Some questions about spices

We used to buy Wick Fowler’s chili kit. Today I tried making chili according to the same recipe, but using the ground spices I have in my kitchen. It turned out edible but only just barely. A lot of the spices were very old, and all of them were whatever was cheapest when we bought them. I now have some questions. Actual tested information is preferred here wherever possible.

  1. Which is cheaper per ounce in general, ground spices or fresh ones taken home to grind yourself as needed? (Ignoring the cost of the grinder.) How much cheaper?

  2. If ground spices get older than six months, can you make up for the flavor loss at all by simply multiplying the quantity in the recipe by some amount?

  3. If I’m buying ground spices, does it make any difference what brand I buy? Why? (At Kroger, their “Value” brand chili powder is 49 cents an ounce, while some other brand is more like six dollars an ounce. Other than price, what’s the diff?

I have no quantifiable evidence to offer, just some opinions based on experience. I do love to cook and play with spices.

Spices - certainly some, it probably depends on the spice - lose taste over time. So in those instances, it wouldn’t matter if you increased the amount because the taste simply isn’t there any more. Dill weed and curry powder come to mind.
The difference in taste between, for instance, fresh basil and dried powdered store-brand basil is literally night and day. I personally don’t see the point in dried basil when fresh basil is so readily available.
This is probably subjective, but to me the taste difference in, say, Turkish bay leaves (about $10.00 at Kroger) and the generic or store brand for $2.99 is worth the extra seven dollars.
A local high-end foodie grocery store near me sells spices, both whole and ground, by the ounce. You can buy just a pinch or two at a time for a particular dish and it is much cheaper in the long run than buying a whole bottle of lesser-quality spice that you may never use up.

I find that a lot of spices last WAY longer than 6 months; I know I’ve read that they degrade, and I’m sure they do, but I also wonder if the big warnings come from a time where people didn’t use a lot of spices, so that bottle of oregano could easily be 10 years old. Sure, oregano doesn’t last 10 years, but it doesn’t lose all taste in 6 months, either.

Herbs (basil, oregano, thyme) tend to use their flavor faster than spices. Honestly, I find dried herbs to be mildly-flavored even when brand-new and high quality; I go for fresh herbs as much as possible.

Ground spices last a couple years easily. Whole spices - nutmeg, cinnamon, etc - last forever in my experience.

Overall, trust your nose; if you open a jar and can barely smell it, toss it out.

On the other hand, I think brand/quality matters a lot. I only buy spices in a grocery store as a last resort; they’re not only expensive, they tend to be low-quality. The difference is startling; higher-quality spices are noticeably different than the low-end store brands. I get most of my stuff from Penzey’s. If you’re not into collecting tons of herbs & spices and only want enough for one recipe, check out your local food co-op or natural food store - they often have high-quality bulk spices where you can measure out only what you need for a single recipe. Even if a spice is on the expensive side, if you’re only buying a tablespoon or so, it’s not going to break your budget.

As long as we’re recommending online spice vendors - I’ve been very happy with as well. I’ve also read good things about Penzey’s; just never tried them.

Except saffron. :smiley:

Depends on your budget; Penzey’s has 1/2 grams for about $9-$10. Most recipes don’t call for that much, just a few threads. It’s strong. So yeah, not super cheap, but we’re not talking black truffle prices either.