Herbs, Spices, and Buying in Bulk

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I admit, I buy spices in bulk.  I mean, I know the advice is to always buy fresh stuff in small quantities so that you don’t have a ton of product laying around getting stale, but who has the time for that?  Plus, that stuff is usually pretty expensive.

To me, why should I pay a few bucks for an ounce of spice when I could get a few ounces for the same price?  “Well, you don’t know how long that stuff has been sitting there,” some people say.  Well you don’t know how long the small bottles have been sitting around, either!

No.  I trust my spice guy.  A guy named Mark Stuart comes to my workplace every few weeks or so.  Brings a ton of herbs and spices with him.  He carries just about everything that you can think of that you might use on a day-to-day, regular basis AND he orders it as fresh as he can get it every time.  That way, he’s not selling old product.  For 2-3 dollars a bottle, you’re hard pressed to find a better deal, especially since you’re getting easily 10x the amount of spice from him as you are from your local grocery store.

Mark carries a lot of stuff — I won’t say he carries everything, cuz certain things like saffron, grains of paradise, and a few other exotics are just too tricky and expensive to carry.  For those spices, you have specialty stores on the internet.  But Mark has a lot of stuff.  It’s cheap, it’s fresh, and it’s good.

Hell, half my spice collection/cabinet is from Mark’s Harrington Farms.  And I have a biiiiiig spice cabinet (massive).

Look, if you’re concerned about quality and flavor, you really shouldn’t be too concerned, as long as you’re buying whole spices, toasting them, and grinding them yourself.  Use up anything you grind within six months.  Use up any whole spices within a year or two.  And if you don’t use up that whole big bottle, what’s two bucks?  If you’re serious enough about cooking to be buying spices in bulk like me, you’d probably be spending as much, if not more money on smaller quantities of spices than if you bought from someone you trusted, like Mark.

Hell, you should be toasting whole spices and grinding them yourself anyway (check back for a tutorial on how to toast and grind your own spices).  That’s how you maximize flavor.  I do it.  I have a coffee grinder, dedicated to grinding spices.  New coffee grinders are easy to clean, too.  You can either disassemble them and wash them, or simply grind up some uncooked rice in it to clean it.  Easy.  The flavor is unbeatable.

And if you’re still concerned about letting these spices sit around for too long, don’t worry too much.  Buy what makes sense to you.  For example, I can never seem to keep my cabinet stocked with allspice, fennel, coriander, and black peppercorns.  So, I buy those particular spices in bulk frequently.  I rarely use cayenne pepper since I have my own cayenne plant which produces plenty of chillis for me to use, dry, or pickle.  Finally, consider the possibility that you may not be using enough spices in your cooking to begin with.  On the other hand, maybe you simply don’t cook enough to begin with?  Either way, I still think that it’s a good idea to have some of this stuff around, just in case.  Whole spices last longer, too, so you’re doing yourself a huge favor and extending shelf life by buying whole.

Whatever you do, do me a favor and buy from Mark.  I don’t get anything out of this — I don’t get kick backs.  I wish I got kick backs.  If I did, though, I wouldn’t be writing about Mark — no offense (HEY!  ALL CLAD!  CALPHALON!).

Mark Stuart

Harrington Farms

78 Highland Ave

Harrington Park, NJ 07640

P:  201-660-7022        F: 201-784-9634

Email: Mandlstu@optonline.net

S&H on orders over $25 is free.

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3 Responses to “Herbs, Spices, and Buying in Bulk”

  1. Not bad, so does that mean the spices totally die in a short time? like the cayenne ive had for a few months will be bad if i dont finish it soon?

  2. restaurantouring Says:

    Hi, Editor! I revised the entry to try to make things clearer. I hope it helped! But to answer your question specifically, the guideline for keeping freshly ground spices around is 6 months. Whole spices have a shelf life of about a year. Larger whole spices (cardamom and star anise, for example) might squeeze by a little longer than that (a year and a half, two years). As a general rule, you should avoid buying pre-ground spices if you want the best flavor. Pre-ground spices are usually pretty old, and it’s hard / impossible to know when they were actually ground. You could be buying spices that are years old!

  3. […] Internet sources are probably best for buying spices, as long as it is a reputable, professional source.  Alternatively, you can usually sniff out spice markets in your area by simply looking around (especially in foreign, unknown places).  You can also search for stores nearby on the internet.  I go to my spice guy, Mark, whom I wrote about in a previous blog entry. […]

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