The Easiest Way to Test (and Use) Your Old Spices

January is usually a month of cleansing, consolidation, and cleansing, but this January seems to be a particularly good time for it. Omicron infects almost everyone I know, and the weather is terrible—not much reason to leave the house; can clean up.

The freezer is a good place to start, as is a spice rack, cabinet, or drawer. Cutting back on your spices can be a daunting task, especially if you have tiny, teaspoon-sized portions languishing in glass jars.

If you smell your spices, it will tell you a lot. If the spice has a strong flavor, that’s good! Use it as usual. What if it doesn’t smell? Drop it! It’s useless. (Unless it’s turmeric. You can use unscented turmeric to dye fabric .)

But what if your spice is somewhere in between? What if it runs at half power? This spice still has some flavor and is best used in a large bowl of popcorn.

Spices with uncertain potency do not work very well in recipes. You can try to compensate for the off flavor by doubling (or tripling) it, but there is no guarantee that this will result in the correct flavor profile.

Popcorn is much more forgiving. It’s the perfect clean canvas for spices that work halfway, with no strong competing flavors to cover up whatever flavor is still there. (Plus, it’s super cheap, so it’s not a total waste if your spice experiment goes wrong.) Just sprinkle it in until you can taste it, or combine a whole bunch of less-fresh powders to make a blend. (For best results: Grind it all up in a food processor with a couple teaspoons of salt so it’s all very fine and sticks to the grains.)

Popcorn is also the perfect vehicle for brand new spices, especially ones you may not be familiar with. Did you get a set of spices for Christmas? Try the powders on popcorn to get a taste of them before experimenting with other dishes. (This gives you a better idea of ​​what the spice tastes like on its own, but it’s also a great excuse to have popcorn for dinner.)


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