The Spice is Right

Make over your spice cabinet with these tips from contributing writer Judith Fertig

Clearing out your kitchen cabinets can reveal embarrassing secrets, like small containers of celery seeds or dry mustard powder or ground allspice that are over five years old.

Maybe your kitchen—or your cooking—is due for a spice makeover. The general use-by date for whole spices is four years, ground spices two to three years, dried herbs for one to three years. So chuck those old, dusty, flavorless seasonings and go for the fresh stuff.

If you want to try before you buy, one of the best places is Penzey’s in downtown Overland Park. There, in a no-frills atmosphere, you can see, sniff, and even taste the difference between Malabar, Tellicherry and white pepper; or Indonesian, China Cassia and Vietnamese cinnamon. Shopping there is a geography lesson as well as a sensory experience.

If you’re an intrepid soul who already knows what kind of cardamom you want or seeks nigella seeds for your homemade flatbread, try an ethnic market, such as Al Habashi Mart in the City Market or Ambica Foods in Overland Park. At those places, the spices are less expensive. Give yourself a pat on the back if you already have an electric spice grinder and purchase whole spices to grind yourself for the freshest flavor.

If you’re a barbecuer who wants to smoke ribs or brisket like the big boys do, then a visit to Smoke n’ Fire in Overland Park or The Kansas City BBQ Store in Olathe will introduce you to big-name barbecue rubs. Says Dan Hathaway, manager of the Olathe store, any typical Kansas City blend of paprika, salt, sugar and spices has to have balance. He recommends local pitmaster Rod Gray’s Zero to Hero or Cow Town All-Purpose. A signature rub can be as simple as the Dalmation—an equal blend of salt and pepper—or as unique as one including smoked paprika or powdered balsamic vinegar.

For whatever you want to cook, bake or barbecue, there’s a spice that’s right.

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