Monday, May 22, 2017

How old is your paprika?

HALLIE EPHRON: Last week’s post on our rotating recipes had me looking in my supply closet to assess my staples. An aside: When my husband was a poor graduate student his go-to meal was “staple stew” which consisted mainly of canned tomatoes and beans with a little chopped meat (if he was flush) and a ton of chili powder.

 Here’s the cabinet where I keep my spices and flavorings and assorted staples.



Pulling at random from the shelf, I checked out some of the “BEST BY” dates:

  • Cayenne pepper 5/2005
  • Celery seed 5/2005
  • Ground ginger 8/2012
  • Marjoram 8/2007
  • Baking powder 6/2007
  • Paprika 4/2020
This explains why my from-scratch cakes rise so feebly.

At least they're all this century. Probably not so for the poppy seeds, mace, and ground sage which had no best-by dates (hadn't been invented yet?) but they were all priced $.59. I can only imagine when I bought them.

(Which brings us to another topic: WHY ARE SPICES AND HERBS SO DAMNED EXPENSIVE THESE DAYS??)

I can say for certain that spices and herbs with expired dates do not kill you. But how long before you pull the plug? This exercise resulted in my tossing dozens of items.

The good news is that these days, mostly I use fresh herbs—basil, mint, parsley, sage, oregano, thyme, tarragon, dill, scallions—many of them from my garden. And fresh ginger, always have some of that in the house. Fresh herbs make it abundantly clear when they've passed their best-by date.

So here’s the test. Go to your staples supply closet shelf and pick a few at random. Are you expired and what do you intend to do about it?

We really should do this every spring.

90 comments:

  1. Ever since I read that “use by” and “best by” dates were so inconsistent in their use in the food industry that they were essentially meaningless, I’ve pretty much ignored all of them.
    Generally, I toss things if I believe they’ve been on the spice shelves too long but I don’t really worry about it. Of course, many of the spices we use frequently are ones that tend to be used up and replaced regularly or are herbs that we grow ourselves and there’s never a doubt as to their freshness . . . .

    ReplyDelete
  2. Yes, Joan, we did an interesting story about this -- use buy and sell by and best by are quite confusing, and experts told us that the sniff test is the best! And they really don't mean they are dangerous if you use them. When it comes to spices though, of course they lose their strength and pungency.
    Hallie, a couple of months ago I posted a picture on Facebook of some canned chicken broth I found… From 2009. I actually bet it was OK, but I could not bear to use it…I kept envisioning some grotesque stuff inside.

    ReplyDelete
    Replies
    1. Goodness! I'd have tossed decade old chicken broth, too. My probably petrified bouillon cubes, on the other hand...

      Delete
  3. I confess to one very embarrassing occupant of my pantry – it's a 1 pound bag of oregano from the Atlantic spice company. (Boston area folks, have you been to that spice store on Cape Cod? I found it irresistible!) but I'm guessing the last time we visited that little store was 20 years ago!

    ReplyDelete
    Replies
    1. A POUND of oregano! What were you thinking? Though I am so sorry that when I was in Greece I failed to buy oregano. The oregano there is pretty extraordinary.

      Delete
    2. I know, I can't be trusted in a spice store, as John always points out!

      Delete
  4. I definitely use a lot of fresh herbs growing on my balcony for 1/2 the year but need to use dried for the rest.

    My oldest exotic spice blends were bought 1-2 years ago (mango curry, Louisiana hot and spicy) but I am hoping they are ok to use since they have never been opened! I tossed a bunch of 1/2 finished flours/grains in my pantry since I don't bake much anymore. They were probably bought over 2 years ago. Fortunately, I don't have anything staple products older than 3 years since that is when I moved from Toronto to Ottawa and had to buy everything new.

    Hank: that 2009 chicken broth sounds iffy to me!

    ReplyDelete
    Replies
    1. I confess, I only toss grains when they get bugs. After I ask the bugs if it made them sick ;-)

      Delete
    2. Well, I was told whole wheat flour goes RANCID after a few months if kept in the pantry (which is where mine was stored). It should apparently be kept in the freezer! Be yes, sure bugs in the flour are not a good sign.

      Delete
    3. You can smell rancidity.

      I had some flour that turned out too ancient to make the bread rise. Naturally, I used it to make FOUR loaves of bread. Realized I'd had it since before gluten began to bother me--at least six years ago! Dumped it all and started over.

