Monday, February 6, 2017

A Constant Supply of Fresh Spices

Time, light, oxygen, and heat are enemies of spices.

The Problem
I suspect the typical spice rack harbors spices from the last millennium.
  • Buy tiny quantities, use within one year.
  • For spices you use rarely, buy enough for one meal.
Spice jars are usually transparent and sit on a rack on the counter or wall.
  • Store in a dark place.
Eventually a spice jar contains more oxygen than spice.
  • Store in small plastic bags, squeeze out any air.
  • Buy whole rather than ground spices. This greatly reduces the exposed surface area.
A warm place (e.g., next to an oven or above a range) might be seen as a convenient spot for storing spices.
  • Store spices away from heat sources.

Buying small quantities is key. As you can see from this receipt from our local co-op, a purchase of whole cloves, mustard seed, whole nutmeg, and whole peppercorns came to about $3.
A challenge with buying small is having enough when preparing a meal. Our solution is a variant of the kanban three-bin inventory system used in industrial lean production.

Each spice has 3 locations in this system:

Container at local co-op.
Purchase a small amount to replace Bin 2 as necessary.
Plastic bag in kitchen drawer.
Replace Bin 3 when necessary.
Plastic bag in kitchen drawer.
For current use.

When we use up a Bin 3...
...There's an additional supply (Bin 2) to replace the empty Bin 3.
...We add the spice to the shopping list. We used to set aside the empty plastic bag as a reminder, but today we just say: "OK Google, add (name of spice) to shopping list." Google Assistant duly adds the item to our shopping list.
...The next time we go to the co-op, we create a new Bin 2 bag, and write the SKU and purchase month on a label.
We organize the bags of spices in a tea storage box which we keep in a drawer away from light and heat. Each compartment of the box contains Bin 3 on top and Bin 2 on the bottom for each of two spices.
We buy whole rather than ground spices. The spice box is grouped with an electric blade coffee grinder we only use for spices, and a mortar and pestle. We also keep fresh garlic in the drawer and fresh, peeled ginger in the freezer.

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