If you don’t have these you can’t cook. Period. Don’t forget to keep these in your food storage. You will be sorry if you do!
Baking powder is a combination of an acid and an alkali with starch added to keep the other two ingredients stable and dry. The powder reacts with liquid by foaming and the resulting bubbles of carbon dioxide can aerate and raise dough. Almost all baking powder now on the market is double acting, meaning it has one acid that bubbles at room temperature and another acid which only reacts at oven temperatures. Unless a recipe specifies otherwise, this is the type to use.
Don’t expose baking powder to steam, humid air, wet spoons, or other moisture. Store in a tightly lidded container for no more than a year. Even when kept bone dry it will eventually loses its potency. To test its strength, measure 1 tsp powder into 1/3 cup hot water. The mixture should fizz and bubble furiously. If it doesn’t, throw it out.
This gritty powder is sodium bicarbonate also known as sodium acid bicarbonate (NaHCO3), a mild alkali. When combined with an acid ingredient such as buttermilk it is used in baking to leaven quick breads and other baked foods working in the same manner as baking powder. It can also be used to make hominy. When combined with an acid ingredient, the bicarbonate reacts to give off carbon dioxide bubbles which causes the baked good to rise. If kept well sealed in an air-and moisture-proof container its storage life is indefinite. If kept in the cardboard box it usually comes in, it will keep for about eighteen months. Do keep in mind that baking soda is a wonderful odor absorber. If you don’t want your baked goods tasting of whatever smells it absorbed, then keeping it in an airtight container is a good idea.
There are so many more uses for baking soda besides cooking that books have been written on its uses (If you don’t believe me, look on Amazon!). It can be used as a deodorant, mouthwash, toothpaste, cleaning and scouring agent, de-greaser, and a natural deodorizer. 1/2 tsp. mixed in a 4-oz. glass of water is good for upset stomachs (remember bicarbonate of soda?). In laundry, it’s good as cleaner and water softener. It also makes soaps stretch farther. It can be used as a coolant for the skin, especially for sunburn, rash, bee-sting, poison ivy and oak. It helps maintain pH in water. Baking soda can be used safely without polluting the ground water. It also makes a great fire extinguisher.
HERBS AND SPICES
It is difficult to give exact instructions on how best to store culinary herbs and spices because there are dozens of different seeds, leaves, roots, barks, etc., we call an herb or a spice. There are, however, some general rules that may be followed to best preserve their flavors. All spices, particularly dried, are especially sensitive to heat, air, moisture, and light. Room temperature is satisfactory for storage but refrigeration or freezing is even better. Whatever you do they should be kept away from heat sources. It is common for the household spice cabinet or shelf to be located over the stove, but this is really about the worst possible place to keep herbs and spices even if it is convenient.
Where possible, buy spices whole. Whole nutmegs will keep their flavor far longer than ground nutmeg, the same for other seeds and roots. You’ll have to use a grater, grinder or whatever, but the difference in flavor is worth it.
Storage life for salt is indefinite. So long as you do not let it become contaminated with dirt or whatever, it will never go bad. Ok, I never use iodized salt. I think it imparts a bitter, metallic taste to foods, and honestly, I don’t know where the iodide they add comes from, so I prefer not to take the chance. Personally, I make a point of eating seafood, seaweed, and lots of eggs to meet my dietary iodine needs. My approach is not required for excellent health, but I enjoy being an extremist occasionally and this is one of my occasions. How about you? Now, if this is not one of your extremist “things” and DO use iodized salt, over time, iodized salt may turn yellow, but this is harmless and can still be used. Salt is rather hygroscopic and will adsorb moisture from the air if not sealed in an airtight container. If it does cake up, it can be dried in the oven and then pulverized again with no harm done.
All salt, however, is not the same. Below is a list of some of the available salts:
TABLE SALT: This is by far the most widely known type of salt. It comes in two varieties; iodized and non-iodized.
CANNING SALT: This is pure salt and nothing but salt. It can usually be found in the canning supplies section of most grocery stores. This is the preferred salt for most food preservation or storage uses. It is generally about the same grain size as table salt.
KOSHER SALT: This salt is not really kosher, but is used in “kashering” meat to make the flesh kosher for eating. This involves first soaking the meat then rubbing it with the salt to draw out the blood which is not-kosher and is subsequently washed off along with the salt. The cleansed meat is then kosher. I generally use either kosher or canning salt as it’s purer than regular table salt.
SEA SALT: This type of salt comes in about as many different varieties as coffee and from many different places around the world. The “gourmet” versions can be rather expensive. In general, the types sold in grocery stores, natural food markets and gourmet shops have been purified enough to use in food. It’s not suitable for food preservation, though, because the mineral content it contains (other than the sodium chloride) may cause discoloration of the food.
