One thing Kate and I will be doing this year is addressing some of the topics that we frequently get questions about. Kate wrote a great post recently on uses for different types of salts and we have posts on oils and flours too (okay so Kate did all of them). Recently on facebook I mentioned I was cleaning out my disastrous spice cabinet and that sparked some questions on the subject. Since it’s something we get lots of questions about via email and recipe comments, we thought it was time to get spicy! Bad pun, I know.
Both fresh and dried herbs and spices have their place in the kitchen and can often be used interchangeably. Just remember this general rule of thumb:
So if a recipe calls for a tablespoon of fresh chopped basil, you’ll want to use only 1/3 of that amount in a dry herb which would be 1 teaspoon. In some recipes, either dry or fresh herbs are a necessity. Take Chimichurri (pictured at left) or Basil Pesto for example. Neither of those recipes would work with dried herbs. However if you are creating a dry rub, like we use on our Spicy Honey Chicken, you most definitely need dry ground spices to form the crust and hold up on the grill. Or in our Baked Coconut Chicken Fingers, dry spices work well to evenly distribute in the coating. In many recipes however, you can use either fresh or dry, or a combination of the two.
If you’re interested in growing your own herbs, click here for more information. It’s easier than you might think!
At the Store: When it comes to dried spices and herbs at the grocery store, you may be faced with some options. For many herbs there are varying degrees of coarseness, from leaves, to crushed leaves, to ground powders. Often it’s a matter of personal preference, or it may depend on the recipe you are making. Keep in mind that the ground powder versions will be slightly more potent than the same measurement of a crushed leaf merely because of volume. Powers will distribute more evenly, but leaves give flecks of color and texture. For example, crushed rosemary leaves work exceptionally well in this peasant style bread. (Pictured)
Powder or Granulated? When it comes to certain things like garlic and onion, you’ll find both “granulated” and “powder”. We get tons of questions about this because I generally call for granulated garlic in my recipes. Granulated garlic is just a slightly coarser version of garlic powder and the two can be used interchangeably for the most part. I use granulated garlic because it holds up much better in rubs (like in the Taco Chicken pictured at left), as a seasoning on meats, and many other things. It helps form the seasoned crust whereas a garlic powder will just dissolve away.
Salts: Be careful not to use garlic salt, onion salt, or celery salt, in place of garlic, onion, or celery seed. Those spice mixes are mostly salt with a small amount of actual spice in them.
What to buy: What spices you keep on hand obviously depends on types of foods you like to cook. Here is a basic list of good ones to have. These are all spices you’ll need if you’re cooking recipes from Our Best Bites!
(In no particular order) Garlic, onion, cumin, oregano, basil, chili powder, chipotle chili powder, parsley, sage, thyme, dill, curry, rosemary, ground mustard, cayenne pepper, paprika, bay leaves, red pepper flakes, cinnamon, ginger, nutmeg, and cloves.
$ Pricing Spices: There is a huge spread when it comes to how much you pay for spices. Consider buying the ones you use the very most in bulk. In the picture below, the large containers on the left cost less (not just less per ounce, but less total) than the same spice in the size of the small bottles in front. So check out places like Costco, Sam’s Club, or a restaurant supply store, for great deals on bulk spices.
Just buy a bit: Now sometimes you only want a teeny tiny bit of a spice for a recipe. If you’re in need of something that tends to be expensive and you don’t want a whole bottle, consider purchasing just a spoonful or two from somewhere that sells bulk spices. Often certain grocery stores and specialty or ethnic markets sell herbs and spices by the ounce. That way you can grab just the amount you need without paying a fortune. It’s also a great way to experiment with new flavors.
Having a few seasoning blends on hand is a helpful time saver in the kitchen. Sure you can mix them all yourself with things you may already have, but like I said- time saver! Here are some of our favorites:
Italian Seasoning: Great for soups like Italian Turkey Soup (pictured at left) or sprinkling on breads and in sauces.
Cajun/Creole Seasoning: You don’t have to live in the south to find Creole seasoning. It is widely available in most grocery stores. Try it in some of Kate’s classic Southern dishes like Jambalaya,Red Beans and Rice (pictured below right), or Natchitoches Meat pies.
Herbes de Provence: This is one of my favorite seasoning blends. It usually contains thyme, marjoram, rosemary, basil, fennel, sage, and lavender. It’s amazing on roasted chicken, fish, omelets, vegetables and marinades.
Lemon Pepper: I grew up sprinkling lemon pepper on everything I ate! I still love it on vegetables, meats, and get this- white rice (with butter!).
Poultry Seasoning: Handy in chicken recipes (obviously!). Try it in homemade Cream of Chicken Soup.
Seasoned Salt: Especially great for seasoning steaks and burgers. Also, try it in our Buttermilk Ranch Dressing.
