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.
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.
Keep them sealed
Here’s a new vocab word: volatility. 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 with another course, flaky salt to finish fried eggs or sweets.
Keep whole spices
Whereas ground spices’ volatile oils and flavor compounds have been exposed to air during the grinding process (and therefore dull faster), whole seeds will hold onto their tastiness for much longer. We grind spices fresh for you, but ground spices will only be at their peak flavor for about 6 months to a year. By comparison, whole spices (like peppercorns or seeds) can sit in your cabinet for up to 2 years before losing their oomph.
Another benefit of buying whole spices is that you can dry roast them in a skillet or fry them in a bit of oil to bring out their full flavor before using them in your dish. Seeds and some spices can be used whole but you can also grind them yourself using an electric mill, coffee grinder (although we don't recommend using the same grinder for coffee and spices, as they can both leave lingering flavors), or mortar and pestle. Microplanes aren’t just for zesting citrus; they’re also great for cinnamon sticks and whole nutmeg.
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!