Newspaper article Sarasota Herald Tribune

Old Spices and Their Stories

Newspaper article Sarasota Herald Tribune

Old Spices and Their Stories

Article excerpt

So you have decided to make an old favorite family recipe and the vague image of a red and white spice tin purchased years ago comes to mind. Once you find it lurking in the far corner of the cupboard, you go to check the date and discover there is none.If it is from McCormick or Schilling, you can find out just how old it is. Here's how:Go to http://www.mccormick.com/Spices101/ HowOldSpices.aspx.Click on "How old are your spices?" A box will appear asking for the code printed on the bottom of the box or bottle. Type it in.Look at the spice label to find the city where it was bottled. Choose either Baltimore or Hunt Valley, Md., from the drop-down menu.Click "Check results" and you will get not only the date your spice was produced, but also a zinger such as "The 2000 presidential election lasted too long. Your spices have overstayed their welcome, too."If the city named on your McCormick spice is Baltimore or if it is in a tin (except for black pepper), it is more than 15 (yes, 15!) years old. If you have a bottle or jar labeled Schilling, it is at least 7 years old.If dried herbs or spices are hiding out in your cupboards, I challenge you to check out their birthdates.Send me the results for a future column and bragging rights. If you can remember, tell me about the recipe or occasion they were for.I am not proud of this, but I have found three spices in my refrigerator with numbers instead of "best by" dates, and in the spirit of fairness am prepared to share mine if you will share yours.I discovered the McCormick Web site as I looked for an answer to reader Sue Allen's request for spice combinations to use with roasted vegetables. I had made a mental note to revisit the subject and talk about shelf life, among other things. Allen must have been on the same wave length as she wrote her second e-mail: "(Spices) are so expensive that I find myself holding on to them when they have actually probably lost their potency."Culinary herbs are the leafy portions of a plant. They may be fresh or dried and may be crushed, crumbled, rubbed, whole or ground. Examples include basil, bay leaves, parsley, chives, marjoram, caraway, dill, oregano, cilantro, rosemary, sage and thyme.Spices are harvested from any other portion of the plant and are typically dried and often ground. Popular spices come from berries (peppercorns), roots (ginger), seeds (coriander, mustard, poppy, sesame), bark (cinnamon), flower buds (cloves) or even the stamen of flowers (saffron). They may be added whole to a recipe, but more often are ground or powdered.Spices and dried herbs do not spoil, they just lose their strength. And if you have priced small bottles of herbs and spices, you may be tempted to make do with what you already have. (Some cooks have had limited success using larger amounts of herbs or spices that may have lost some of their "oomph.")But given the time and work that go into many recipes, not to mention the expense of the ingredients, it seems foolhardy to risk a finished product that falls short of your expectations by using spices and herbs that may have passed their prime.When you do buy spices, look at the freshness date on the bottle. If you don't think you will be able to use them up, try sharing with a friend. …

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