Your kitchen cupboards will need to contain an extensive range of dried herbs, spices and seasoning blends to enable you to replicate the Asian recipes listed within. Special touches of flavour may be found in packets, shaker jars, small and large pots and grinders. For great ideas on how to use herbs and spices to create flavour-filled meals, browse our extensive array of herbs & spices pages.
For millenia, herbs and spices have been a key ingredient in Asian cuisine. Whilst we now take the more common herbs and spices as commonplace, wars were once fought over salt and pepper and other rarer spices! A century ago, only royalty and rich noblemen and merchants could rare spices such as cinnamon. In this day and age, you’ll find these in inexpensive abundance in any supermarket the world over. Even small grocery stores proudly display well-stocked racks of various herbs and spices.
Whilst the term “spices” is broadly to include seasonings in general, its important to note that spices come from the bark, roots, leaves, stems, buds, seeds, or fruit of aromatic shrubs and trees. The most highy sought after in centuries past were those which grew only in the tropics, particularly in South East Asia. Pepper, allspice, cloves, nutmeg, mace, cinnamon, ginger, saffron, and turmeric are among moree widely known and used spices.
By contrst, herbs are ivariably soft, succulent plants grown in temperate climates. In years past, European chefs have had to make do with a modest array of fresh herbs; sage, parsley, thyme., shives etc. Modern horicultural techniques andrapid transport and logistics systems now mean you can find fresh basil, coriander, chervil, tarragon, rosemary, and dill in your local supermarket year round! As herbs are at their best when freshly picked, its also well worth growing your own, if you have room in your garden.
Keep spices and herbs in a cool, dark place away from heat, moisture and direct sunlight e.g. not over the stove, or near a window and ideally in airtight bottles. Whole spices and herbs maintain their freshness longer than ground ones e.g. cumin seeds will keep better and longer than ground cumin. The shelf life of properly stored spices and herbs is approximately 4 years for whole spices, 2-3 years for ground spices and 1-3 years for leafy herbs, depending on the herb.
Spices and herbs do not so much “go off” but their aroma and strength fade over time. The “look, smell and taste” test should allow you to quickly determine if a spice has reached its end of life…. If the colour is fading, and the expected fresh aroma or taste is not present, its probably time for a fresh packet/bottle.
Its best to shake the contents into your measuring spoon. If you must insert a spoon into the bottle or packet, ensure that it is completely dry. Moisture within a spice bottle will quickly cause in “caking” and taste loss. For the same reason, don’t sprinkle spices and herbs directly from a container over a steaming pan.
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