Decoding How Old That Spice Is

With Christmas baking about to begin, it's time to look in your cupboards and see how old your spices are. I'm not one of those that write down the date I buy them. If you are, then you might not need to read this. For the rest of us, here's how to decode the message on your spice bottles.

While freshness isn't a safety concern because spices don't go bad, it is an issue of flavor and fragrance because those fade over time with both spices and herbs. In addition, have you noticed how expensive spices have gotten? No one wants to waste money buying extra bottles that might not be needed.

Here's how to crack the letter-and-number codes manufacturers use. The codes tell when the bottles were filled - which is even more important than knowing the date you bought the bottle. With this information, you can actually tell how old the spices sitting on your grocery-store shelves are.

Spice Islands, Durkee and Tone's brands - Look for the ink-jet printed code on the side or bottom of the container. The first character stands for the last number in the year it was bottled: 5 means bottled in 1995, 0 means bottled in 2000. Next is a letter, which stands for the month, in order: A means the spice was bottled in January, B means February, and so on. For example, if the code is 9E, the spice was packaged in May 1999.

McCormick and Schilling brands - These brands are a little more work to decode. The code letters and numbers are printed on the bottom of the containers. To find the year of manufacture, add 5 to the first number. (For example, if the number is 3, adding 5 makes 8, so it was made in 1998. If the number is 5, adding 5 makes 10, so the year is 2000.)

If there is a single letter at the end of the code, the spice was produced more than three years ago. Two letters means it's more recent.

Then, to find the month of manufacture, divide the other three digits by 50. The whole number you get is the number of full months before the production month. For example, if the code says 0310E, the container was filled in July 1995.

To store spices, keep them in a cool, dark place. Try not to buy more than you will use in 6 months, for the freshest taste.

There are now spices in store that come with their own grinder attached. These are really great for whole spices and because the spices are whole, they will last indefinitely. Also spices that are available in leaf form release a lot more flavor when you crush them yourself. A mini coffee grinder used for spices only, makes grinding your own spices very easy. You will taste the difference with any of these methods.

Some of the information in this article on decoding is from an article in the Detroit Free Press.



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