The annual practice of spring cleaning began centuries ago, before the advent of vacuum cleaners. Spring was the time of year when it was just warm enough to let the winter dust escape through open windows but still cool enough to keep insects from inhabiting your home through those open windows.
Nowadays, spring cleaning has evolved beyond dusting and encompasses a variety of household chores; cleaning out the garage, organizing drawers, purging closets of years-old clothing. People don’t often think of adding the kitchen to their list of areas to organize, but it’s a good idea to go through those spices and condiments. Out with the old, in with the new.
Most people don’t realize it, but dried spices and herbs will lose their flavor within 6 months to 1 year after purchasing them. One factor that affects their shelf life is storage. They should always be stored away from light and heat. It does seem convenient to have them neatly arranged on a little spice rack right next to your stove, but that’s a big no-no. Arranging them in a cabinet or drawer away from your stove will keep them fresher longer. I prefer drawer storage so you can see them all at once and easily find what you need. To tell if your spices are on their last legs, check the color and scent. If they are lighter in color, they’ve probably also lost some flavor. And if you rub them between your fingers and don’t get that usual fragrant aroma, they’re probably past their prime as well.
If you have a hard time keeping track of the age of your spices and herbs, here are a couple of helpful practices. When you purchase a jar, be sure to write the date on it with a sharpie marker. Then you’ll know that it needs to be replaced one year later if it hasn’t all been used. Alternatively, many grocery stores now offer dried herbs and spices in the bulk section. You can buy only what you need and the labels are often printed with purchase dates. So even if you go a little crazy with that cumin, you’ll know when its year is up.
Now that you’ve got your spices in order, it’s time to hit the pantry. Remember when you bought that jar of molasses for gingerbread you made two years ago? Lucky for you, molasses lasts for a while so you might be able to hang on to that. Chances are, however, that you’ve got a bunch of other stuff hiding out in the deep dark corners of pantry shelves that should be tossed. It’s a good routine to go through your pantry once a year and check all the manufacturers’ dates. If anything has expired, go ahead and toss it.
The same goes for your refrigerator. You might not think there are too many expired items in there since most refrigerated products are perishable, but your condiments, jams, and sauces are all good candidates for spring cleaning.
So go ahead with your yard work, garage organization, and donations to Goodwill. Just don’t forget to give your kitchen some attention in the process too.
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