Spices should be sourced with as much care and consideration as fine wines and quality proteins.
When it comes to meeting member expectations, sourcing quality products is crucial for club chefs and sourcing spices is no exception. There are numerous companies now with stylish branding and smart packaging, but it is important to remember that spices are a commodity that should be purchased with great care.
The spice industry is a complex business that can be daunting even for a knowledgeable chef. That’s why word of mouth is paramount when selecting a supplier or distributor and being able to get samples to taste and cook with is crucial. Sourcing a spice vendor is about creating a collaborative partnership and finding qualities such as a longstanding reputation, established expertise, sustainable sourcing practices, and staff responsiveness. Developing a relationship with a boutique spice blender as well can give you access to unique blends and unusual spices or even creating a custom blend for your club’s kitchen.
Freshness is important, but it will not matter if spices are not going to be used right away which is why buying spices in bulk is not always necessary for spices not used frequently. Ground spices have a much shorter shelf life, so to keep spices fresher for longer it is best to buy whole spices that can be ground when needed. If the spices have no smell or are not vibrant in color then that is also a sign they are too old.
To help extend the shelf life of spices, chefs should stick with spices that are in containers rather than bags. Air is the enemy of spices and bags are not completely sealed to air. Spices should be kept in containers with lids and not exposed to any humidity or extreme temperatures. Lastly, it is best to stay away from cheap spices. Higher prices usually mean spices have been sourced and packaged better. With a better quality product, you should be able to use less so it eventually balances out.
Unfortunately, most chefs are not taught to evaluate spices, but after comparing from several sources it is possible to become better at buying spices. Thanks to vendors and other online or specialty stores, club chefs now have convenient and regular access to a variety of spices that can be purchased in small quantities to try from all over the world.