It's time for your first annual pantry purge of the New Year! Opening up a new calendar is a perfect time to open up your spice cabinet and do a little housecleaning since how long you store spices and herbs plays a big part in determining how effective they will be in seasoning your food.
The initial quality of the herbs and spices you buy is the biggest determinant of their shelf life. The type of jars used for spices being stored in your kitchen is also important. Dried spices and herbs won't spoil if properly stored and used, but they can lose their potency. No matter how much, or how little, you pay for your seasonings, if they have no flavor they are not a bargain.
Don't Store Spices Too Long!
The first step is to take out all of the spices and herbs you have tucked away in cabinets, drawers and racks and line them up on the counter. Next you can check the label or bottom of the container for the "best by" date. This date doesn't mean they will be bad if it has passed, but it's a good indication of how long the manufacturer stands behind their effectiveness.
Storage conditions and duration can affect not only how robust the flavor of your herbs and spices will be, but also whether they become caked or infested with insects or mold. Dried herbs lose their flavor faster than spices, and ground spices lose theirs faster than whole. If flavor has faded, using a bit more may allow you to get the desired result.
Give Jars for Spices and Herbs the Look and Sniff Test
Look at the Color Dried herbs and red spices, such as chili powder, paprika and red pepper, may turn brown when held at room temperature or exposed to air. They are still fine to use, but will not look very pretty as a garnish. To retain the bright color of the red ones so you'll always have vibrant paprika for your deviled eggs, you can store them in the refrigerator.
Sniff the Aroma For ground spices, the best way to check freshness is by shaking the closed container, then opening the lid and sniffing. If it doesn't emit a strong, characteristic aroma, it may be safe to use, but ineffective in flavoring your dish. You can check the strength of whole spices by scraping them on a grate or crushing them with the side of a knife before smelling. The best way to test dried herbs is to take a few leaves and rub them between your fingers or into the palm of your hand to see if they emit their fragrance.
Keeping Dried Spices and Herbs Fresh Longer
How to Use Don't open and shake the container over food that has steam rising. The steam will cause caking and can lead to mold. Shake the spice or herb into your hand or measuring spoon first.
If you are going to insert a measuring utensil into the container, be sure it is clean and completely dry first to avoid cross-contamination. Always replace the lid immediately after using.
How to Store Keep dried herbs and spices in tightly sealed containers, away from direct sunlight and moisture. Do not store on a window sill, above the stove, near the sink or next to the dishwasher to avoid heat and humidity. Decorative spice racks with open shaker holes on top may look cute, but they are not practical storage containers. Use them as a decoration only.
When purchasing spices in large quantities, transferring them to smaller containers – possibly cleaned, empty containers from spices bought in a smaller size - can make them easier to use and store. Keep the remains of the larger containers on a cool, dry, dark shelf.
Do not store dried herbs and spices in the freezer. Condensation will occur when they are thawing, which can result in caking and mold.
Shelf Life Spices that are used in small quantities, or infrequently, should be purchased in smaller sizes so they won't end up on your shelf for too many years. If you write the date of purchase on the bottom of each new container you buy, you can use this guide for storage times:
- Ground spices: 2-3 years
- Whole spices: 3-4 years
- Seasoning blends: 1-2 years
- Dried Herbs: 1-3 years
- Extracts: 4 years, except pure vanilla which lasts indefinitely
Once you have your spices ready for the year, you can look for ways to spice up your love life here!