(Pictured at left)
To keep your herbs and spices at their peak, store in a cool, dry area. A cupboard, drawer, or pantry works great. If you have bulk seasonings, consider filling a small jar up and storing the rest in the freezer until it’s time to use them again. If you have a countertop rack, make sure it doesn’t sit in direct sunlight.
Containers: You can keep spices in their original bottles, or in small jars you can find at any kitchen supply store (See an example here). I always keep a few shaker bottles around for when I buy the big containers of bulk spices. That way I can just refill the smaller jar which is more convenient to use. Plastic baggies work great too!
Expiration Dates: As long as dry herbs and spices are kept dry, they really don’t go “bad”. They do lose their potency over time, which is why you hear people say it’s important to replace them after the expiration dates, but it’s not because they are unsafe (generally speaking). There are still little tin boxes of spices at my parents house that have been there since I was a little girl, they last forever!
How you organize your herbs and spices is entirely up to you. Some houses have built in racks in drawers or cupboards. There are SO many options when it comes to storage devices and containers. My sister just gave me one of these (Pictured at right) for Christmas and I love it. I put my 12 most used spices in there and it’s so convenient. It automatically measures out spices in 1/4 teaspoon increments or you can sprinkle, pour, or scoop as well.
I have others on little turn tables (like the one pictured at left) and I keep all of my seasoning mixes on another shelf. I also keep all of my spices generally used for baking all in one place so they’re easy to find.
So there you have it. I hope this has all been helpful information, if you have any questions or comments feel free to leave them!
I was so glad to see your info on expiration dates of herbs and spices. It’s good to know that your parents still have tin boxes of spices! Me, too! :0)
Thanks for the great post. You guys always have awesome recipes and tips. I too am a huge lover of butter and lemon pepper on rice-yummy!
Great post about herbs and spices. My mom lives near a bulk store that sells spices, and I often buy the ones that I use a lot of (cinnamon, basil, thyme) there. My favorite place to peruse, though, is Polcari's Coffee in Boston, MA… They roast their own coffee and sell spices by weight, letting you buy just what you need! Amazing quality and selection, and fun to look around. I just wish I lived closer!
very informational. thanks
Oh, I love this. It's great to have someone break it down into nice, concise list. I mean…have you seen the spice aisle? I could stand there as long as I stand in the toothpaste aisle at Target!! Thank you for this. I'm Tweeting it as we speak.
Another great source for buying spices in bulk and at a very good price is the internet! Besides generally being cheaper, you can often find unusual stuff that you can't get locally. Penzey's is well-known (and excellent, but can be a little pricey) but I also like Spice Barn and My Spicer. Amazon has some good deals as well.
Jennifer- what fantastic ideas! Thanks for sharing all of that. I be a lot of people have baby food jars sitting around.
Ingrid- I have seen the spice tubes. I've only used the ginger before, but I love it. I bet the others are super handy too, I'll have to try them out!
I saw on Oprah and have since checked it out myself, buying spices at the dollar store. They are the same as the grocery stores but way cheaper.
great post, I learned a lot from this!
Thanks for the info!
Have you seen those tubes of fresh herbs? They have them in the produce section. They're great. I keep mine in the freezer so they last for quite a while! 🙂
Last week I got tired of opening my spice cabinet and having one of the random jars leap out of the cabinet at me. Buying new jars so they'd all be uniform was too pricey. I got the idea to use clean baby food jars and make a label for each spice. Baby food jars are as little as $.33 (or cheaper) per jar compared to $1 a jar average at storage stores. I used mason jars for baking powder/soda, chili powder etc as well as my taco seasoning (I make a big batch because I use it so often and I know EXACTLY what's in it). Not only is my cabinet much more tidy but I know when it's time to buy more.
How one organizes is personal but I converted one of my utensil drawers into a pull our spice drawer and the baby food jars fit perfectly. I organized them alphabetically and voila I'm not frustrated anymore!
Also, I found that one regular size spice container (McCormick for instance) fits perfectly in a stage 2 baby food jar.
No baby in the house? Find recipes that utilize baby food (like carrot cake or quick breads), find a friend who has a baby and ask for their jars OR buy the jars you need and "donate" the food to the mommy and in return ask that she save the jars for you (only don't ask her to peel the labels for you because that's sort of a little work). 🙂
I just love your blog! Every recipe I've tried has been a huge hit! Thanks so much!!
Dayna- that's a great point, you're right, fresh herbs should always be added at the end. I'll have to add that in. Thanks for your thoughts!
I really need to go through my spice cabinet too!
There is two great stores in my town to buy spices. One buys them in bulk but puts different sized containers. The spices here are fresh and it's great to get different sizes but the other store has a different appeal. All the spices are in big jars and they measure them out for you. You can open the different jars and smell them. I could spend so much time doing just that.
I would only like to add one thing about herbs to your wonderful post. Fresh herbs tend to lose their flavor over prolonged cooking periods while dried only get better and better. I like to add my fresh herbs at the end of the cooking time and the opposite for my dried ones.
Keep up the good work on this blog!