For many home cooks, the arrival of a new year is the cue to clean out the spice cabinet and start afresh. While World Spice Merchants owner Amanda Bevill says it isn't necessary to replace an entire spice collection at once, she applauds resolution-makers who decide to get their racks in order.
Aging spices "aren't going to make you sick," she says, but their lack of potency keeps otherwise flawless recipes from reaching their full potential.
"Most people have spices they've had for years," she adds.
World Spice Merchants recently compiled a starter kit of spices, although Bevill says it wasn't easy bestowing the "basic" title on a select group of seasonings. "We think it's all essential," she says.
But, when pressed, staffers finally settled on a set of 12 absolutely-essentials, including paprika, garlic granules, Turkish bay leaves, herbes de provence and cinnamon. For holiday gift-givers assembling spice collections as gifts, Bevill advised adding sea salt and smoked paprika.
Bevill stresses that the spice cabinet can't be properly addressed with a one-time fix. Spices typically reach the end of their useful life within six months, so spices should be updated frequently: World Spice Merchants advocates a seasonal approach. While this season's cold weather might suggest seasonings suitable for stews and other rib-sticking dishes, Bevill says most customers are ready for lighter preparations in January.
"People are looking to eat healthier," she says. "Also, sometimes there's a backlash against the traditional foods of Christmas."
That means World Spice Merchants does a steady mid-winter business in spices appropriate for roast chickens and Asian curries. But Bevill reminds shoppers they don't have to buy in bulk: The best way to maintain a spice cabinet throughout the year is to buy in small quantities, she says.
"We sell most (of our spices) in the one ounce size," she says.