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Useful Hints And Tips - Storing Herbs And Spices

Heat, light and age are the three worst enemies of herbs and spices, so do not store them in glass jars, which are out on display in the kitchen. Instead, consider dedicating a small cupboard or a drawer to your ingredients, as this will keep them as cool and as dark as possible. Spices such as turmeric, curry powder, ground cloves and paprika should always be stored in glass or metal containers, as there is a danger that they will erode their original packaging over time. Ideally, all herbs and spices should be transferred to airtight containers, once opened (and a paperclip over the top of the bag does not count as airtight!)

There are some experts who recommend replacing spice stores every six months. In fact, individual herbs and spices have shelf lives which vary widely. For example, ingredients like vanilla pods have the shortest shelf life, as do seeds like sesame and poppy – they generally do not keep as long as spices. If green herbs lose their colour and scent, it does not mean that they are inedible, but it does mean that they have lost their potency and should be replaced. You should keep a note of use-by dates, when you transfer herbs and spices to personal containers, by writing it in pencil on the label, so it can be rubbed out and re-written with each refill. It might sound like an obvious piece of advice, but never top up partly used containers with new spices - always wash and thoroughly dry containers before refilling.

The best way to avoid waste (and save money) is to buy SMALL packets of those herbs and spices which you use rarely. See our Mini-Bag range for inspiration.

SUBSTITUTING DRIED HERBS FOR FRESH

In the UK, it is not always possible to grow everything that you might need throughout the year, and not everybody has the facilities for growing. There are some people who do not have access to the fresh herbs now available from larger food stores. In this case, keeping some essential dried herbs is a good way to extend the range of recipes which can be created all year round.

Dried herbs are more concentrated than fresh herbs, so you should use smaller quantities. The recommended conversion is to substitute teaspoons for tablespoons. So, two teaspoons of dried oregano would equal two tablespoons of fresh oregano, (these measurements rarely have to be exact, so you can use personal judgement, if a recipe calls for `a handful’ of a spice).

Sometimes, dried herbs and spices cannot be substituted for one another. For example, using dried herbs to make pesto is a recipe for disaster. Generally, the degree to which fresh herbs are a central component of a dish will dictate how successfully they can be substituted for dried herbs.

Do remember that ground ginger cannot be used as a substitute for root ginger, as the flavours are completely different.

It is the case, however, that dried herbs can be just as good as fresh herbs in most circumstances. For example; in a salad dressing, or in any dish where dried herbs become saturated. Sauces, stews and casseroles can be very successfully flavoured with dried herbs. In fact, ingredients like bay Leaves are almost never used fresh. Plus, bread making is another area where dried herbs can be more successful than fresh ones.

ALLERGIES TO HERBS AND SPICES - ADVICE FOR COOKS

Allergies relating to herbs and spices are rare, with only 2% of all cases being definitively linked to the consumption of this kind of ingredient. However, three spices have been identified by the EU as requiring specific labelling. They are as follows:

  • Celery Seeds
  • Mustard
  • Sesame Seeds

If an allergy is present, the reaction to these ingredients can be severe (as severe as for peanuts), so cooks are advised to prepare dishes carefully, in order to avoid accidental contamination. This means using separate cooking containers, separate stirring and serving utensils and washing hands after handling these ingredients. It is helpful to inform dinner guests of their presence within a meal, before it is served – just in case somebody does have an allergy. If young children are present, it may be sensible to avoid serving these particular ingredients altogether, unless you have checked for allergies with their parents first.

Sufferers may also have to take into account the botanical relationships between products, and each person (or their parent) will develop their own list of herbs and spices which need to be avoided. A cook can help with this by listening carefully, and taking a practical approach. One of the main problems which allergy sufferers face is disbelief, and the attitude that `a little bit cannot do any harm.’ In fact, a little could be very dangerous.

If the allergy sufferer is a relative, and you are likely to be cooking for them regularly, it is well worth understanding their problem, so that they feel like your house is a safe haven. Do remember that allergies are not static, and that children are prone to grow out of them, so a strict regime of avoidance may gradually be relaxed, as foods are carefully re-introduced under controlled conditions. This does NOT mean that they were never allergic to the food in the first place! In summary:

  • Be kind, as life for an allergy sufferer can be hard enough, without cooks being frustrated about the extra effort it takes to feed them.
  • Double check ingredients which you are not sure about; sufferers will not mind being asked. 
  • Everyone else can eat what they want, but cross-contamination between their food and food destined for the allergy sufferer must be avoided. 
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