spice_and_tea_exchange (3)Bianca Montalbano of the Spice & Tea Exchange gives PieHole some tips on spring cleaning our spice cabinet. (Photo by Jim Willis. Click to enlarge)


spice_and_tea_exchangeFor many home cooks across the Green, the end of winter marks the time to tackle some spring cleaning in the kitchen.

But it’s not just about organizing the pantry for the new season and purging the freezer of those unidentifiable foil-wrapped, freezer-burnt leftovers. If you’re serious about seasoning, it’s also time to think about replacing some of the aged spices in your spice cabinet.

PieHole checked in with Lisa Prepon and Bianca Montalbano of the Spice & Tea Exchange in Red Bank to get some help with spring cleaning our spice rack.

“Every six months to a year, you should be replacing your spices,” says Prepon.

Prepon, who owns the store with her husband, Howard Bernstein, tells PieHole that the Spice & Tea Exchange carries herbs, spices and blends in one-ounce packets for just that reason.

“You can use them up and then replace them, rather than buying in bulk and having your spices lose potency,” she says.

Prepon says most herbs and spices lose their kick over time.

“Your food may taste ok when you use older spices, but something may be off,” she says, “and you don’t know what it is until you try making it with a fresh spice, and then you’ll notice the difference.”

Prepon speaks from experience, telling PieHole that when she opened the Spice & Tea Exchange in 2013, she threw away of lot of the older spices in her pantry and noticed that they had no smell compared to the strong hit of spices your nose gets when you walk into the store.

“That was a sign to us that fresh does make a big difference,” says Prepon.

Montalbano, assistant manger, tells PieHole that restocking the pantry with fresh spices can start with just a few basics, and suggests the following: cinnamon, oregano, basil, rosemary, chives, paprika and a whole peppercorn for grinding.

“Buy just a small amount of each and then come back for more,” says Montalbano. “You’ll be happier with the flavors, and it will be fresher when you make your dishes.”

As for keeping them fresh once you get your spices home, Prepon says you want to keep them in the dark and dry.

“You don’t want your spice rack out by your kitchen window, and you don’t want it on the back of your stove, because the heat will effect your spices,” says Prepon.

PieHole did some back-of-the-napkin math, and we figure a $50 budget would be enough to replace the aged basics of most spice cabinets, with a little cash left over to try one or two of the interesting salts the shop carries. Unless you’re making dishes that call for huge amounts of a particular seasoning (think Paprikash with its heaps of paprika), this works out to a few cents per meal for fragrant, fresh spices.

Additionally, if you’re really starting from scratch, Prepon says the store sells some pre-packaged spice collections that would make a good starting point for any cook’s spice cabinet. Price: about $100.