Spice it up! – Part 2

Last week Jody gave us some helpful tips on using spices in cooking to give food lots of flavor without using too much salt. She also shared which spices we use most in our recipes and how to store them for maximum shelf life. You have probably guessed that we on the Spend Smart. Eat Smart. team really like to cook so experimenting with different flavors and spices is fun for us.

Even though I like to cook and cook at home most of the time, I can still get ahead of myself when it comes to spices. Ground spices (cumin, chili powder, curry powder, etc.) have their maximum flavor for 2-4 years after you open them. Dried herbs (basil, thyme, parsley, etc.) are best used within 1-3 years. Given how quickly some foods perish, this seems like a really long shelf life. Nevertheless, it is easy to have a spice in your cabinet for many years if you only use it on rare occasion. Here are some tips I use to keep my spices in check and avoid wasting money on spices I have to throw out.

  1. I buy spices in the smallest container I can. This saves space in my cabinet, reduces the risk of waste and allows me to try new spices without committing to buying a large container.
  2. I mark each container with the date that I open it, so I do not have to guess how long it has been sitting in my cabinet.
  3. Once a year I go through my spice cabinet and make my own all-purpose seasoning blends with the bits of spices I have left in my cabinet. I like to do this around New Year’s Day when I tend to have a lot of time around the house. I find that I go through the blends faster than individual spices. You can adjust the ratios of these blends based on what you have and what flavors you enjoy most. Some of my favorites include:
    • Taco Seasoning: This works well for any Tex Mex dish I am making. It is delicious in taco meat, beans or even soups with a similar flavor profile.
    • Dried Onion Soup Mix: I have several recipes I make that call for dried onion soup mix and I would rather use up the seasonings I already have than buy a packet at the store.
    • Italian Seasoning Blend: rosemary, thyme, parsley, red pepper flakes, garlic powder, oregano and onion powder. I use this on chicken, steak, vegetables, roasted potatoes and in pasta dishes. It is all of the same ingredients as store-bought Italian seasoning, but it allows me to use what I already have rather than buy another jar.
    • Grill Seasoning: garlic powder, onion powder, black pepper, red pepper flakes and paprika. This is tasty on meats and veggies that I grill or roast.
  4.  If I find a recipe that calls for a spice I do not already have, I look for one or two other recipes that use it before I buy it. This way I know that I have multiple ideas for using that spice and I will make good use of it.

These are some tips that work for me…how do you keep your spice cabinet from getting out of control? Share with us in the comments or on our social media this week. You’ll hear more about the Taco Seasoning and Dried Onion Soup Mix from Justine next month.

Happy Cooking!

Christine Hradek

Christine Hradek

Christine Hradek is a State Nutrition Specialist with Iowa State University Extension and Outreach. She coordinates ISU’s programs which help families with low income make healthy choices with limited food budgets. Christine loves helping families learn to prepare healthy foods, have fun in the kitchen and save money. In her spare time, Christine enjoys cooking, entertaining and cheering on her favorite college football teams with her family and friends.

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Spice it up!

When creating recipes for Spend Smart. Eat Smart. three things we keep in mind are the flavor, the cost, and the nutrition content. We want our recipes to taste good, provide good nutrition, and be relatively low cost to make. To determine if our recipes provide good nutrition, each recipe must meet our nutrition guidelines. One guideline we pay particular attention to is sodium. The sodium level in our recipes needs to be low to moderate. The limit varies depending on if the recipe is for a:

  • casserole style dish – 700 mg or below per serving
  • entrée – 400 mg or below per serving
  • side dish or snack – 200 mg or below per serving

The Dietary Guidelines for Americans recommend we consume less than 2,300 mg of sodium per day and move toward an ideal limit of no more than 1,500 mg per day for most adults. However, on average, Americans eat more than 3,400 mg of sodium each day.

In order to meet our sodium guidelines, we use various spices to add flavor to our Spend Smart. Eat Smart. recipes so less salt is needed. The spices we most often use include black pepper, garlic powder, cinnamon, cumin, chili powder, and Italian seasoning blend. If you want to keep just a few spices on hand, these would be good ones to start with.  

Here are a few tips to keep in mind when using spices:

  • Use them with care, especially if you are not familiar with their flavor. You can always add more spices, but you can’t take them away so start with a small amount.
  • For chilled foods, such as salads or dips, add seasonings several hours ahead so flavors can blend.
  • Store spices in tightly covered containers in a cool, dry, dark place (not the refrigerator). Avoid placing spices above the stove since heat can destroy the flavor.

Next week Christine will share some tips on buying spices and making your own seasoning blends.

Jody Gatewood

Jody Gatewood

Jody Gatewood is a Registered Dietitian who enjoys spending time in the kitchen baking and preparing meals for her family. She does lots of meal planning to stay organized and feed her family nutritious meals.

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Spice Cupboard Spring Cleaning

Spice Mix - 2 Spice Mix - 1Sometimes the idea of spring cleaning is just too much. When the weather turns warm I have a hard time staying in the house scrubbing floors and cleaning bathrooms, but there is one spring cleaning chore that I actually enjoy – cleaning out and sprucing up my pantry and cupboards!

Most dried spices start to lose their flavor after about a year or so but they can hide in our cabinets for much longer than that if we don’t make a point of cleaning them out. Once a year I go through all of my spices and either throw out any that are more than a year old or make a point of getting them used up quickly. I often end up with a few containers that still have a fair bit of spice left in them that I don’t want to waste. I combine these spices into one all-purpose seasoning mix that I use for vegetables, meats and even soup seasoning. I tend to have things like thyme, parsley, garlic powder, chili powder, cumin, and poultry seasoning. These are many of the common ingredients in pre-packaged spice mixes. This little spring cleaning tip not only avoids waste, but it also saves me money!

Christine Hradek

Christine Hradek

Christine Hradek is a State Nutrition Specialist with Iowa State University Extension and Outreach. She coordinates ISU’s programs which help families with low income make healthy choices with limited food budgets. Christine loves helping families learn to prepare healthy foods, have fun in the kitchen and save money. In her spare time, Christine enjoys cooking, entertaining and cheering on her favorite college football teams with her family and friends.

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