Saturday, 3 January 2009

Old Spice: More Than Just a Cologne...

Spices. Anyone who cooks uses them (I hope). But how old are yours? If you are like most people in my family you probably can't remember when you bought them. They are generally the sort of thing you buy when establishing a household, and only buy more of when you have used them up. Some spices, like Basil or Oregano, don't last very long (especially when you live in a shared flat and both people like to cook Italian!) Other things like Poppy Seeds and Lemon Peel last...longer.
How long, might you ask? As usual, there's a story in all of this...
In October of 2007, I got an e-mail from my mother with an attachment. She had photographed a magazine ad by McCormick that provided some rather interesting information about spices needing to be replaced every two to four years (with the exception of Vanilla Extract). Of course most people probably don't follow the four year purge rule and so McCormick went a step further and gave some useful, yet mortifying information:

"Except for black pepper, spices in rectangular tins are at least fifteen years old."
"If you see "Baltimore, M.D." on the label, the spice is at least fifteen years old."

My mother had photographed the ad with a McCormick spice she found. It was made in Baltimore and therefore almost as old as I was at the time (19). Finding out your spices are at least fifteen years old is bad enough, but McCormick makes it an even more exact science. If you visit their website: you can actually type in the code found on the bottom of your spice jar and find out the exact date when it was made.

And how does all of this relate to now?
Yesterday, I went through our spice cabinet, which needless to say included many relics of the past, including spices from Belgium (circa 1987-88), and several McCormick spices from when we lived in the States. For fun I decided to check the bottles, thinking that they couldn't possibly be that old, and that nothing would date past the late 90's.
I was wrong.
In first place for 'oldest spice' was a bottle of powdered Horseradish from 21/08/1981. Second place, was earned by a tin of Ground Nutmeg from 17/06/1982, while third place went to a bottle (which had been refilled, but dated from the early 60's according to McCormick's Website) of Fancy Imported Caraway Seed, produced on 08/04/1983. The winners all dated from before my birth!
Even more mortifying were the witty quips that popped up every time I checked a date. Example: "Using spices bought when the Berlin Wall came down will bring down the taste of your cooking."
Thankfully, as the website proved, we're not the only ones. Not only can you share/read stories of other's spice transgressions (a sort of Hints from Heloise (Am I the only one who ever read and enjoyed that?) for the spice-challenged. Once a week McCormick even gives away a complete spice replacement set for those who sign up.
So, if New Year's has left you with resolutions about getting organised or purging clutter, try the spice rack. It's definitely easier than getting rid of clothes!


Russell said...

You'll have to send me the link to this website. It sounds like the sort of thing that could wind up in the N.C. State Technician.. lol.

Lena said...

As'd quote my article?
I take it you enjoyed it then?
It was really quite amusing...maybe you should try it the next time you are home...:)

Russell said...

Theoretically I can quote just about anyone or anything if they give me their consent.

Although I'm not sure you can be classified as a "spices expert." I probably would want to speak with a professor in the Food and Health Concerns Department.

Yes, it was quite amusing..