The Common Mistake When Storing Spices

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Do you have a cabinet full of spices that you rarely use because they’ve lost their flavor and aroma? It’s a common problem, but one that can be easily avoided by storing your spices properly. Many people make the mistake of keeping their spices in hot, sunny spots in the kitchen or using containers that let in too much air and moisture. But with a few simple storage tips, you can keep your spices fresh and potent for much longer. Let’s dive in and learn the best ways to store spices so every meal is bursting with flavor!

1. Keep Spices in Airtight Containers

One of the most important things you can do to preserve the freshness of your spices is to store them in airtight containers. Exposure to air will cause spices to lose their flavor more quickly. Experts recommend using commercial-grade plastic bags or glass jars with tight-fitting lids to minimize air exposure.

If you buy spices in bulk, transfer them to smaller airtight containers so there is less air space. This will help the spices retain their volatile oils and flavors for longer. Make sure to label each container with the name of the spice and the date it was opened so you can keep track of freshness.

Another advantage of airtight containers is that they prevent moisture from getting in and causing clumping or spoilage. Avoid shaking spice jars directly over steaming pots, as the heat and moisture can get into the spices. Instead, measure out the amount you need into your hand or a bowl first.

Glass and ceramic jars are great options for airtight spice storage. They don’t absorb odors and are non-porous to keep air and moisture out. Mason jars or repurposed baby food jars work well. You can also find spice jars with shaker lids for easy dispensing.

2. Store Spices Away From Heat and Light

Heat and light are two of the biggest enemies of fresh spices. Avoid storing your spices in cabinets or drawers near the stove, oven, dishwasher, or any other heat source. The temperature fluctuations and humidity can cause spices to degrade and lose potency.

Similarly, don’t keep your spices on sunny windowsills or countertops where they are exposed to direct light. The sun’s rays can fade the colors of spices like paprika and red pepper, and cause the essential oils to break down faster. Dark-colored or opaque jars can help protect spices from harmful light.

Instead, store your spices in a cool, dry place with a consistent temperature around 70°F. A kitchen cabinet or pantry shelf away from heat and light is ideal. You can also store spices in a drawer as long as it’s not too close to the stove.

Some cooks like to keep spices like paprika and red pepper in the fridge to help maintain their bright color. This can be a good storage solution, as long as the spices are in airtight containers to prevent moisture and odors from seeping in. Let the spices come to room temperature before using for optimal flavor.

3. Use Up Spices Within a Year

While proper storage can extend the shelf life of spices, they don’t last forever. Over time, even well-preserved spices will start to fade in color, aroma, and flavor. Dried herbs and ground spices typically stay fresh for a year, while whole spices can last a couple years.

To avoid wasting money on stale spices, only buy what you can use up within a year. Spices sold in bulk may be cheaper, but if you can’t use that amount, stick to smaller containers. Specialty spice shops and some grocery stores sell spices in smaller quantities so you can restock more frequently.

Make a habit of checking your spice collection every 6-12 months and tossing anything that has lost its color and smell. You can make a batch of spice blends or seasoning mixes to use up older spices that are still flavorful. Freshly grinding whole spices also helps revive their taste.

When you open a new jar of a spice, use a permanent marker to write the date on the bottom. Then arrange your spices so the oldest ones are in the front and get used first. Having an organized, labeled spice rack or drawer makes it easy to find what you need and keep tabs on freshness.

4. Choose the Right Spice Storage Containers

We already covered that airtight containers are essential for keeping spices fresh. But what’s the best material for spice jars? Glass and ceramic are popular choices because they are non-porous, don’t absorb odors, and allow you to see the spices inside.

However, glass jars can let in light which degrades spices over time. Amber or cobalt blue glass provides some protection from light while still being transparent. You can also find specialty glass jars with UV filters to block damaging rays.

Stainless steel tins and plastic containers are other options for storing spices. Metal tins are opaque and airtight, but you can’t see the spices inside. BPA-free plastic is lightweight and economical, but can absorb flavors over time and may not be as airtight.

Whichever type of container you choose, make sure it has a tight-fitting lid to keep air and moisture out. If the original packaging isn’t airtight, transfer the spices to a better container. Square and rectangular jars are often more space-efficient than round ones.

5. Don’t Store Spices With Other Foods

It may be tempting to keep all your spices in the pantry with baking supplies or next to oils and vinegars. But storing spices with other pungent foods is not a good idea. The spices can absorb odors that may alter their flavor in your dishes.

Additionally, keeping spices, especially red ones like paprika, next to oils and fats can cause them to go rancid faster. The antioxidants in spices that help preserve them break down more quickly when exposed to the acids in vinegar and citrus.

Of course, many cooks have limited storage space and need to keep spices in the pantry with other staples. If this is the case, use airtight containers and keep the spices away from strong-smelling foods as much as possible. Good neighbors for spices are baking soda, coffee, tea, and whole grains.

If you have room in a kitchen cabinet or drawer, setting aside a dedicated spice storage area is ideal. A spice rack on the wall or inside a cabinet door can also keep your collection separate from other foods. This makes it easier to organize, locate, and keep track of your spices as well.

6. Consider Storing Some Spices in the Freezer

For longer term storage of whole spices or bulk dried herbs, the freezer can be a good option. Cold temperatures halt the oxidation process that causes spices to degrade over time. Whole nutmeg and cinnamon sticks in particular can benefit from freezer storage.

To prevent moisture and freezer burn, double bag spices or seal them in an airtight container before freezing. You can store larger quantities and just refill a smaller jar kept at room temperature as needed. Let the spices defrost at room temp before opening the container.

Ground spices don’t do as well in the freezer because they can absorb moisture and smells from other foods. The exception is chili powder, which some cooks find retains its heat and color better when frozen. In general, whole spices are the best candidates for cold storage.

Keeping spices in the fridge is not usually recommended because of the humidity. However, you can store red spices prone to fading like paprika or saffron in the fridge in an airtight jar to preserve color. And if you live in a very hot, humid climate, the fridge may be your best bet for keeping spices fresh.

7. Organize Your Spice Collection

An organized spice collection means less food waste and fresher flavor in every pinch and dash. Investing in a good spice storage system that works for your space will make cooking more efficient and enjoyable. Here are some smart ways to arrange your spice jars:

Alphabetical order is a popular method that makes it easy to quickly locate the spice you need. If you have shelves or a drawer, line up the jars from A to Z. For wall-mounted racks, arrange in columns vertically. This system works best if you know the name of the spice you want.

Grouping spices by cuisine or flavor profile is a more intuitive approach for many cooks. Keep baking spices, Italian herbs, Indian spices, Thai chiles, BBQ rubs, etc. in their own sections. Or sort savory and sweet spices separately. This makes it easy to quickly grab complementary flavors.

Another tactic is to arrange your spices by frequency of use, with everyday staples in the front and specialty blends or seasonal spices in the back. You can also sort by color, aroma, or size – whatever makes sense to you. The key is keeping your spices visible and accessible.

Following these expert storage tips will help ensure your spices are always ready to season any dish to perfection. By keeping spices in airtight containers away from heat and light, and using them before they go stale, you’ll elevate every meal with fresh, potent flavor. An organized spice collection makes cooking a joy!

Alex Morgan
Alex Morgan
Alex Morgan is a seasoned writer and lifestyle enthusiast with a passion for unearthing uncommon hacks and insights that make everyday living smoother and more interesting. With a background in journalism and a love for research, Alex's articles provide readers with unexpected tips, tricks, and facts about a wide range of topics.

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