ROCK or ICE CREAM SALT: This salt comes in large chunky crystals and is intended primarily for use in home ice cream churns to lower the temperature of the ice filled water in which the churn sits. It’s also sometimes used in icing down beer kegs or watermelons.
SOLAR SALT: This is also sometimes confusingly called “sea salt”. It is not, however, the same thing as the sea salt found in food stores. Most importantly, it is not food grade. Its main purpose is for use in water softeners. The reason it is called “solar” and sometimes “sea salt” is that it is produced by evaporation of sea water in large ponds in various arid areas of the world. This salt type is not purified and still contains the desiccated remains of whatever aquatic life might have been trapped in it.
HALITE: Halite is the salt that is used on roads to melt snow and ice.
SALT SUBSTITUTES: These are other kinds of metal salts such as potassium chloride used to substitute for the ordinary sodium chloride (NaCl) salt we are familiar with. They have their uses, but should not be used in foods undergoing a heated preservation processing, as they can cause the product to taste bad. Even the heat from normal cooking is sometimes sufficient to cause this.
In ancient times salt was highly valued. Nowadays this inexpensive item is an excellent addition to your food storage for your own use and for future barter needs. Salt is very versatile. It can be used to cure meat, add flavor to otherwise bland foods, and can be used to help ease the pain of sores. It will speed healing (try it on a canker sore). Apply the salt straight on the wound (it sometimes stings initially), or dilute it with water. ½ tsp. in warm water is good for headaches and indigestion.
There is vinegar and then there is vinegar and it is not all alike. The active ingredient in all vinegar is acetic acid, but how the sour stuff was made can vary widely. The most common vinegar is white distilled which is actually diluted distilled acetic acid and not true vinegar at all. It keeps pretty much indefinitely if tightly sealed in a plastic or glass bottle with a plastic cap. The next most common is apple cider vinegar which is available in two varieties. A cider flavored distilled acetic acid type and a true cider vinegar fermented from hard cider.
Either will store indefinitely at room temperature until a sediment begins to appear on the bottom. Non-distilled vinegar will sometimes develop a cloudy substance. This is called a mother of vinegar and it is harmless. As long as the liquid does not begin to smell foul it can be filtered out through cheesecloth or a coffee filter and rebottled in a clean container.
The more exotic wine, balsalmic, malt, rice and other vinegars can be stored like cider vinegar. Age and exposure to light and air, however, eventually begin to take their toll on their delicate flavors. Tightly capped in a cool, dark cabinet or refrigerator is best for their storage.
When mixed with honey it’s a cure-all. It can be used as an astringent. It’s a wonderful glass cleaner.
Yeast is just not a product you can stow away and forget about until you need it in a few years. After all, this single celled microscopic fungus is a living organism so if it’s not alive at the time you need it, you will get no action. When we incorporate yeast into our bread dough, beer wort or fruit juice it begins to ferment madly (we hope) and produce several by-products. If you’re baking, the by-product you want is carbon dioxide which is trapped by the dough and subsequently causes it to rise.
Types of Baking Yeasts
COMPRESSED (FRESH) YEAST: Compressed yeast is only partly dried (about 70% moisture), requires refrigeration and keeps even better in a deep freezer. If kept in an air- and moisture-tight container to prevent desiccation this type of yeast will keep for a year in the freezer (0ºF, -17ºC or less), but only about two weeks in the refrigerator.
ACTIVE DRY YEAST: A granular powder with about an 8% moisture content, active dry yeast can be found in either single use foil packets or vacuum packed foil covered one pound ‘bricks’. In general bread making active dry yeast is typically dissolved in water (105º-115ºF, 40º-46ºC) along with an equal amount of sugar to give it time to resuscitate and actively begin growing before being mixed into the dry ingredients.
RAPID ACTING & BREAD MACHINE YEAST: A more finely granulated powder with a lower moisture content than standard active dry yeast the rapid acting version is designed to raise bread as much as fifty percent faster. This lends it to the ‘quick’ or ‘rapid’ cycles of many bread machines that eliminate one rise cycle of the bread dough to facilitate faster production. This form of yeast is also generally mixed with a small amount of ascorbic acid which acts as a dough conditioner to give improved rise performance. Rapid Acting yeasts often perform poorly in recipes calling for long fermentation periods. Because of its finer granulation, it does not need to be dissolved in liquid first and should be added to the dry ingredients instead.
All dry yeasts will last for months on the shelf, until the expiration date which should be clearly stamped on the package. If packaged in an air/moisture tight container and kept in the freezer it may last for several years though one year is the general recommendation most often found among various authorities.