Herbs and Spices……The Basics

Herbs and spices have a huge impact on the taste and aroma of food What is the difference between herbs and spices one would ask? In cooking, we regard herbs as originating from the leafy part of a plant(either fresh or dried) and spices from a different part of a plant(usually dried) including seeds,berries, bark and roots. Herbs include Basil, thyme, rosemary, coriander(dhania), chives, green onions, parsely, mint etc. For spices, we have cinamon, nutmeg, black pepper, cloves, cardamon, cumin etc. There are lots of varieties of herbs and spices used around the world but one general rule is that they are used in small amounts to flavour food so take care not to overdo it.

Buying Herbs & Spices 

Herbs and spices have a huge impact on the taste and aroma of food, so use your senses when shopping and consider the following tips

Fresh herbs should smell fresh and flavorful.

They shouldn’t be wilted, have brown spots or mold, or feel slimy.

Fresh spices like ginger or garlic should feel plump and firm. Avoid specimens with soft spots or a musty odor.

Dried herbs and spices are trickier to evaluate because they’re usually in sealed containers. One trick I use is to shop in stores with a high turnover, and check expiration dates to ensure the stock is not old. You need to avoid dusty bottles and ground spices that appear clumped, as this is an indication of long storage period. If possible, buy whole spices and grind them yourself. One last thing, think twice about buying in large quantities, unless you’re sure you’ll use the herb or spice within six months.

Storing Herbs & Spices

Once they’re cut from their plant, fresh herbs have a short shelf life. Maximize it by wrapping the stems in a damp paper towel, and placing the herbs in a plastic bag in the refrigerator. Most will keep for at least a few days. Or, clean and puree leafy herbs, like basil or parsley, spoon into ice cube trays, cover and freeze for up to three months. Spices like garlic and ginger on the other hand can be kept at cool room temperature.

Dried herbs and spices do not have an indefinite shelf life. For optimal flavor, use within six months to a year after opening. Store in a dark, dry place away from heat sources, such as stoves or appliances.