Whether garlic or chili powder, cinnamon or vanilla, spices give more taste to everything that’s cooked and baked.

“Spices add so much flavor,’’ said Melissa Shaw, of Grindstone, retired culinary instructor from Fayette County Career and Technical Institute in Georges Township. “It’s good to explore your culinary talent with new ones.’’

Every homemaker has a favorite spot in the kitchen for spices: maybe a shelf in a cupboard or pantry or a particular drawer. Spice racks also come in a variety of designs to fit everyone’s preferences.

But what spices should a cook or baker have on hand? That can be can be very subjective.

Shaw recommends several: oregano, garlic, parsley flakes, chili powder, cayenne, ground mustard, basil, cumin, paprika, dill, cinnamon, nutmeg, vanilla, ginger and cloves. She noted that people also enjoy using sea salt as well as traditional table salt.

When setting up a new kitchen, Shaw advises, “Think of the things you eat and what’s in the recipe. Those are the spices you want to buy.’’

She also recommended adding spices when tackling a new recipe — don’t leave it out.

“Don’t be afraid to try,’’ Shaw said.

The best time to buy a spice is just before you use it. Spices, like other foods, have a shelf life.

And be sure to clean out spices periodically — Shaw recommends every two to three years.

“We all keep things forever,’’ Shaw said. “It’s not going to hurt you. It’s just not as flavorful.’’

Shaw advises keeping ground spices about three years while whole spices that people grind themselves can last four years.

She noted that spices with flakes — such as oregano or parsley flakes — last between one and three years.

“You can tell when because the color changes,’’she said. “It fades.’’

Shaw has also purchased spices in tubes that are actually a paste and must be kept in the refrigerator. They are usually good about a year. Check the expiration date to be sure.

“Spices are not cheap,’’ said Shaw, “but they are good to use.’’

An internet search provided some other tips for keeping spices:

Store them away from heat, humidity and direct sunlight.

Spices should be in a moisture-resistant container and keep the lids on tight when not using them.

Make sure measuring spoons are not wet when dipping them into a spice jar. This prevent moisture from getting inside.

Buy what’s needed — larger jars may look like a savings but will they be thrown out before all of the spice is used?

With football season beginning and the holiday season on the horizon, there’s plenty of cooking and baking being done in the next few months.

So it’s a good time to plan an inventory of spices and think about new spices to try.


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