The Frugal Café | Photo credit: Rebecca Anne, "Flora's Cup"</a> | Creative Commons License, Flickr.com
Photo credit: Rebecca Anne, "Flora's Cup" | Creative Commons License, Flickr.com

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Frugal Kitchen Tips: More Bang for Your Buck... Keep Your Spices and Dried Herbs Fresh Longer

By Vicki McClure Davidson

 

Cinnamon bark, a popular spice



Cinnamon bark, a popular spice

Spices and dried herbs have flavored foods and been revered and enjoyed for centuries — they also have many medicinal and therapeutic properties. Long before European explorers searched for spice routes and exotic new spices, the ancient Egyptians preserved their mummies with herbs and spices.

Once only available to royalty and the wealthy, spices and dried herbs are now cheap enough for the average person to purchase. But compared to other food items, many can still be quite pricey (saffron is one of the most expensive spices in the world and was once sold at the price of gold). So you want to make sure, after making your purchase, to do what you can to make every bit bursting with intense flavor for as long as possible, to prolong its life.

Spices and dried herbs, while they store well, don't last forever. Here are some tips to extend their freshness, thus saving you money.

Storage of Spices and Herbs

 

Spice/Herb Life Span

 

Spice/Herb Usage

What exactly is the difference between a spice and an herb? Spices and herbs can consist of seeds, flower buds, bark, leaves, or other parts of a plant. The definitions for spices and herbs have changed over the years. In the past, spices have been categorized as fragrant, aromatic plant products like anise, cinnamon, cloves, ginger, nutmeg, turmeric, vanilla, saffron, and pepper; they tend to be more woody. Spices are found in plants grown in tropical and subtropical regions of the world. Herbs, on the other hand, have always been recognized as the more green, leafy products like mint, oregano, basil, rosemary, savory, lemon balm, and thyme. These grow in more temperate regions. In some cases, when not considering where it is a grown, a plant product can be accurately called both a spice and an herb.

While some people are adament that fresh herbs are "better" than dried, I don't agree. Both are good, depending on the dish to which they'll be added. And when herbs are't in season, unless you want to pay top dollar for a hothouse or imported herb, dried is a better cost-saving alternative. In most recipes, substituting dried herbs for fresh and vice versa works just fine. Not so, however, when the texture of the herb leaves are an imperative, such as with making pesto. Dried basil won't make a creamy pesto like fresh basil leaves will. But in the majority of recipes, you can substitute one for the other.

The ratio for using dried herbs to fresh is 1:3. Dried herbs are more concentrated than fresh. If a recipe calls for 1 tablespoon of fresh rosemary and you will be using dried, use just 1 teaspoon.

Take advantage of sales on herbs when they are in abundance at the peak of their season. Many areas in the country have wild herbs growing in public places, so become familiar with them and their growing seasons. If you and a neighbor both have herb gardens, trade with each other to give each other variety in your pantry inventories. Make it a point to prepare more meals using that/those herb(s) while they're in season. Being frugal means paying attention to when food/seasoning items are at their greatest abundance and lowest prices.

If you can't possibly use up all the cilantro, dill, rosemary, or parsley you've bought or grown before they go bad or wither in the garden, consider drying them yourself and storing them to use over the next six months to a year. Click here for information on drying your own herbs at home.

From a nutritional standpoint, a number of herbs and spices are high in antioxidants. Here is a list of those with the greatest abundance, courtesy of EatingWell.com:

Top 10 Dried Herbs & Spices for Antioxidants

 

Top 6 Fresh Herbs for Antioxidants

 

Sources:

EatingWell.com, "Top Fresh and Dried Herbs and Spices for Antioxidants," (http://www.eatingwell.com/nutrition_health/ nutrition_news_information/ top_fresh_and_dried_herbs_and_spices_for_antioxidants).
Hanus, Shauna, Ezine website, "Keeping Spices Fresh Keeps Flavor at its Peak," (http://ezinearticles.com/?Keeping-Spices-Fresh-Keeps-Flavor-at-its-Peak&id=130850)
Larsen, Linda, About.com Busy Cooks, "Get the Most Out of Dried Herbs,", (http://busycooks.about.com/od/quicktips/qt/usedriedherbs.htm).
McCormick website, "Keeping It Fresh," (http://www.mccormick.com/Spices101/HowOldSpices/KeepingItFresh.aspx).
Sunflower Farmers Market Magazine, "How to Keep Spices Fresh," August 2010.

 

 

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