Friday, February 11, 2011

Spice Shopping

I have a cupboard full of spices.

Interesting organizational system!

From my reading, I now know that spices have a shelf life. When I checked these, I was amazed at how long I had some of them. I got this tin of whole nutmeg from my dear friend Jeanette when she was moving from Ohio to Florida in 1978! I know it was hers because I recognize her handwriting on the top.


Some sources say that after a year a spice has lost its potency and should be replaced. Those are probably mostly folks who sell spices! The other rule of thumb is to check for aroma. If the spice still smells, well... spicy, it should be usable. But I think that is the technique when using spice to flavor food. I'm not sure how to gage the potency of spice for health and healing purposes. If any of you have any information or thoughts about that, please share.
Most supermarkets have a good selection of the commonly used spices. There are excellent Internet resources as well. Many of my friends recommend Penzeys but I have never tried them. I wanted to buy fresh spice in small quantities because I am experimenting with new flavors and different heats that I may or may not like. And if I am going to err on the side of freshness, small amounts are better.

I found a perfectly wonderful source right here in Dayton. One of the Five Rivers MetroParks' Urban Parks is the Second Street Market. The market operates in an historic block-long 1911 former B&O railroad building.  It was saved from demolition and renovated in 2001and houses an assortment of vendors for prepared foods, meat and produce, fresh flowers, and arts and crafts. One of the shops is The Spice Rack.

The Spice Rack has a wide assortment of spices in small containers with larger amounts readily available. They also sell organic flours and grains, Amish butter and cheeses, beautiful colored sugars, and honey. I'd stopped here many times to buy local honey to help ward off seasonal allergies but am now a confirmed spice shopper as well. 

I was interested in turmeric, cinnamon, cardamom, and cumin. The shop owner, Homer, and his lovely assistant Shannon helped me find everything I needed. This is definitely my new go-to place for spices!

The atmosphere on Saturdays at Second Street Market is festive and relaxed. I had a delicious Thai omelet for lunch, saw many friends and acquaintances, and in addition to my spices got beautiful artisan bread, fresh kale, and a green plant to take home for a promise of spring.

My next task is to purge my spice cupboard and label my spices with date of purchase. In the meantime, because they are so pretty, my fresh spices are residing on a shelf in my kitchen. They are tucked among some plants and some favorite things, reminding me of the beauty of life and the joy of treating my body well.


  1. Some of the newer spice containers actually have expiration dates. My Simply Organic, McCormick's and Private Selection spices all had "Best Used By" dates stamped on the bottom. Of course, you have to check these dates when you buy spices, too. I got rid of all my spices when we moved 2 1/2 years ago. And when we moved more frequently, that was how I would keep my spice cabinet fresh. Still, I just noticed that the Turmeric I bought last year was best used by 2007, so it expired several years before I bought it.

  2. I checked the bottom of my bottle of Simply Organic Cinnamon and sure enough, Best Used by 10/2012 was there. The bottle is 2.45 ounces, quite a lot, but I use it almost daily. I checked the older tins from my cupboard and found one with a sell by January 2000 (.56 oz Dill Weed) that still smells deliciously like dill. This spice purge will be entertaining!

  3. Judy, we keep many of our spices in the freezer along with exotic items like curry and galangal root. They stay fresh much longer. I fill up my little jars from there. Also, spices in clear jars and near the heat from your stove will degrade and lose their potency much faster. Have fun! Spices are one of my global indulgences. :)

  4. I remember when I read Animal, Vegetable, Miracle that Barbara Kingsolver noted two of the allowed exceptions to eating local foods were coffee and spices. I'm considering ordering those cute little metal containers for the spices I'm using constantly. For the rest, I'll take your advice and make some space in my freezer.

  5. The more I developed my love for herb gardening, the more my interest in spices has grown, and I now have a a great collection of spice and herb cookbooks, too. As a nurse, it was natural for me to connect with the healing properties and potential of both. I buy small quantities of bulk products from Whole Foods and Central Market, and heartily endorse Penzey's. We have one store in the Houston area, so I drive there every few months to refill my bottles. They have some wonderful spice blends that have become staples for me.

  6. I so wish we had a Whole Foods here. My goddaughter Kate lives within walking distance of Whole Foods in Sarasota. When I visited last summer I spent as much time there as on the beach!