buy garlic powder if she already has fresh garlic? Well- fresh garlic and garlic powder are two different things for me. I use fresh garlic while cooking and I may use garlic powder in a salad dressing or vegan meatballs for instance. It’s about texture & appearance. Get it? And obviously, garlic powder is WAY more convenient to use- but I still love my fresh garlic over the powder 🙂
- Fresh vs dried herbs: this is another case in point. Fresh herbs are ALWAYS my preferred version however I only have a small handful of recipes where I need the DRIED herb ex: dried mint in a cabbage salad, oregano in a tomato sauce and dried thyme leaves (off the stem) for specific recipes where I want the thyme flavour to be dominant.
- Fresh vs dried spices: this is specifically for turmeric and ginger. I will always use fresh turmeric or spices when I can- but given the rate at which I cook, I have to be sure to keep a “back up” option just in case 🙂 Also, sometimes I really can’t be bothered with having orange nails for an entire day.
- Freezing herbs & spices: hmmm, to be honest, I dont really freeze any herbs/spices. I find freezing (specifically for vegetables, herbs & spices) really alters flavour, so it’s a personal choice I make 🙂
And FINALLY but MOST IMPORTANTLY 🙂
- PLEASE be curious– both in your kitchen and at the supermarket. If there’s a new curry blend you’ve never tried before, grab the pack, sniff it- if it takes you to a dreamy faraway place, then buy it and see what magic it will do!
- Experiment! We are often told that thyme only goes with savoury foods or cinnamon only goes in porridge, so on and so forth… but some of these aromatics are WONDERFUL when explored a little further. For example: I LOVE to mix thyme & chocolate. I love to add a bit of cinnamon in rice. I love to add cardamom in my coffee or some anis in mango juice 🙂
I hope this was helpful! If you have any other tips, please share!
Thank you for stopping by! Have a great day!
ALSO BONUS- stuff that’s kind of interesting 🙂
- Saffron, while being the most expensive spice in the world, is also deadly! All it takes is as little as ingesting 10 grams of saffron!
- Cilantro & Coriander are not the same thing. Cilantro are the leaves of the Coriander seed. So essentially, cilantro is a fresh coriander leaf 🙂
- All Spice is a berry- not a blend of spices
- While, curry is not a spice, it’s a blend of spices.
- Lavender, while typically treated as a “nice smelling flower” of some sorts- is actually beautiful in the kitchen. Lavender in desserts & baked goods is stunning.