      Delete
    4. Karen, I agree most people would be able to smell rancidity. I am congested with allergies for usually 1/2 of the year and couldn't smell a thing. I just tossed the flour since it was old and I no longer baked with wheat-based flours. Switched to almond and coconut flours for baking which works for some recipes.

      Delete
  5. Even without checking I know I have some old stuff in there, and am so glad it's fresh herb season again. I love your tidy, everything facing front spice cabinet, Hallie. Such a great use of a shallow space.

    Debs and Hank, I made Salmon on Creamy Cabbage and Pasta on a Deadline for dinner last night for a visiting friend - yummy both of them! Picture on my facebook page. ;^)

    ReplyDelete
    Replies
    1. That closet is great, floor to ceiling where there were once coat hooks in a pass-through from entry hall to kitchen. Can't lose anything in it.

      Delete
    2. So wonderful--delighted to hear it!

      Delete
  6. I know I have spices and condiments that have been there for years. They won't make me sick but they sure don't have any flavor either. The problem is trying a new recipes. Which needs 1 t. of something I don't have. And never use again.

    ReplyDelete
    Replies
    1. And what about the wonderful sauces and jams that sweet friends bring? Can't throw them away even though I know I'll never use them.

      Delete
    2. If trying a new recipe needing a new spice, I just buy a small amount (couple of teaspoons/tablespoons) at the bulk food store. I only buy my staple spices in larger quantities.

      Delete
  7. I dumped all my spices in 2008, when we moved the household to Cincinnati. Hmm...I really should do an inventory and start marking the purchase date on spices with a sharpie.

    ReplyDelete
    Replies
    1. I did a purge a few years ago when a spice company shared info about how to figure out how old something was by its packaging. Naturally I've forgotten what they said. I need to do another purge but can't quite work up the nerve to do it. I'll buy fresh herbs at the grocery, use what I need for the recipe, and then freeze the remainder. The only thing fresh I have growing right now is rosemary and mint. I need to get some chives and basil at the very least!

      Delete
  8. I know that the few spices in the rack here at the house are good. When my mom died in November, the house cleaning that was done included my sister going through the spice rack and dumping everything, replacing just a few things that I might actually use.

    So I'm as up to date on the spices as one can expect to be.

    ReplyDelete
    Replies
    1. So sorry to hear about your mother, Jay. Was it you who posted awhile back that your go-to recipe is takeout? If so, guessing you kept S&P (of course) and oregano and hot pepper flakes for pizza?

      Delete
    2. Hallie, thank you regarding my mom.

      Yes, my chief source of food has become a takeout menu. I just haven't had much of a desire to cook much at home. If I'm not eating a sandwich for dinner then I can be found ordering from the House of Pizza, Rose & Vicki's, Subway or Papa Gino's. And if I'm feeling like taking my life in my hands, Kool Kone. Also, the 99 on Thursdays.

      I don't eat much pizza because there's only a couple places that make a decent pizza these days. The rest is pure garbage I wouldn't feed my worst enemy.

      I know I have some form of garlic (minced I think) and oregano if I hit rock bottom and decide to make spaghetti (the only Italian food I will eat and that is still the bottom of the meals list).

      I guess I forgot about salt and pepper but I really don't count those since they were always on the table not in the spice rack. And I can't take pepper anyway.

      I think there's some cinnamon in the rack as well but couldn't tell you why.

      I suffer from being a bland Irish guy. Salt and mustard are usually the only kind of additives I put on anything these days. Plus the doctor likes it when I don't do spices.

      Delete
  9. A friend who keeps angling for baked goods (I make a great lemon pound cake) bought me a "baker's staples" box of spices for Christmas last year--cinnamon, vanilla extract, ginger--and I loved them so much I did a major spice purge, so just about everything except the paprika is up to date. The paprika, however, should have gone in 2012, so clearly I have more work to do.

    It's the canned goods that get me. I don't use a lot of canned stuff in cooking any more, so I don't pay much attention to dates in that part of my pantry. I moved in 2010 and again in 2014, and used both occasions to purge all the out of date stuff. Except . . . There was this one can of baked beans that I discovered when I moved all the canned stuff from temporary storage into my new pantry cabinet, after the kitchen update. It was dated 2008. Which means I moved that dang, outdated can of beans not once, but twice! What was I thinking?

