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When to clean out the spice rack

Creole/Cajun spice blend
Creole/Cajun spice blend
Eric Olsson

The longer I've been cooking, the more dried herbs and spices I've accumulated. The small spinning rack has turned into a whole shelf in the cupboard. I'm usually pretty good at keeping track with what I have on hand so I keep the buying of doubles to a minimum. The problem I face is not needing a herb or spice, it's keeping track of the expiration dates. The other day I went to use a spice blend. When I turned it over to shake it, the spices stayed packed in the bottom of the container.

Sometimes you'll come across a recipe that calls for a Caribbean spice rub, Italian spice blend or a Cajun blend, but if it's not a blend you normally cook with, you can easily make the rubs and blends with some common herbs and spices you probably already have on hand. Not only will making your own blends at home save you money, but it'll also help you use up some of the spices that have been sitting in that rack for some time.

Here's a quick guide from McCormick about the life of the spice:

  • Ground spices - 2-3 years
  • Whole spices - 3-4 years
  • Seasoning blends - 1-2 years
  • Herbs - 1-3 years
  • Extracts - 4 years (unless if it's pure vanilla, it lasts indefinitely)

I cook with a Creole/Cajun blend all the time. You can replace salt and pepper with this and you'll love the added flavor it brings to meats, poultry, french fries, eggs, gumbos and potatoes. It's great on everything. Plus it uses common spices that you probably have on hand. Keep stored in a tightly sealed container and it'll stay fresh for up to 6 months.

Creole/Cajun spice blend (from RedBeansAndEric.com)

  • 3 tbsp paprika
  • 2 tbsp salt
  • 1 tbsp black pepper
  • 1 tbsp cayenne pepper
  • 1/2 tbsp white pepper
  • 1 tbsp garlic powder
  • 1 tbsp onion powder
  • 1 tbsp chili powder
  • 1 tbsp dried oregano
  1. Add all the spices to a bowl and mix well.

Keep track of your dried herbs and spices and you can guarantee that you'll be cooking with the freshest ingredients. Even though the herbs and spices don't spoil, they will lose their potency and not flavor the food as intended. To help, buy in smaller quantities when you can and mix your own blends as a way to save money and get rid of excess spices.