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What to Look for When Buying Herbs & Spices

Freshen up your pantry with the best kinds of herbs and spices! Know what to look for and how to buy them, so your food is flavored to perfection!

Herbs and spices, both fresh and dried, can offer enhanced flavor to our food while providing a spectrum of health benefits. While herbs such as parsley, cilantro, and basil typically come from plants and plant parts, spices usually come from the seeds, berries, bark, or root of plants.

Many of the nutrients, antioxidants, and other compounds found in herbs and spices can help combat chronic poor health conditions such as cancer, diabetes, and heart disease: the top killers in America. Additionally, most herbs and spices have antibacterial and antiviral properties. Some of the most nutrient-dense, health-promoting spices that have been scientifically studied include cinnamon, chili peppers, turmeric, garlic, oregano, basil, thyme, mint, and rosemary. The best part is herbs and spices provide a great deal of nutrition for next to no calories!

So, while herbs and spices are designed by nature to pack a punch, nutritionally speaking, the unfortunate thing is the average herbs or spices used by most Americans in today’s modern world are old, processed, and not supplying the benefits that they should. Many herbs and spices, even if not processed, have been sitting on the shelves for a long time (sometimes two years or more, and the average shelf life of a spice is approximately six months). The nutrients in spices are sensitive to light and time, which means the longer they’re exposed to light or the longer they’re left to sit, the lower they’ll be in nutrition.

One important thing to be aware of when buying herbs and spices is to make sure to look for non-irradiated spices. Nearly all conventional spices, unless specifically labeled otherwise, will be irradiated. The process of irradiating an herb or spice is a process of ionized radiation to increase the shelf life of the product by killing any potential bacteria. The problem with this is that processing also destroys the health benefits of the spice and can also even cause some potential carcinogenic effects.

The key to getting the most nutrition from your food, herbs, and spices is to make sure you’re buying fresh, quality, and non-irradiated herbs and spices. Below are some top tips to do or consider when buying herbs and spices.

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Throw Out the Bad

When considering spices, make sure to start fresh by throwing out any old or poor-quality herbs and spices.

Don’t Choose Conventional

Conventional spices from your average grocery store will be old, likely irradiated, and not vibrant and health boosting. Remember cheap spices are cheap for a reason. Many conventional spice brands grind up defected spices (even ones that are moldy, and that contain foreign matter) and sell them, and because there isn’t much regulation, it’s completely legal to do so.

Buy Whole

The best way of getting a spice is to get it whole and grind it yourself. This method will provide the most freshness and the most nutrition, not to mention the best flavor! These will also stay fresher for longer, and you know there aren't any added ingredients that you don’t want.

Shop Well

When purchasing herbs and spices, you can typically always find high-quality ones at health food stores and ethnic markets, and even now you can find several online. Look for brands that are organic (which should mean they’re not irradiated), ideally non-GMO and as fresh as possible.

Don’t Buy in Bulk

Because the freshness and quality of herbs and spices won’t last forever, it’s best to buy in smaller amounts rather than in bulk to get the most out of your quality spices. Quality spices are typically more potent than the poor quality, conventional counterparts, which means you can typically use less and get a better result!

Use Your Senses

When buying herbs, smell for a strong aroma and if possible, take a small taste to assess the quality and potency. The fresher and better the spice, the more potent the flavor.

Store Them Properly

Herbs and spices are best stored in cool, dry, and dark areas and ideally in airtight glass storage containers.

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