7 Desserts for Spice Rack Spring Cleaning

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Source: flickr.com/photos/atbaker

Source: flickr.com/photos/atbaker

Today’s Waste-Me-Not PSA: Your spices don’t last forever. They typically have a shelf life of no more than a year before they turn into colorful sawdust, faint whispers of what they once were. Black pepper loses its snap, garlic loses its pungency, and dried herbs lose their earthiness. Vanilla beans — precious pods of flavor — dry up and become all but unusable. The volatile oils in ground spices like cinnamon and cumin, in particular, tend to fade more quickly than whole dried spices like peppercorns, whole nutmeg, and whole allspice.

Buying certain spices from “boutique” dealers like Juliet Mae Fine Spices and Herbs can help extend the shelf life of shorter-lived spices like cumin, cinnamon, paprika, and cumin. Not only is the quality probably higher than your typical supermarket brand, but the spices from specialty shops have smaller inventories and higher turnover rates than big chain stores.

Have you ever felt like paprika was nothing but the tasteless, dull red decoration sprinkled over deviled eggs? Chances are, you’ve never experienced paprika that isn’t stale; good paprika will be bright red and range from sweet to spicy to smoky in flavor. If your red spices are browning, your green herbs are graying, or your powders are scentless, it may be too late. Don’t store spices in the freezer; every time you take them out to use, a little bit of condensation builds up and deteriorates the flavor prematurely. Don’t shake them directly over hot, steamy pots either, because the heat and moisture will also quickly cause the flavor to deteriorate.

Spices are not always the cheapest ingredient in a dish, but they are always important ingredients for developing flavor. If you’re using spices — especially more expensive ones like saffron threads and whole vanilla beans — so sparingly that they lose their flavor before you use them up, you’ve wasted your money and your spices. Instead, dedicate to clearing out your spice rack at least once a year to make good on your investment and use the spices to their full potential. You could make chili, curry, or chili oil to use up your spices at the end of their tenure, but why not experiment and feel good about the new life you’re giving your old spices? These seven desserts may seem like unorthodox flavors (bay leaves in pound cake?) but they’re sure to make the best of an old jar or two.

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