Spice it Up

Of all the frugal chores we tend to neglect, keeping our spice cabinet organized and in order seems to be among the most neglected.

I am as guilty as the next person but it’s important. Spices are the reason many a war started and why entire nations traded and flourished or met their end. So, take 30 minutes and pull everything out of your spice cabinet. When I did this recently, I found, to my surprise, that I had somehow doubled up on a couple of spices. Why in the WORLD did I have two canisters of ground cloves and turmeric? I use both infrequently to say the least. Still, I combined both into one canister for each spice and placed them where I could see them and be inspired to use them up. I need reminding about certain spices although I also know I can dye Easter eggs with turmeric if need be.

Spices don’t last forever is my point. They need to be used up. Ground and powered tend to last 2-3 years, whole spices around four. Trust your nose. Every time you open up a spice, take a deep whiff, a good sniff. If they are fading, you nose will tell you. Sometimes you can revive them, just a bit, by toasting but more often than not, you likely need to toss them. Anything that smells musty must go.

I always try and buy small amounts of spices so I can use them up in a reasonable amount of time. This goes mostly for ground because my whole spices give me longer and then I tend to grind them to release their flavors.

One of the best frugal places to buy spices is at an Indian or Latin market. That’s where I find the best prices and most variety. You won’t find every single spice you likely use there but you can find a lot and for a lot less. Don’t be tempted to buy in bulk unless you know you will use them up however. I once bought a large packet of whole cloves for dirt cheap but that languished for what seemed like forever until my daughter rescued the lot and used it all up in her botanicals home hobby.

Finally, always grow what you can because that is the freshest and easiest way to get your herbs. I grow rosemary, thyme, oregano, mint, chives, sage, parsley and even green onions, year round. This way I just snip off what I need and nothing goes to waste. It also allows me to bring fresh bouquets of fresh herbs to friends and family who are always thrilled to receive them. In the summer I grow basil and other herbs that strike my fancy.

Remember that spices and herbs are, ounce for ounce, expensive. A couple of sprigs of sage and parsley can run you $3.99 which is highway robbery when you consider that you can grow them for pennies. The only flavoring I spend any money on is high quality finishing salt and the occasional whole peppercorns.

So, tidy up your spice cabinet and scale back what you buy to save money. Small amounts are best unless you cook a lot of Indian or similarly spiced food. Grow every herb that you can and not only will you save frugally but you will also have every opportunity to expand your culinary horizons.

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