thyme for sage advice

The continuing flurry of TV cooking shows has shone a light in some very dark cupboards.

Take the colleague who recently confessed to harbouring condiments that had survived transportation from England – making them at least 20 years old.

When I smirkingly told her they were unlikely to become collectible she retorted: “Well, how often do you use your garam masala?”

Not enough evidently, as the evacuation of the entire contents of the kitchen for a recent renovation revealed.

The garam masala had gone grey and become a grandparent while we seemed inexplicably to have cornered the market on yellow and brown mustard seeds with packet after packet including one pre-dating the millennium.

Hands up who has had spices lurking in their cupboard for more than three years?

OK, so dried herbs and spices don’t go “off” or become rancid, but they do lose flavour and aroma.

This is often hastened by the fact we tend to store them in precisely the wrong places: above the stove, near the sink or on a window ledge, exposing them to heat and moisture.

While the cynic might suggest that putting use-by dates on herbs and spices is a clever way for the companies that produce them to sell more, they do contain volatile oils that need to be properly stored.

Eighteenth century poet William Cowper nailed it when he said: “Variety’s the very spice of life, that gives it all its flavour.”

But this doesn’t mean you have to go to life-changing extremes.

At a pinch you can put the pep back into your pepper and a little extra zing into things with a timely visit to a good spice merchant.


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