For our first lesson, I’d like to talk about the pantry. Ahhh, the pantry..the place where it all starts…or possibly ends before it even gets started. Keeping a well-stocked, up-to-date pantry is near and dear to my heart because I feel it is the foundation of what makes food good.
Take a good look at your pantry. Is it organized, or is it a battle to simply locate the ground nutmeg? Are pantry items packed and stored well in air-tight containers, or are they sitting, half-opened on the floor? Are the wet ingredients stored away from the dry ingredients? Are there multiple jars of dried basil that may very well be from the 1970’s? Is there or isn’t there an unsightly layer of caked dust? Are ingredients labeled clearly, or do you have to really ask yourself if the cumin is actually the cinnamon? Are there random ingredients in there you have absolutely no plan to ever use whatsoever? These are all good questions to ask yourself in order to get an honest appraisal of your pantry. It’s ok…this is gonna be a process.
I’d like to give you a list of common pantry items and their expiration dates. Now, we all know we can “use” a teaspoon of baking powder that is more than a year old, but pay attention the next time you do because you’ll likely notice your cake isn’t rising as much as you think it should. Trust me. I’ve been there. But, I know better now. Put love in your cooking by putting good ingredients into your food.
- All purpose flour – 12 months unopened, 6-8 months opened
- Whole wheat flour – 12 months unopened, 6 months opened (if refrigerated)
- Granulated sugar – 2 years unopened, 6 months opened
- Brown sugar – 4 months unopened, 4 month opened (in freezer)
- Confectioner’s (powdered) sugar – 18 months unopened
- Shortening – 8 months unopened, 3 months opened
- Powdered cocoa – 2 years unopened, 1 year opened
- Baking soda – 18 months unopened, 6 months opened
- Baking powder – 6 months unopened, 3 months opened
- Cornstarch – 18 months
- Whole spices: (like peppercorns, whole nutmeg, cinnamon sticks) 2-4 years
- Ground spices: (like oregano, cumin, ginger) 2-3 years
- Tomato products: 1-2 years unopened
- Fruit juices: 1-2 years unopened
- Soups: 3-5 years unopened
- Vegetables: 3-4 years unopened
Random Pantry Items
- Pasta (dried, no eggs): 2 years unopened, 1 year opened
- Pasta (dried, with eggs): 2 years unopened, 1-2 months opened
- Salad dressings: 1 year unopened, 3 months opened (in refrigerator)
- Honey: 1 year
- Ground coffee: 2 years unopened, 2 weeks opened (in refrigerator)
- Jams and jellies: 1 year unopened, 6 months opened (in refrigerator)
- Peanut butter: 6-9 months unopened, 2-3 months opened
- Oils: Olive oil is best if used within a year of its harvest date, but only if stored properly. Keep it tucked away in a cool pantry. If you are unsure about an oil (sesame, canola, vegetable, olive, etc.) being usable, heat some of it in a skillet. If it produces a weird smell, toss the bottle. Also, avoid storing oils in clear bottles out in the open because they are not fans of light.
Keep in mind these are simply guidelines and that you should always go by the date (if there is one) printed on the package. Also, feel free to throw anything out if it looks or smells bad. This is always a good choice. My theory is, “Better safe than sorry.” Like I said, this is a process, but I think it’s important to start off on the right foot with your pantry because it is the basis for your meals.