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May 13, 2013
This photo is the best illustration that I’ve got of an important tip: Sniff and taste before you pour, sprinkle, chop, cook or bake. So many things can go wrong with ingredients and when any one of them does, there goes your dish.
My husband snapped this picture of me shortly after I’d found a bottle of lavender syrup hidden behind way too many things. Good thing I smelled it before making those Kirs – it was off by a mile. And I thought mold was the only bad thing that could happen to sugar syrup! Hmmm.
The usual suspects for rancidity are oil and ingredients with oil. I never pour a drop of any kind of oil without smelling it first and, if the sniff test leaves me wondering, I taste. No amount of mustard and vinegar can cover oil that’s off.
Oil should be stored in dark, cool places and nut oils should be given extra care, since they go off faster. Here’s the rule I follow: if the storage area is good enough for wine, then it’s good enough for oil.
And while nuts may look like tough guys, they’re as delicate as hothouse plants. Again, oil’s the spoiler. The same oil that makes nuts so delicious is what can cause them to turn rancid. I never use nuts in a recipe without tasting them first. It’s a good thing I don’t use many frozen products, because my freezer is full of nuts (and tart crusts, and cookie dough, and loaf, Bundt and layer cakes).
Also in the sniff and taste category, there’s chocolate. While chocolate, stored in a cool, dry place – never, never the refrigerator – will keep for at least a year, milk and white chocolate have shorter shelflives. It’s the milk solids. I’ve only had bad chocolate twice and each time it was milk chocolate and each time I was surprised.
And don’t forget spices – they need the sniff test. While spices don’t go bad, they do lose their oomph over time. If you have to strain to get a whiff of spice, you’re never going to get the flavor of the spice. Toss it!
Finally, there’s everything dairy. I never pour a drop of milk without smelling it first and, of course, I do the same with cream. But my big concern is butter. As with chocolate, it’s rare that butter will be hanging around long enough to go bad, but it doesn’t take long for butter to pick up unpleasant odors in the refrigerator. It’s a magnet for every funky smell. Make sure that your butter is well wrapped and far from the Camembert. And the onions. And the barbecued brisket.
And if any of these things go bad – I hope you’re further from the camera than I was.
Tags: kitchen advice
In the Kitchen
Barbara | Creative Culinary
| May 13, 2013 4:43 PM
So funny Dorie. I'm staying with some friends after selling my home and figuring out my next move and I never realized just how much I sniffed until my friend Karen noticed me taking a whiff of the milk and asked me why I sniff everything.
I don't even think about it anymore but it's my best method for determining if something has gone south...a tip her hubs could have used the other day when he poured the last of the half and half into a cup of coffee and it curdled...a sniff would have saved that coffee for sure! :)
| May 13, 2013 6:20 PM
Thank you for this, Dorie! I didn't realize how sensitive oil was to heat nor that the state of my nuts may be deceiving! Invaluable info that will surely change how long I keep things around.