The Do's and Don't's of Storing Spices
We’ve all reached for a jar of spices only to notice that it’s expired. Like, really expired. Let’s face it: most of us probably have expired spices in our kitchens right now. While expired spices won’t make you sick, they definitely don’t merit a place on your spice rack either. Why? Because over time, with exposure to light and air, spices lose intensity and color. The result is food that is less flavorful and vibrant than it could be. There are, however, a few things you can do to help your spices maintain their flavor and color as long as possible.
First, it’s important to recognize that whole spices, ground spices, and dried herbs expire at different rates. Unopened, dried whole spices can have a shelf life of up to two or three years. And as a rule, whole spices like peppercorns, cinnamon sticks, and cloves last twice as long as ground spices, which last longer than delicate dried herbs like sage and thyme. When possible, consider buying whole spices and grinding them yourself — an inexpensive coffee grinder or a simple mortar and pestle should do the trick. Buying ground spices in small quantities and using them within a few months also ensures that they’re at their freshest best.
Unopened spices are specially packaged and sealed to maintain freshness and color as long as possible, so if you don’t intend to use a spice right away, it’s best to keep it sealed until you need it. All spices should be stored away from direct sunlight heat, and moisture. It’s best to measure out what you need rather than sprinkling directly into a steamy pot, for example, because moisture can get into the jar and make your spices clumpy. On the same note, make sure measuring spoons are completely dry before dipping them into spice jars.
Last but not least, close lids tightly and put them away when you’re done using them to preserve color and flavor. Your senses are the best indicator of a spice’s freshness, so take care to note how something looks and smells when you open it. Good, fresh spices should be vibrantly colored and intensely flavorful.