The Spice Mausoleum

In my life I’ve done a lot of housesitting and it was fun to cook in different kitchens. I always took a good look at the herb and spice cupboards. Were the herbs and spices in airtight containers and closed properly? Often, they were half opened. Sometimes I was horrified to see that they had expired years ago; one was even decades old! It was cinnamon and it tasted downright nasty. Hmmm . . . how would cookies taste if I used this rancid spice? Overtime I referred to these old collections of herbs and spices as “Spice Mausoleum.” They just sit there year after year going stale and lose their vibrant colors and complex aromas. Why? Because most people don’t like to waste them since they are expensive and cooks do not understand that they have a limited shelf life.

One of the easiest ways to improve your cooking is to keep your herbs and spices fresh. When I developed the “Plenty Method” described in my book, I found a way to keep herbs and spices fresh without breaking the bank. I made a list of the herbs and spices I used on a regular basis. I found the perfect glass spice jar. It had a 100% airtight lid, contained two ounces, and fit nicely into my spice drawer. I located a company that sells bulk herbs and spices by the ounce and placed an order including labels. When they arrived, I filled the jars and labeled them.

I discovered that the solution to “Spice Mausoleum Syndrome” was to replace the entire collection every two years. I place an order and when it arrives, I empty out my jars, wash them, and refill. Doing this procedure guarantees the colors stay vibrant and the flavors are robust. The cost savings are dramatic so it’s easy to start over every two years.

Herbs and spices have different levels of quality and freshness. In the highest quality, the flavors and aromas are concentrated and multi-dimensional. I order my herbs and spices from Market Spice in Seattle. For example, I can buy bulk ground cumin for 92 cents per ounce. In the store it costs somewhere around $3.50 per ounce in a glass bottle. Basil is $1.38 an ounce and sells for an average of $10.00 per ounce. Buying basil in bulk is an over 7x savings. I found two ounce airtight hexagon jars with gold lids at Specialty Bottle in Seattle for $1.52 per jar including shipping.

Making the change to buy herbs and spices in bulk with airtight jars will keep your herbs and spices from becoming a spice mausoleum. Your herbs and spices will be fresh, flavorful, colorful, and alive. Your everyday cooking will transform into fabulous masterpieces.