    ReplyDelete
    Replies
    1. THAT would make an interesting blog topic: Imagine that you're moving, do you toss your staples and start over or...? I am never moving so I will never know.

      Delete
    2. I certainly would move anything that was:

      1. Still sealed, or
      2. Expensive, or
      3. Light weight. Moving is charged by the pound.

      BTW, Martha Stewart to the contrary not withstanding, baking soda and powder don't wear out. They don't lose flavor because flavor is not the point. They are chemical compounds. Use them up. Same with salt, sugar and honey. Honey has a shelf life of something like six millennia. Just pop it in the microwave if it crystallizes.

      I have moved 23 times, not counting the ones I can't remember. Next stop is Holy Sepulcher And I am taking only the saffron with me.

      Delete
  10. Last years revamp of the kitchen meant a thorough review of the spice-ablilty of every jar and packet. Everything went that was more than a year old or a duplicate.

    Now I have this sweet pullout affair between the stove and the drawers beside it. It is adorable. Nothing is stacked on top of anything else. Everything I need is at my finger tips. But I can't see the labels without bending in half with my glasses falling off the tip of my nose.

    Spices don't spoil like milk. I toss only those things with bugs, like poppy seeds. Speaking of poppy seeds, I wonder if those bugs are opium addicts?

    I use fresh herbs from the garden during the growing season, cut and dry more for the winter months. The only thing I have that is "past it" is some saffron. At $160 per ounce, I figure its street value will get me thru a future apocalypse.

    That and the poppy seeds, of which I always have a huge supply. Don't ask.

    ReplyDelete
    Replies
    1. I am now thinking about those poppy seed bug addicts. Huh. How do you tell which is which, anyway?

      Delete
    2. The addicts are the ones reclining on their sides, lids at half mast. You may need your glasses.

      Delete
  11. Finta: "Next stop is Holy Sepulcher And I am taking only the saffron with me." Ha ha ha!! Couldn't have said it better.

    ReplyDelete
    Replies
    1. I know, she's cracking me up this morning, Hallie!

      Delete
  12. I'm too afraid to look. Just last night I tried to convince The Hubby to get rid of the dried bay leaves that probably date from the beginning of our marriage (almost 21 years) and he refused. I do know they won't kill me. I also know they might not be very effective. I also have a bottle of Herbs de Provence that I thought was "a good thing to have" at one point. Yep, nearly full.

    I usually plant basil and rosemary in the garden. This year, The Hubby is advocating for all - or mostly - herbs. But we don't use much except basil, oregano, and rosemary (I'd have to put the oregano in a pot because the last time I planted oregano it threatened to take over the garden). I never touched last year's sage (I dried it - and we haven't done Thanksgiving in forever, which is why it's untouched).

    Any suggestions for some herbs I'll actually use? Oh, and I have chives. Oh man, do I have chives. Not only did last year's plant survive, it seems to have spread. =)

    Mary/Liz

    ReplyDelete
    Replies
    1. Chives reseeds freely. If you don't want it to, cut off the browning flower head before they go to seed. Every one of those tiny flowerets on the flower produces a seed. Mine have spread all over, too, which I love.

      When our kids were small I taught them about edible plants, and showed them what they could eat from the garden, which had a lot of herbs at the time, plus strawberries and sugar snap peas. Our youngest, the little squirt, used to come in and start snuggling, then turn her sweet little lips to our face, as if she was going to kiss us, and then she'd breathe oniony chive breath on us.

      Delete
    2. That is too funny, Karen. And based on how bad I am at cutting the flower heads, I'm going to have a LOT of chives soon! LOL

      Mary/Liz

      Delete
    3. Mary, I recently read an article that compared fresh, dried and dried post-dated bay leaves. The result was that it made no real difference although the dried or post-dated dried did more for the flavor of soups and stews. What they did was cook rice with each one, plus a control pot. The rice with bay leaves of any kind had more flavor, tasted better, than the plan rice although no one could taste the flavor of the bay leaves per se. It seems that the benefit of bay leaves is that they enhance other flavors. So don't throw them away!

      Delete
    4. Huh, that's interesting. Maybe I'll try a bay leaf with rice tonight for dinner. I assume you just toss it in with the cooking rice?

