Thanks to the routine of a regular customer I was reminded this week about the importance, and relatively low cost of refreshing the spice cupboard. I have a faithful customer who comes in every January and restocks her herbs and spices, throwing out the unused and replacing them with the freshest.

Ground spices and herbs retain their quality for about one year. Whole spices, such as whole nutmeg or cloves can last up to 6 years without losing quality. Obviously the storage methods of your spices also matters. Spices keep best in cool, dry, dark places; therefore the open shelf above the stove, although convenient for cooking, is not the best choice! Look for a dark cabinet or drawer away from any heat source such as a stove, fridge or dishwasher. They should be stored in containers with tight fitting lids.

For best results buy spices in small quantities, or amounts you can use within a few months. When purchasing spices bulk is the best way as you can look and smell before buying the amount you need. Look for vibrant colours and distinctive odours. If spices appear dull or have a musty aroma they have past their prime. When every possible purchases spices in their whole form and grate or crush with a mortar and pestle or spice grinder.

Besides adding flavour to food, spices and herbs have many health benefits from natural anti-inflammatory powers, antioxidants and blood sugar control. Although there is some controversy on which spices and herbs make the “top 10 list” there are a few that every list can agree on. Those include.

Turmeric – Anti-inflamitory and studies suggest it can supports brain health
Ceylon Cinnamon – Blood sugar control
Ginger – Powerful antioxidant, immune booster and relieves digestive upset
Chilies – Antioxidant, great for heart health, pain relief and ulcers
Thyme – Antibacterial & anti-fungal, heals bacterial infections and respiratory ailments

Winter is a great time to experiment with some new spices and recipes as nothing is as warming as a spiced soup or chilli on a winters day.