Take a moment to think about your spice collection. Do you prefer to store them in a cabinet all their own or directly on the countertop? Are you a fan of organized drawers or a corner of the fridge dedicated to keeping your spices chilled? Maybe you've even continued grandma's tradition of tucking your spices away in the freezer under the assumption that they would last longer. It's time to rethink your storage methods to extend the life and flavor of your spices. Storage is critical to the lifespan of a spice, believe it or not!
I Have the Perfect Spot!
If you are a person who values convenience, storing your spices above the stove might be your first thought. In plenty of homes, there is already a nice little built-in cabinet above the stove where plenty of people toss their spices and forget about them until they decide to add a little garlic powder to their alfredo sauce. This is probably the worst thing you could do to your poor spices. Herbs, chiles, and spices alike lose flavor more quickly when they are exposed to heat. When exposed to heat, the oils in herbs and spices dry out. Since the oil is usually where the flavor of the spices lie, losing oil means losing flavor. Keeping them near the stove, especially above it where the heat will rise, is a bad decision. Water vapor also rises off the stovetop when you are cooking, another factor that will damage spices. When sealed in containers that aren't air tight, the moisture from the air can seep in and damage the integrity of your spices.
The spice rack on the counter isn't a good idea for those of you who like to purchase spices in bulk and then use them all year. Keeping spices out in the open like that means they are much more likely to get direct sunlight, something that can also cause spices to deteriorate faster. Herbs and spices are photosensitive, meaning they begin to break down and dry out when exposed to direct light.
Keeping them in the fridge or freezer? When you put the spices away, they had to cool down. Every time you take your spices out of their cold homes, they must adjust to the temperature of the room. These temperature changes will cause condensation on the spices, shortening the life off the spices. Where there is condensation, there may also be mold! Moldy herbs or spices should be immediately discarded.
Magnetic blackboards that look adorable and provide that "casual" cooking Instagram background shot? Not such a good idea, unless they are positioned somewhere that the sun can't find them. Unless the blackboard is on the back of a cabinet door, direct sunlight affects these spice displays in the same way that it affects spices left out on the counter.
Where Should I Store My Spices?
Store your herbs and spices in a cool, dry place. The ideal temperature is one that remains fairly constant, averaging right around 70° F. Remember to store your spices away from any direct heat sources. This can be something as obvious as the stovetop, but it also includes the dishwasher, which is a source of heat that many cooks forget about. A good storage space will keep your spices dry, in the dark, and away from the heat.
Be Careful About Adding Spices to Your Cooking, Too!
It's tempting to just dump spices into your recipe over the pot, and we are certainly guilty of doing this ourselves from time to time, but it can affect the quality of your spices over time. By holding your spices open over the stove, you are forcing them into the heat and the steam rising off your food may cause condensation inside of the spice containers. It's better to shake the spices into the palm of your hand or onto a spoon away from the stove and then add them to your dish.
What Should I Store My Spices In?
Some people prefer amber jars with airtight lids. Others prefer to use mason jars with airtight lids that can be easily tucked away in a drawer or cupboard. Some people just keep them in sealable bags.
If you have whole spices that have dried out, you can bring a little bit of new life into them by toasting or frying them in some oil. Ground up spices that have lost their flavor or scent can't be saved and should be discarded. If you are unsure of how long you've had the herbs and spices in your cupboard, do a quick scent test. If you can't smell it, it's time to toss it. If you can smell it but something about the spices feels or tastes off, it is better to get rid of the spice and purchase new spices. Only buy an amount that you think you can use up quickly, with 6 months being a pretty good time frame for the best tasting herbs and spices.
How Do I Properly Store Vanilla Beans?
Unlike most other spices, vanilla beans require air circulation to stay fresh. You can certainly store them in an airtight container but remember to air them out for 10 to 15 minutes once a month. If this is a schedule you cannot keep up with, consider storing them in a container that is not 100% airtight, but that is still in a cool, dry place. Vanilla beans may dry out when exposed to heat and light but can grow vanilla specific mold if they are stored in an airtight container or exposed to moisture.
If your vanilla beans dry out, you can rehydrate them in a dish of warm water or some milk for a few hours. Don't mistake the crystal buildup on a vanilla bean for mold. Mold will be dull while the crystals that may build up are shiny and sparkly. These crystals are a sign of a high-quality bean- they are simply the vanillin, or the flavor molecules, building up on the flesh of the bean.
What Are the Benefits of Storing My Spices Properly?
The main benefit of storing your spices properly is coming back to a spice after taking some time away from it and finding it just as fragrant and flavorful as you remember it being. Take care of your spices and they will take care of your food, ensuring the best flavor each time you sit down to eat.
Read MoreWhat is the Shelf Life of Herbs and Spices?
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The Properties of Spices and Why Moisture Can Damage Them