      Mary/Liz

      Delete
    5. Mary, here's a really easy and good recipe for potatoes with garlic and sage. We love it and it's not for Thanksgiving!

      http://www.mysteryloverskitchen.com/2015/04/pan-fried-potatoes-with-garlic-and-sage.html

      Delete
    6. Oh man, Lucy. Yum! Thanks!

      Mary/Liz

      Delete
    7. Be careful with bay leaves, as they can cut your throat if you accidentally ingest one. Most recipes say to discard the leaf before serving, but fishing around for it in a hot dish is no fun. So years ago I hit upon the idea of impaling a leaf (or more) on a toothpick before I toss it in the pot. The toothpick, being wood, floats to the top of the liquid so you can keep track of the bay leaf.

      Delete
    8. Karen you are so right! I have a recipe that uses crumbled bay leaves in a lamb marinade - scrumptious! But last time I made it a sliver of bay leaf got caught in my throat and yes, cut me when I finally managed to yarg it out. :-( Using BIGGER pieces next time and picking through to be sure they're not stuck to the meat when I go to cook it.

      Delete
    9. Just fold the Bay leaf in a small piece of cheesecloth and knot it. Easy to fins, easy to remove.

      Delete
    10. My Mom used to offer a prize--25 cents!--to the person who found the bay leaf in the stew.So we were really careful!

      Delete
  13. A few years ago I cleaned out the cupboards and the pantry. One archeological find: Kraft Mac & Cheese from 1989! I'm pretty sure it came from my father-in-law's house, which I'd cleaned out after he died in 2006. Which means the box had probably been in his pantry since before his wife had her stroke in 1988. (She passed away in 1992.)

    So most of the spices are less than two years old. There are some out-of-date items in the freezer, though. The other night I found dehydrated onions from 2012, and sundried (actually, dehydrated) tomatoes from September of 2014. They all rehydrated easily, and tasted pretty good, though. I will wait until I can dry some more this summer before they get purged.

    ReplyDelete
  14. For the record, my saffron has not expired. I only use it for making bouillabaisse but oh my what a difference it makes.

    ReplyDelete
    Replies
    1. I know you probably have live lobsters wondering around your kitchen, fighting with the crabs, and I don't, but would you post your bouillabaisse recipe please? Thanks is advance

      Delete
    2. It's Julia Childs's recipe... and therefore PAGES long. I've shortened it quite a bit. Will try to locate.

      Delete
  15. I love buying herbs and spices, and my cabinet is packed! I suspect my in-laws are stunned by the huge hodge-podge. They're from the midwest and their spice cabinet consists of cinnamon and celery salt. I buy things that sound good even if I don't have a recipe in mind. Luckily, I have a heavy hand when seasoning, so I go through them pretty quickly. I may have to toss the Chinese 5 Spice Powder and the Hungarian Hot Paprika though.

    ReplyDelete
    Replies
    1. Use Hungarian Hot Parika SPARINGLY. ... from experience.

      Delete
  16. I checked everything not long ago, so I know all is good for at least a little longer. I did replace a decent amount then that had no expiration dates. My baking powder was expired, too, and I could have SWORN I replaced it about a year ago.

    I got my paprika at Christmas Tree Shop, though -- the cheap ones for $1.00 -- and it tastes like it costs $1.00. So far I've been too cheap to replace it with a pricier version. Lucy, I have to try the Atlantic Spice Co. I live on the Cape but for some reason haven't gotten there yet.

    ReplyDelete
    Replies
    1. Buy good paprika! It's so worth it. And shop at Indian food stores. They have the best/freshest/cheapest spices (and nuts and dates and raisins and basmati rice...)

      Delete
    2. Celery salt and cinnamon! I remember when my mother discovered garlic powder. I don't think I saw fresh garlic until the 60s.

      Delete
    3. Thanks, Hallie. I will try that!

      Delete
    4. MaryC, throw out the Xmas Tree Shop paprika ASAP. No telling where it came from or what they sprayed on it!

      Although Hallie, I still have those sacks of Indian spices we bought in NYC years ago...some never opened:). Still good do you think?

      Delete
    5. I'm still using the cumin and the something masala. All good. Don't remind me how long ago... I'll be back in the Hyatt for Thrillerfest and intend to find that Indian spice store again.

