Test tubes, small magnetic glass jars, spice racks… it’s decoration, but alas, it’s absolutely not the right way to store your spices.
For spices, avoid at all costs:
- The heat, therefore the proximity of the oven or hotplates.
- The light, and in particular the ultraviolet rays of the sun.
- Humidity and temperature variations
What precautions to take for spices
Plants, berries, and therefore spices are the basis of herbal medicine, then of pharmacy. There are many virtues in spices: antioxidants (eg turmeric), diuretics (star anise), antiseptics, analgesics (eugenol in cloves for example), etc…. there are also pigments, and aromatic molecules.
All these active ingredients are organic molecules, and, like other organic molecules, such as drugs, they are sensitive to UV (emitted by the sun’s rays) which can fragment them, at temperature.
Avoid spices in the markets
Buying in small quantities at retail is obviously fine, but you have to avoid tourist traps and pretty spice domes in full sun. It’s beautiful, it smells good… .but it will smell much less good at home because all the fragile aromas leave and the sun spoils the flavors and the colors.
It is therefore necessary to store its spices in airtight boxes, in a cupboard, or in small bottles of smoked glasses.
The spices can be stored for 3-4 years without any problem. Writing a Best Before Date is a regulatory obligation for distributors, but in good storage conditions, there is no risk in keeping spices for several years. The taste will still gradually be lost.
For dried herbs such as bay leaves, rosemary, thyme etc…. The duration is rather one year. You will quickly lose the fresh aromatic molecules. In most of these products, you have very fragile molecules found in essential oils: lauric acid from laurel, rosmarinic acid from rosemary, just like limonene and citral in the zest of lemons and oranges …
Consumed fresh, it is very powerful and aromatic, while dry, other flavors are retained but many molecules are lost.
Bouquet garni dry at the start of cooking
The bouquet garni placed at the start of cooking is not necessarily the best idea.
Chemistry teaches that in the kitchen, it is possible to reason as in perfumery. There are top notes (fragile and volatile), middle notes (intermediate), and base notes (heavy and persistent molecules). The notes of freshness, acidity, essential oils are very fragrant, which means very fragile.
If you can smell them, it is because a low temperature is enough to evaporate them in the room so that they then arrive in your nose. These are top notes. If you place them at the start of cooking, you lose everything in the room. Fresh laurel, fresh thyme etc … must be put in the last minute on the contrary, dry thyme, dry bay leaf, and spices such as peppercorns, mustard, star anise etc … are rich in base notes, they are aromatic molecules which “remain” in the pan. They must therefore be placed at the beginning.
It is indeed widespread in Chinese and Indian cuisine for example. Cooking often starts with a little oil, spices, at least 2-3 min. Then add ginger, garlic, meat etc …
2 main reasons:
- Historically for health problems. Heating at high temperature allows to kill germs, possible molds, and some animals which can lodge in fresh spices and more or less well stored (such as fresh pepper for example).
- This sanitary gesture also gives much more flavor to the dish: roasting amplifies certain notes and releases the flavors of spices. Vanillin holds at over 280 ° C, eugenol at over 250 ° C, piperine in pepper ditto, over 230 ° C … If you place these products at the start of cooking, there is no risk for the aromas. Even better, the heat also helps to break the rigid fibers of the spices, and to “bring out” the aromatic molecules.
Moreover, you can skillet peppercorns, dry, before putting them in your spice grinder. The taste will be very interesting.
In the diffusion of aromas, it is necessary to release the good molecules, and indeed, to limit the unwanted ones. The outer hulls and fibers can actually add bitterness as they infuse. You have to think as with tea: at the beginning it’s interesting, but very quickly, theobromine and other tannins are released and are responsible for the bitterness. So for spices, the ideal is to quickly release the flavors, and then limit the side reactions. Tea balls are ideal for infusing broth or sauce. Or filter the preparation.
You have to look at the labels to find out what the mixtures really contain. 2 scenarios:
- Blend of spices alone. This avoids embarking on complex recipes. There are balances that are not simple or that require very many ingredients. Ex: garam massala.
- Products that contain salt, and sometimes also aromas (because less expensive than real spices). You have to be vigilant, because it is often very expensive per additional kilo. Make yourself guacamole for example or paella rather than buying these ultra-processed products.