With Spice For Life re-opening after being closed for 10 weeks, we thought it might be helpful as people re-stock their spices to talk about a few of the most common questions our customers have asked us over the last year. Here are five of them.

1. What is the shelf life of spices?

For spices that are ground, the shelf life is usually one year. For whole spices, 2-3 years. Spices don’t necessarily spoil; however, their flavors are less potent after the shelf life and the flavors can become stale and bitter. Thus, it is better to buy your spices whole and grind them when you are ready to use them. For example, spices such as: peppercorns, cumin, coriander, allspice, cardamom, etc. are fresher bought whole.

2. Why should I use spices in my cooking?

The role of spices is to enhance the flavors of the food, not to overwhelm them. Spices can elevate the flavors to new levels of complexity and allow some more of the nuances of the natural flavors of the food you are cooking to come through.

3. What goes well with chicken?

We have a wonderful suggestion board in the store and in the blend section of our website, which gives you some ideas for blends that go well with different types of foods. Of course, it's all a matter of personal taste and mood. Some of our favorite spice blends for chicken are: Herbes de Provence, Jamaican Jerk, Honey Chipotle, and Caribbean Turkey, but there are many choices. Try Smoked Sweet Paprika or Smoked Hot Paprika with some granulated garlic. And don’t stop with chicken…on the board we make suggestions for all types of meat, seafood, and vegetables.

4. Is there one type of salt that is better for you?

All salts are made of the mineral sodium chloride and contain at least 95% of this compound. The remaining percentage is made up of other things that give the salt color and/or flavor. There is a difference in the origin and texture to salts. Some are mined like the Himalayan Pink Salt versus sea salt like Hawaiian Black Lava Salt. Some offer advantages to be used while cooking, like Sel Gris Sea Salt. Others, for their appearance or the shape of their crystals (Fleur de Sel for example) are more suited for sprinkling on top of prepared food as a finishing salt. Table salt is fine rock salt. Himalayan is a coarser bigger crystal. So, a teaspoon of Himalayan would contain less salt than a teaspoon of table salt. However, they are all salts with a high concentration of sodium chloride. So, the true answer is, if you are concerned about salt, the best option is to use salt free blends. On our website and in the store, we list our salt free blends, which are all very flavorful, blends like: Memphis Rib BBQ Rub, Pizza Blend, Italian Seasoning, Za’atar, Taco Seasoning, and Vindaloo Curry.

5. How do I choose a chile which is not too hot for me?

Heat is a matter of taste. The heat level of chiles are measured by the Scoville Heat Units (SHU), developed in 1912 by a pharmacologist named William Scoville, who devised a way of measuring a chile’s pungency or capsaicin level. The SHU go from 0 (think of a bell pepper) to over 2,000,000 million (the Carolina Reaper - currently the hottest chile pepper in the world- used in the Paqui One Chip Challenge). At Spice For Life, the hottest chile pepper we carry is the Habanero, weighing in at around 500,000 SHU; it is a super-hot, yet edible chile. To make the heat levels easier for our customers to understand, we use a 1- 10 scale with Habanero being the hottest at 10. Remember that dried chiles have more intense heat than fresh chiles, so a little can go a long way. However, certain chiles can also add another level of complexity to the dish besides just heat. For example Morita Chiles and Aleppo Chiles are around the same heat level, yet the chiles add a subtle smoky flavor, while the Aleppo chile has a sweet warm tomato-like flavor. So, there is often more to a chile pepper than it just being hot.

Thus, you should enjoy re-stocking your spice cabinet to fit your own taste profile! And we at Spice For Life are here to answer your questions.