      Delete
    6. Or Kalustians--mid-town on Lexington (I think). Spice heaven. Also beans. Teas. A few years back I lugged two tote bags full of beans, spices, and a genuine Tagine pot about a dozen blocks back to Grand Central Station with so much joy I still had the energy to buy and juggle one of those fantastic cupcakes from the bakery on the lower level of the station and then sprint to my Metro North train! Whee! Did spring for a taxi when I got to New Haven, though--must have been the cupcake weighing me down.

      Delete
  17. Hallie, so funny! I cleaned out my spice drawer a few months ago, and a lot of the spices had been there since we remodeled our kitchen in 2007! I threw out some, and made a long list of things to order from Penzeys--and I still haven't done that. Ack.

    ReplyDelete
    Replies
    1. There's a Penzeys shop in the food market at Grand Central Station. I love to stop there on my way to wherever. Wish we had one near us.

      Delete
    2. The Penzeys catalog is a close second to visiting a store! It's packed with recipes, too.

      Delete
    3. I love Penzey's. It would be dangerous if one was near me!

      Delete
  18. I suspect I have as much of the old stuff in my cupboard as everyone else. That said, the best place to buy dried spices is the natural food store, where you can buy a small amount, put it in the designated jar, then go buy more when you run out. Buying in small amounts guarantees freshness.

    I love this topic, Hallie. So relateable. And Finta, you have me laughing . . .

    ReplyDelete
  19. Okay, here goes nothing: A jar of Thai barbeque sauce with a best by date of July 2013, Oregano from September 2015, and Cumin from March 2014. I can't remember the last time I've used Cumin!

    The dangerous thing about this exercise, Hallie, is that it makes me want to clean out my cupboards rather than write. If I don't get anything done today, I blame you!!

    ReplyDelete
    Replies
    1. I sympathize. And these days I can't just THROW IT AWAY. I have to empty it into the compost, clean the glass container and put it in recycling.

      Delete
  20. This is slightly off-topic, but as I was digging through the pantry, I came across various sugars. I enjoy baking, so none of them are outdated, but the brown sugar always vexes me because it hardens into a big clump. Any no-fail tricks for dealing with that?

    ReplyDelete
    Replies
    1. You can put a couple of slices of bread in with it and let it sit overnight, I've also heard that you can microwave it. Google has pages of tips on how to soften brown sugar -- one uses apple slices!

      Delete
    2. The bread trick works for me every time. Just seal the sugar up tightly.

      Mary/Liz

      Delete
    3. First, brown sugar has to be stored in an airtight container, not just the plastic bag it is sold in. Secondly, look for a clay sugar softener. They're usually sold in the same aisle in the grocery store with the baking supplies, but Amazon has them, too: https://www.amazon.com/Brown-Sugar-Bear-Original-Terracotta/dp/B000MT65BC

      You soak the little bear (or whatever) in water, then when it's no longer wet on the outside, drop it in with the brown sugar. It will keep it soft for you.

      The other thing you can do is to microwave the sugar on low power for a few seconds at a time, until it softens. Sugar gets hot very quickly in the microwave, so be careful to just heat it a bit before you check it.

      Delete
    4. I just double bag it in plastic and then seal it in a plastic takeout container. Thus imprisoned it doesn't dare harden.

      Delete
  21. Hallie- I do a spice purge every couple of years. Hub is a condiment collector so it's the back of our fridge that has stuff expired from years gone by - maddening! Side note: I'm typing this from jury duty. Because of course I got called for jury duty when I have a book due in nine days! Argh!

    ReplyDelete
    Replies
    1. Jenn, George Carlin had a great way to get out of jury duty - Just tell the judge you'd make a great juror because you can spot a guilty person *snap of the fingers* just like that!

      Or you could hope for what happened to me one time I got called. They asked if anyone had a reason they thought they wouldn't be able to serve on the jury. I raised my hand and they called me up to the bench and asked me why. I told them, "I know the prosecution witness, the defense witness and the defendant. And believe me, if he's sitting at the table, he did it." I was dismissed forthwith.

      Delete
    2. Jenn, you'd be SUCH a good juror!

