This past week, I decided to make chewy molasses cookies. For the past few months I've been trying, with some success, to make cookies and snacks and bread at home, and not buy anything pre-made. Thanks to the King Arthur Cookie Companion, it's been a fun task. So one of the ingredients was ground cloves. Not a spice I use very often, I dusted the lid of the jar as I took it off the shelf. Upon dipping my measuring spoon into the jar, I noticed some odd lumps. Worms? Larvae of those nasty moths? I couldn't be sure. How old are my cloves, anyway? I can't honestly say. Did I use it anyway? Would you?
I read somewhere that spices should not be kept for more than 6 months. They lose their flavor, their zest, their je ne sais quois. That seems a bit unreasonable to me. How about a new rule of thumb: your dried herbs or spices are too old if you can't remember when or where you bought them. But wait, what about my mace? I bought that back in 1991, at the Davis Food Co-op, in my junior year of college. I needed mace to make some amazing chicken recipe, in order to impress a guy. The chicken turned out dreadfully. I have no mace baggage, I don't avoid using it, but I've never had a recipe calling for it since.
So the mace is pretty old. Tomorrow, I'm cleaning out my spice cupboard. Anything that's over a year old is getting the heave ho. And nothing is getting replaced until I have a recipe that calls for it. No excuses for old spices. (A non related aside: why do they call that stinky deodorant Old Spice, anyway? Old spices are not a good thing!) StuntMom, time to chuck the off colored block o' paprika rumor says you have in your cupboard.
I know you must have more exciting stuff going on right now, but take a moment, and clean out that spice cupboard. Get rid of spices that have lost their color or are more than a decade old! Go to a store that sells herbs and spices in bulk, and buy just a small amount!