With summer comes the heat and humidity and this is one thing that takes its toil on our spices. The labels advise, “Keep in a cool, dry area and away from direct moisture.” – This is sometimes easier said than done.
How to Store Herbs and Spices
1. Buy whole spices. Whole spices such as nutmeg maintain their freshness longer than ground ones. If you can, buy one or two whole nutmegs and grate just the amount you need for your recipe.
2. Keep cool. Keep spices and herbs away from heat and direct sunlight. Even a commonly used herb like dried bay leaves should be kept away from the stove.
3. Keep dry. Don’t sprinkle spices and herbs directly from the bottle over a steaming pot. Steam can sneak into the spice bottle and sap your spices’ power. If you’re wondering why ground spices like allspice get hard and caked in the bottle, steam may be the culprit.
4. Buy just what you need. Try to resist buying giant quantities of spices at a big box store; they’ll probably go stale before you can use them all up. That said, some spices and herbs will keep for a long time if you store them properly. Whole spices can last 4 years! Ground spices like mustard can last for 2-3 years and contribute to hundreds of tasty homemade salad dressings. Herbs last anywhere from 1-3 years, depending on the herb.
5. Spices don’t last forever. They don’t spoil, but spices and herbs do lose their strength. Old and weak seasonings will not deliver the taste that they should. Don’t end up with flavorless ham just because your cloves lost their power!
6. Test for strength. You don’t need any special instrument to test whether spices are fresh. Just use your senses. If the color of the spices has faded, their flavor probably has too. Taste and smell your spices and herbs: if a strong spice like garam masala doesn’t tickle your nose and tantalize your tongue, replace it.
7. Measure correctly. Make sure your measuring spoon is completely dry when you dip it into the bottle. The moisture can quickly ruin the flavor of an aromatic spice like cinnamon. And do level off after you scoop.
8. Some like to chill. Members of the red pepper family, including paprika and chili powder, keep their color and stay fresher when stored in the refrigerator.
9. Lock it down. Replace bottle lids tightly immediately after use to keep out moisture and lock in the flavor you want from a highly aromatic spice like fennel seeds.
10. The daily grind. An inexpensive coffee grinder can also be used to grind whole seeds, cloves, and cinnamon sticks. Fresh-ground spices are especially flavorful. just be sure to clean it thoroughly afterwards so you don’t get your flavors crossed.
11. (My own finding) Put some dry uncooked rice in your spices that contain salt. (also works in salt) as this absorbs the moisture out of the spices.