How to store spices and herbs
Keeping spices in glass jars arranged in a open cupboard like in the photo above is a very beautiful solution, but is it the best way to store them?
Do you know that leaving your spices exposed to the light can harm their aroma and taste and reduce their shelf life?
Ok, I know you are probably thinking that your spices aren't well protected, but don't just rush and go to move them into the safeness of a closed cupboard, keep reading, there is more to learn!
"when it comes to storing spices, an aesthetically beautiful solution is often NOT an efficient solution" (Andrea of Seed Root and Leaf)
Let's start from the beginning: in this post I will tell you how to store spices efficiently, starting from knowing about their 4 biggest enemies, and how to deal with them. Then I will discuss the pros and cons of the materials most commonly used for spice storage.
The enemies of spices
High temperature (>20°C) cause a loss of volatile oils in spices, because heat let them evaporate more quickly. (and you do not want those precious oils to go!)
The essential oils naturally present in most spices are subject to oxidation in presence of atmospheric oxygen (especially at higher temperature); this cause degradation of aroma and the development of off-flavors.
Most whole spices are protected by their pericarp or outer shell, but ground spices are very vulnerable to air.
So: always buy whole spices (and if you have a few jars of pre-ground spices or blends that are older than 6 months you should think about replacing them with new ones)
Spices are dried to a moisture level between 8-16% (specific values are determined for each spice), so storing them without protection in an ambient with high relative humidity (>60%) can cause moisture absorption that leads to caking (for ground spices or blends), rancidity or mould growth.
To keep spices fresh and tasty you need to take care of these four dangers, using the appropriate containers and keeping these container in the right places.
How to protect spices
Protect from HEAT
- Store in a cool place
- Keep powdered chili and paprika in the fridge to preserve their color
- Keep your jars near the stove or the oven
PROTECT FROM AIR
- Fill your container to the top
- Store in airtight containers
- Keep your jars open
PROTECT FROM HUMIDITY
- Store in a dry place
- Store in moisture resistant containers
- Sprinkle from the jar over a hot casserole (to prevent steam entering the jar)
- Store near a sink or moisture source
PROTECT FROM LIGHT
- Store in a dark place
- Store in opaque containers
- keep near a light source (window)
What material to use to store spices?
Many materials are available today for storing spices and herbs and each one has its own advantages and disadvantages, so let's see them in detail:
Glass is probably the most used material for food storing. It can be washed and sanitized easily, it shows the products inside (both a good thing - makes it easier to recognize - and not so good thing - spices are exposed to light) and I bet everybody has already a jar or two at home to reuse for spice storing.
Glass jars protect from humidity and air (even better if they have an airtight lid), but unfortunately they cannot protect your spices from the light, so you should store glass jars inside a cupboard.
Also, glass is fragile and it should be handled with care
Ceramic jars (maybe with a nice cork lid) are aesthetically my personal favourite. They are very elegant, protect the goods inside from air, humidity, light and also from heat (but that's not a good reason to leave them over the oven).
One disadvantage is price, but nice deals can be find on second-hand stores (and vintage jars can be really a piece of beauty, like the Ginger jar in the image, made in the 60s by Arabia).
Ceramic jars are also fragile and quite heavy, so the best option for bringing your spices on a picnic.
Plastic is the cheapest option when it comes to spice storing, and many brands sell their products only in small plastic jars like that in the picture.
They are lightweight, resistant, and offer some protection against air and humidity, but the advantages end here. Plastics can react with certain spices, and be stained (by turmeric, for example), it do not protect against heat and light, and for the environment is the worst alternative.
Paper bags and pouches are a classic for buying vegetables, or dry food from bulk bins, but aren't suitable for medium-term storage. