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Are Your Spices Older Than Your Kids?
On a recent visit my cousin Phyllis ransacked my spice rack, pulling out old and gritty tins and jars whose “use by” date had long ago expired. She triumphantly handed me a tin of caraway seeds. The price–69 cents–was stamped on the bottom. “How old is this?” Phyllis asked. She told me that I could find the date the spice was produced on the McCormick spice company’s website, using their Spice Check Challenge.
Even before I took the Spice Check Challenge, I knew I’d flunked. The challenge’s preamble warns: If it’s from Baltimore or in a tin, it’s at least 15 years old. I had more than two dozen containers that fit one or both categories.
To check the vintage of your spice, you enter the product code on the bottom of the container into the”Fresh Tester” box. (Some of my spices were so old they didn’t have a code, or it was no longer readable.)
My first entry for Allspice elicited this message: “VCRs made TV even better, but stale spices won’t do the same for your cooking. Your spice was made 11/6/1984.”
My subsequent entries produced these responses:
- Turmeric “You stopped using your crimping iron after a few years. It’s time to stop using old spices, too. Your spice was made 1/22/1988.”
- Tarragon leaves: “The 2000 presidential election lasted too long. Your spices have overstayed their welcome, too. Your spice was made on 6/19/2000.”
- Anise: “Pirates on the big screen inspired adventure, but don’t be so adventurous with your food. Throw your old spices overboard. Your spice was made on 8/5/2003.”
- Vintage 1960 spices get this message: “Spices older than your go-go boots don’t have a place in the kitchen.”
- The 1970s: “Disco was pronounced dead. So are spices this ancient.”
Experts say that aroma evokes powerful memories. Similarly, entering the spice codes was a trip down memory lane. Caraway seeds reminded me of my 1970s bread-baking phase. Cardamom conjured up my 1980s foray into Indian food.
Almost as much fun as checking the dates on my spices, were the Spice Stories contributed by those who had discovered old spices, such as: “Two Husbands Later,” “Dinosaur Cinnamon!” and “Pumpkin Pie Spice – older than me!” Here’s my favorite:
We named our grey dog after a green spice
“We brought home a female puppy Weimaraner, and sat in the family room to decide what to name her. My wife suggested we name her after the spice that sat in our spice shelf, “Tarragon”. It was the same grey as her coat. Well, we discovered a year later that Tarragon is a green spice, and our was just a little (okay, very) old. So we dyed the dog green. Kidding! ” GJ Nelson
I haven’t quite gotten up the gumption to throw out these expired spices. The spice rack would look bare, and replacing more than two-dozen spices would cost a fortune. Besides, some spice survive for centuries. Spices, including licorice, were found in King Tut’s tomb, buried since 1346 BC and exhumed in 1921. Those who buried him must have followed McCormick’s advice: “Store spices in a tightly-capped container and keep them away from heat, moisture and direct sunlight.”
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