With dark clouds overhead and rain pouring down in sheets, I was house-bound for the day. Although tempted to curl up with a good book, I felt the need to do something constructive first. My project for the day was cleaning out the pantry – taking everything out, discarding some things and reorganizing.
As I sorted through the items, checking dates and examining items, I considered the questions many of you have expressed.
Q: How long do I keep spices? I often buy a certain spice, use only a little bit, and the rest sits on the shelf. Do spices go bad?
A: Most people tend to keep spices for years. They are past their prime and will do little to enhance your food – so get rid of those. Others may be questionable – are they still good or not? The best test is to give them a good sniff. If they still smell fresh and pungent, keep them. If not, pitch them and buy fresh.
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Q: I made a chocolate cake from a recipe that I have used for years. This time the cake was very dense and did not rise much. I’m wondering if it had something to do with the baking powder or baking soda.
A: With virtually no change in appearance, baking powder and baking soda will lose their effectiveness over time. Containers usually have a “use by” date printed on them. Even so, if the product has been opened, I replace both those items in my pantry each fall before I start my holiday baking.
Q: Why do cooking oils sometimes have a bad taste? They don’t spoil, do they? And are they still safe to use?
A: Good oils do go bad. All oils are perishable over time. Storage temperature, air and light can speed deterioration. When that happens, oil becomes rancid and should not be used. If you have a pricey olive oil in your pantry, don’t save it too long. It is better to enjoy it before it turns rancid.
Q: I thought flour lasted forever. Now I notice on my package that has an expiration date. What’s with that?
A: Most flours have a “best-if-used-before” date and not actually an expiration date. It is fine to use the flour after that date; however, you may not get the best results.
Because flour is a dry powder made from wheat or other grains, we tend to think of it as a stable item. Over time, flour can become infected with weevils, tiny bugs that inhabit the flour and lay eggs in the bag. If that occurs, take the bag of flour immediately to the trash. Clean the entire panty, as the weevils might have traveled elsewhere. Do not sift out the weevils and use the flour – one of my friends actually did this. No one became ill, but just thinking about it makes me feel queasy. The flour still had the larvae and by-products from the weevils.
I store flour in a tightly closed plastic container, as it protects the flour from absorbing odors and moisture. Although I use flour quickly in my business, the plastic storage vessel would contain a possible weevil infestation if that were to occur.
Q: When there was a sale on canned goods, I bought way more than I can use. What can I do with surplus cans of black beans, tomato sauce and corn?
A: Be charitable and donate excess canned goods and unopened packages of dry goods to the local food bank. They will appreciate it, and you will feel good helping others.