If you’ve been cooking for more than a few days you’ve probably stumbled onto the line “spices should be stored in a cool, dry location away from direct sunlight”. Good advice, but surely, we can do better than that? You’re about to learn how to store spices to heighten their freshness and make them easy to find when you need them – even that jar of cloves which you use once a year. By the end of this page, your spices will be easily accessible and safe from the elements that wear them down. Let’s get started.
What elements age spices?
Is your spice rack a jumbled mishmash of odd-sized spice containers? Maybe you’re taking your first steps into the world of spices and want to know more about their storage? Whatever your motivation for visiting this page, it is a good idea to start by looking at the enemies of spice.
Air tends to affect ground more than whole spices as the outer shells have been removed during processing. But all spices contain oil which will oxidize when oxygen is present. The result is a spice with less flavor and fragrance. Left long enough exposed to air, the spice will develop new flavors that are unpleasant.
The solution: Store spices in airtight containers and make sure the lids are secured tightly.
Spices love a cool climate. Once temperatures exceed 68°F (20°C) their prized oils begin to evaporate. Stored for long enough at excessive temperature, spices will lose their oil and with it, the benefits they bring to cooking.
The solution: Keep spices in a location that is cool and away from appliances like dishwashers and ovens which give off heat.
Moisture from the air can be a major problem in the kitchen, even for those who live in a climate with low humidity. Spices only contain around 8-16% moisture so if humidity is above 60% then it will affect your precious spices.
Steam from a pot or even a slightly wet spoon used to scoop the spice will all cause problems. The biggest frustration is a ground spice that clumps together. Is there anything worse than being in a rush cooking, only to find the spice won’t come out? Moisture also encourages mold growth or rancidity.
The solution: Avoid letting moisture find its way into an open spice container. In humid climates, use the spice then seal it and put it back into the cupboard or drawer.
Some spices like paprika, cardamom, and turmeric contain color pigments. This makes them vulnerable to light. If exposed to sunlight, or even artificial lights, they will fade and lose flavor.
The solution: Keep spices in a dark cupboard or pantry. Consider using containers that don’t allow light in, for spices highly sensitive to light.
What type of container stores spice the best?
You’ll face a wide range of spice racks and storage solutions for your collection, but which is the best option? Let’s take a look at the pros and cons of each choice.
Glass is a popular option for spice storage, and for good reason. They are non-porous so air will have a difficult time finding its way in. So long as the lids are secure, glass will keep your spices fresh. They’re also clear, which is a huge benefit, being able to easily check what spices are running low.
Mason jars, cork top jars, or shaker bottles with flip-top lids are all good options.
The downside to glass containers is that they let in light. Storing them in a dark place will solve this problem, and leaving them out on the kitchen bench should be kept to a minimum.
Metal, such as stainless steel or tin, is a useful option for storage as they are built to last and non-porous. It is resilient to humidity, light, and air, so long as the lid is secure and tight-fitting.
Metal conducts heat which isn’t ideal for spice preservation. So long as it is kept well away from heat sources this won’t be a problem.
Paper is a useful option for short term storage of spice, or to transfer them from the store back home. They are not ideal for longer storage as can easily tear, air will find its way inside, and they don’t stack neatly in the cupboard. If you choose to use bags for spices that you’ll use in the next month then make sure the top is well sealed and that all the air is pushed out to reduce oxidation.
A low-cost storage option is plastic. Most brands sell their spices in plastic jars that are designed to be resistant to the elements and lightweight. They are fine if you intend to keep them away from light and heat. However, different brands use different sized containers that look mismatched when lined up beside each other. If visuals aren’t a concern, then plastic is a great option.
Plastic can also come in the form of ziplock bags. Place them in a paper bag or light-proof container to get the best out of your spices.
Ceramic containers look great in the pantry and do a good job of keeping out light, air, heat, and humidity. They are often a more expensive option but you may be able to pick up a deal from a thrift store. The larger ones are also a heavy option, not ideal for those that can’t handle heavier items.
What container size is best?
Container size may seem like a minor factor but it can have a big impact on how well your spices last. Small is best because there is less air and moisture available to contact the spices. A large container allows for a lot of spice surface area; this allows air to do its damage.
How to tell if spices are no good
The “best by date” will provide some indication of when it’s time to discard the spices. If they’re getting old, sprinkle some into your hand and rub them a little. If there is no aroma then it is time to replace them with fresh products.
Tip: If you want to use old spices you may want to try reviving them. Warm a skillet or pan on the stovetop and toast the spices until fragrant. Stir frequently to avoid burning them. This trick works best with ground spices.
3 storage tips for maximum freshness
- Storing spices in the fridge is not recommended due to its humidity and temperature fluctuations that can cause moisture to develop.
- Check the spoon is dry before scooping out spices so that no moisture finds its way into the container.
- Buy whole spices as they will generally last twice as long as the ground version.
5 creative ideas for an organized spice setup
- Stackable tins: excellent for small pantries, stack labeled tins on top of each other to easily find your spices at a glance.
- Drawer inserts: a brilliant innovation that keeps small jars neatly lined up in the drawer.
- Mini mason jars: search for small mason jars and paint the lids with blackboard paint, then label accordingly.
- Magnets: add a magnetic strip to the inside of your pantry and attach metal canisters to it. They’ll also attach to some fridges but this isn’t advisable due to the light exposure.
- Hang them: attach small hooks to the inside of your cabinet and hang spices from them using wire.
How do I store vanilla beans?
Vanilla should be stored in a cool, dry position like other spices; however, it will benefit from occasional exposure to air. Each month, open the container and air the vanilla out for ten minutes. This is useful for inhibiting mold growth.
Cooking food at home is more enjoyable when you’ve got an organized spice set. Being able to quickly access the favorites like salt and black pepper is great, but wouldn’t it be nice to see everything in your arsenal at a glance. Properly stored spices will extend their life from months to potentially years. Glass, ceramic, or metal containers will effectively keep out the elements. So get yourself some suitable jars or bottles, then label them to get your spices under control. Your sanity will thank you for it.