      Delete
    3. Jonathan is handling a big trial right now, Jay, and so happy you're not on his jury! ( He's the defense attorney..:-) ) xoxo

      Delete
    4. Ha, Jay! I used to work with a lot of attorneys and when I got called to jury duty I *could* have said, "Well, I go drinking with those two and dated that other one, and you, your honor, represented my mother in her divorce . . . " but I confined myself to reminding the judge that I worked for the prosecuting attorney's office. He let me go.

      Delete
    5. Hank, I know Jonathan is the defense attorney. I pay attention when you talk at your signings. :D

      Gigi, I could've just said my father's a cop and that would've done the trick because whenever my mother got called she was dismissed as soon as they realized she was married to a cop. But they did ask for MY reason so I gave it to them.

      Delete
  22. I went thru the cabinet i have none that are expired but when i did go thru it before i made a list of what i was throwing out and then i could go to the store and pick them up 2 at a time the ones that i use i picked up right away and the others as i need them.

    ReplyDelete
  23. I got a shipment from Thrive Market that was meant for someone else, and they said to just keep it and not send it back. Apparently that person had heard about how good Tumeric is for your health, because now I have lots of Tumeric -- powdered, Tumeric Tea, etc. I also got a huge packet of ground ginger and my favorite: cinnamon sticks! Now I just have to find recipes using Tumeric. I really won the lottery with that box -- I had only ordered some probiotics and protein powder!

    ReplyDelete
    Replies
    1. This reminds me of all the tea bags I have at the back of the cabinet that I got when I was trying different herb teas to find one I liked. I almost never used them because I prefer black tea. Once in a while I'll use the fruit ones to make iced tea, though. I wonder how long those are good for?

      Delete
    2. You certainly did luck out! Turmeric? Go figure. Don't get it anything it stains.

      Delete
  24. You can get a small amount of spices (if you think you'll only use it once, for example) from stores where they sell them in bulk. I like to get fresh cardamom and ginger when I make gingersnaps (it really does make a difference IMO) and I get them from Sprouts. I think their default price is a twenty-five cents.

    ReplyDelete
    Replies
    1. I don't think I've tried spices from Sprouts. Will make a note. I have found that their bulk nuts always taste stale to me. But not to my husband.

      Delete
    2. Cardamom. I might have bought some years ago when I thought it was a good idea to make a fruitcake.

      Delete
    3. If you add a bit of it to anything requiring cinnamon it really makes the cinnamon pop.

      Delete
  25. Somehow, instead of posting "fresh" I replied to Margaret. Oh well. This is sort of on the same page. How long can you keep an opened jar of olives? Do they go bad at some point?

    ReplyDelete
  26. Thanks for the nudge today. I've been cleaning out one drawer at a time for the last couple of weeks, but had put off working on the spice drawer (similar to a silverware drawer). Got rid of a bunch of stuff: coriander seed, anise seed, sesame seed--all which zero fragrance left; duplicate of ground cinnamon and tarragon; hard as a rock minced garlic.

    ReplyDelete
  27. Oh, I've been needing to weed my spices for ages. So funny that the post today asks how old your paprika is because when I bought new paprika a couple of weeks ago, I promised myself that I wouldn't put it in the cabinet until I weeded my spices. It's still sitting on the kitchen counter. I guess I need to get started on the weeding. I'll post later what the oldest date I come across is.

    ReplyDelete
  28. Speaking of sage... we were, weren't we? I grow it (it's a perennial) and fresh sage leaves briefly fried crisp in hot butter are spectacularly tasty! Serve sprinkled on grilled meat or fish.

    ReplyDelete
    Replies
    1. Sage is a perennial? I wish I'd known that before The Hubby ripped our sage out of the ground last year.

      Mary/Liz

      Delete
  29. After hubby almost killed himself using way too old crushed red pepper (turns out it turns into something deadly if left to its own devices long enough) I started cleaning out my spice cupboard regularly. That does not stop the occasional surprise. Just how long can you keep cardamon seed? But it does cut down on it. Generally, I give the questionables the sniff test. If it doesn't smell like it should -- toss. If the color is off -- toss. If the contents move by themselves when it's on the shelf -- toss -- in the outside garbage. Those pesky little paprika bugs. I too tend towards fresh herbs and grow my own when I can. Nothing better than fresh pesto. Yum!

    ReplyDelete
    Replies
    1. Paprika BUGS? Oh, I am sorry to hear about that.

      Delete