We all have that one thing we collect. Maybe it’s coffee mugs with witty quotes on them, ticket stubs from shows we’ve been to, or houseplants that do nothing but wither and die. Sometimes we’re not even sure how we ended up with a collection, as these things have a way of just appearing. You start out just buying one, are happy with your one item, and tell a friend how much you like it. Before you know it, you’ve been gifted enough owl-themed chotchkies to start a small museum exhibit.

One of my largest collections is made up of dried herbs and spices. While it may sound practical, it’s a love-hate relationship. I enjoy having nearly every herb or spice I come across in a recipe and not having to run out to the store and find them. I also don’t have to worry about running out of something in the middle of cooking, because it’s likely I have more stockpiled somewhere. On the other hand, I’m running out of places to store all of these jars and bags. Also, most importantly, the shelf life on these kinds of items isn’t nearly as long as I like to think.

Maybe you don’t have four cups of dried dill or six kinds of cinnamon at home, but chances are you aren’t getting through your own herb and spice collection quite as fast as you should. While they’re not going to get moldy or go bad, per se, the older your spices are, the less flavor they will have to offer and the less flavorful your food will taste. As much as possible, aim to use your herbs and spices within six months to a year from when you bought them.

I strongly suggest buying your dried herbs and spices in a bulk department like the one at the Rutland Area Food Co-op. That way, you can buy just as much as you’ll use over the next several months. It’s an all-around win, because not only will you not end up wasting, you save money and get a high-quality product at the same time. I know it may seem like you’re getting a deal when you find a giant bag of turmeric at a discount store. Trust me, I’ve done it. But, first of all, there’s a reason why it’s cheap (likely because it is old or not good quality) and second, you’ll never get through it fast enough.

In an attempt to use up some of my herb and spice collection, I started to make my own blends. Instead of buying premixed blends like taco seasoning and pumpkin pie spice, I combine the various ingredients I already have to create my own. Not only am I using up what I have, but I’m saving money. There’s a total markup on blends, even if they’re made with common ingredients. Chances are that my blends are fresher than most store-bought ones, too. I at least know they’re better quality, as many blends contain things you don’t want or need, like added salt and preservatives.

It couldn’t be easier to make homemade herb and spice blends. You just combine the ingredients in a small jar and shake to mix together. You don’t need a stockpile of ingredients to do this. In many cases, just a few teaspoons of any one item is plenty. You also don’t necessarily need to grind your own whole spices to make these blends. But if you have whole spices and a grinder, then go for it. The goal is to use what you have or regularly buy.

Below are a few of the blends that I use the most and thoughts on how to use them. Another benefit of making these yourself is that you can adjust the ingredients to your preferences. It’s easy to halve or double the ingredients in these recipes to make just as much as you need.

Taco seasoning

makes: about 5 tablespoons

2 tablespoons chili powder

1 tablespoon ground cumin

2 teaspoons paprika

1 teaspoon ground coriander

1 teaspoon garlic powder

1 teaspoon dried oregano

1 teaspoon corn starch

½ teaspoon cayenne pepper

½ teaspoon kosher salt

Combine all ingredients in a small jar with a tight-fitting lid. Shake well to combine. Use within six months. Use this blend in place of taco seasoning packets to flavor ground meat, tofu or vegetables in your taco, fajita and nacho recipes. Use 2 ½ tablespoons of seasoning per pound, along with ¾ cup (or more) of water to create a sauce, and this will be enough seasoning for two meals.

Poultry/chicken seasoning

makes: ¼ cup

2 tablespoons dried sage

1 tablespoon dried thyme

1 teaspoon dried ground rosemary

1 teaspoon dried oregano

½ teaspoon ground black pepper

½ teaspoon ground nutmeg

Combine all ingredients in a small jar with a tight-fitting lid. Shake well to combine. Use within six months. Use wherever poultry seasoning is called for, such as in stuffing recipes. It’s a perfect seasoning to spread over chicken or turkey before roasting, along with olive oil and salt.

Baharat

makes: 6 tablespoons

1 ½ tablespoon ground cumin

1 tablespoon ground coriander

1 tablespoon paprika

2 teaspoons ground black pepper

2 teaspoons ground cardamom

1 ½ teaspoon ground cinnamon

1 teaspoon ground cloves

1 teaspoon ground nutmeg

Combine all ingredients in a small jar with a tight-fitting lid. Shake well to combine. Use within six months. Baharat is a staple all-purpose seasoning in Middle Eastern cooking. It’s warming, sweet and savory, and works well as a fish or chicken rub or to add a depth of flavor to vegetables, rice, soup, and other dishes.

Italian seasoning

makes: 6 tablespoons

2 tablespoons dried basil

2 tablespoons dried oregano

1 tablespoon dried thyme

1 tablespoon dried ground rosemary

Combine all ingredients in a small jar with a tight-fitting lid. Shake well to combine. Use within six months. Use when making tomato sauce, pizza, and Italian pasta dishes.

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