Plenty of items in your pantry will keep fresh for an eternity. Honey, for example, never expires. The same can’t be said for spices. While I cook with enough garlic salt and oregano to fill a dump truck each month, other jars on my spice rack mostly just collect dust. (I’m talking about you, cumin, nutmeg, and paprika.) But do spices expire? They certainly do.
It varies, but most ground spices have shelf life of about three years, though freshness is more fleeting. As time goes on, flavor and potency really diminish. (Let’s not forget about the problem with bugs, too.) Breaking the seal to scoop a measly 1/4 teaspoon of ground cardamom required to make single batch of delicious buckwheat waffles hardly seems worth it, particularly considering that a typical jar contains packs a full 50 teaspoons of spice. You’d have to make thousands of waffles to finish a whole jar before the spice loses its potency. As much as I love a little cardamom here and there, that’s impossible.
Fortunately, a genius money-saving, waste-free solution is in the works. A women-led company called Occo has created a collection of 12 spices, including a handful of favorites, like curry and fennel, that you might use only every so often. The spices come sealed in recyclable aluminum cards, each with 12 peel-to-open pre-measured servings of 1/4 teaspoon.
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Introducing a phrase: molecularly fresher. We seal our spices using modified atmosphere technology – a process in which a thin layer of food-safe Argon gas is piped in above each chamber of spice before it's sealed. Argon is denser than air, so it sinks down and displaces oxygen. Each chamber is sealed up tight, sans oxygen = sans flavor decay. Which means…? Molecularly fresher spices. Boom. #OccoSpice
“We seal our spices using modified atmosphere technology, ” reads a recent Instagram caption. “[utilizing] a process in which a thin layer of food-safe Argon gas is pied in above each chamber of spice before it’s sealed.” The result? Molecularly fresher spices, the company says. Occo sources its spices from around the globe, using only organically grown products harvested within the past year.With over $65,000 raised, Occo’s Kickstarter has surpassed its 18,000 goal. Initial shipments to customers are planned for June 2019.
To ensure long-lasting freshness of spices you already have in the cupboard, make sure you seal the container tightly after each use. Store the jars in a dry, cool, and dark place. (I like to place the jars on their sides in a drawer so I can read the label.) If you’re not sure if a spice has lost its potency, try the palm test. (Smash a little into your hand and cup your hand over your nose; the spice should be very fragrant.) Since ground spices go bad much more quickly, opt for whole spices. (A good electric grinder—or a mortar and pestle—is a great investment.) Lastly, find a health food store that sells in bulk, where you can buy the tiniest amount for those recipes that call for just a 1/4 teaspoon of freshly-ground spice.
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