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How to Keep Your Spices Fresh

377
Ashlee Redger
with Ashlee Redger
Test Kitchen Chef
April 8, 2019
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How to Keep Your Spices Fresh

“I found ground cumin in my cabinet that’s a year old… Can I still use it?” We get varying degrees of the “will spices go bad?” question all the time. Not always with cumin of course, and the time ranges from a year to a decade (side note: does anyone have a bottle from when we opened in 2004? Let us know!). But trust me, I’ve answered spice fans’ emails and phone calls about how to get the most out of their seasonings since I’ve worked in the Savory Spice Test Kitchen.

The answer: spices don’t typically go bad, but they do lose flavor. It depends on the spice, whether it’s ground, and how it’s stored. Here are some of our tips for keeping your spice cabinet lookin’ (and more importantly tasting) fresh.

Keep them away from heat

You’ve probably heard this before but we’ll say it again: Don’t store your spices above (or super close to) your stove. That area tends to get humid and hot from all the delicious things you’re cooking there. So where should spices be stored in the kitchen? They keep the best in cool, dry conditions, like in a cabinet. A bonus to keeping them away from humidity: you’ll avoid running into spices that are all clumped up in the bottle because they’ve absorbed a bunch of moisture from the air. Score!

Keep them out of the light

We get it: you want to display your spices out in the open so when your neighbors or friends come over, they can “ooh” and “ahhh” at your extensive culinary collection. Same here. Unfortunately, light can bleach some of the vibrant colors out of spices like paprika and mustard powder. Seasonings that you only use rarely or in small quantities, like Asafetida, are especially susceptible to this as they tend to spend more time in their bottle without being shaken or used up.

Swivel Top Black Marble Salt Box
Swivel Top Black Marble Salt Box

Keep them sealed

Here’s a new vocab word: volatility. We’ve talked about it before—it’s the chemical characteristic of an aromatic flavor compound to just… disappear into the atmosphere. This happens slowly with dried spices, but it does occur. The longer a seasoning is exposed to air (especially circulating air), the more likely it is that the molecules that are responsible for flavor have dried up and drifted away. Have you ever noticed that the ground black pepper that’s stored in your salt cellar is lacking just a little in the flavor department? This is why. The simple solution: keep your spices in jars (or bags) that are tightly sealed, and fill that extra cellar compartment (or two) with another course, flaky salt to finish fried eggs or sweets. Yeah, you can thank me later.

Keep whole spices

Whereas ground spices’ volatile flavors have been more exposed to air during the grinding process (and therefore will dull faster), whole seeds will hold onto their tastiness for much longer. We grind the spices fresh for you, but ground seasonings will only be at their peak flavor for about 6 months to a year. By comparison, whole spices can sit in your cabinet for up to 2 years before losing their oomph.

To grind your own spices, you can definitely use an electric mill. Personally, I find that I can never effectively clean out the aroma (and flavor) of that cumin I powdered three months ago. The traditional mortar and pestle is the best way to grind things like seeds, plus it can be used with fresh ingredients to make pesto, chile paste, and other sauces. Microplanes aren’t just for zesting citrus; they’re also great for cinnamon sticks and whole nutmeg (if you don’t have one of these cool gadgets, that is). Oh, and not to mention: both of these make amazing gifts for that beginner cook or newlywed in your life. Stress-free gifting, accomplished.

 

What does your spice cabinet look like? How do you keep your spices looking and tasting their best? Let us know by posting on Instagram and tagging @savoryspiceshop!

 


Comments on this Article


(guest), on July 26, 2019

I have lived in many locations (California, Iowa and Maui, Hawaii). But I have NEVER had spices go bad so rapidly, as I have here on Maui. I cannot keep paprika, or mustard, and several others. They literally turn black and smell disgusting in a matter of months. You may not be aware of this, but on Maui, spices are probably twice the amount you pay on the Mainland! So, should I be keeping these in the refrigerator or forget buying any at all? Would greatly appreciate your input on this problem. Thank you, Barbara Cabasug

Ashlee Redger (registered user) on August 05, 2019

Hello Barbara, We're so sorry to hear that you've been having a rough time with keeping your spices fresh. One guess is that the natural humidity of the area may be causing the discoloration/smell. Keeping jars in the refrigerator can definitely be helpful for this, as well as changing how you purchase. Spices that come in whole forms (like mustard seeds, cumin seeds, pepper berries, etc.) can be hardier to a variety of conditions, plus you get more flavor from freshly grinding them just before use. Also, avoid buying in bulk so you have a fairly quick turnaround for the spices in your cabinet (or fridge). Hope this helps!

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