Spices

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Information

Herb or Spice?

Herbs are leaves of low-growing shrubs. Examples are parsley, chives, marjoram, thyme, basil, caraway, dill, oregano, rosemary, savory, sage and celery leaves. These can be used fresh or dried. Dried forms may be whole, crushed, or ground. Many herbs can be grown in the United States in or out of doors.

Spices come from the bark (cinnamon), root (ginger, onion, garlic), buds (cloves, saffron), seeds (yellow mustard, poppy, sesame), berry (black pepper), or the fruit (allspice, paprika) of tropical plants and trees.

Whole herbs and spices last much longer than crushed or ground forms. Many consumers prefer to buy the whole form and crush or grind as needed for greater freshness. Herbs and spices can be crushed with a mortar and pestle, by using a rolling pin with spices between two cloths, or by using the back of a spoon in a cup.

Check ground or crushed herbs and spices for freshness at least once a year. If no aroma is detected after crushing, the seasoning needs to be replaced. Mustard seed and poppy seed aromas will be difficult to detect. Buying the smaller size instead of the economy size container will save money if the large package is not used while it is still fresh.

Storage

Store away from moisture. Dampness causes caking and a loss of quality. Store in tightly covered, air tight container. Use clean, dry spoons for measuring. Store in a cool place. Do not store in a window or in sunlight, or near heat sources such as the cooking areas or the dishwasher. In hot climates, store spices such as paprika, red pepper, and chili powder in the refrigerator to maintain quality.

Usage Tips

Ground spices release their flavor more quickly than whole spices. Ground spices such as ground thyme or ground cumin can be used in recipes with short cooking times or can be added near the end of cooking for longer cooking recipes.

Whole spices need a longer time to release their flavor. They work well in longer cooking recipes like soups and stews.

Robust herbs such as sage, thyme and bay leaves stand up well in long cooking while milder herbs like basil, marjoram and parsley can be added at the last minute for best results.

Rub leafy herbs in the palm of your hand to release the flavor and aroma.

To double a recipe, increase spices and herbs by one and one-half, TASTE and then add more if necessary. In most recipes one and one-half times the seasoning will be sufficient to provide desired flavor.

Spices such as fennel seed, cumin seed, sesame seed and white peppercorns may be toasted to intensify their flavors. Simply add the spice to a dry, non-stick, heated skillet and heat until aromatic.

Whole spices and seeds may be best ground using a small electric coffee grinder or spice mill. A pepper mill or mortar and pestle may also be used.

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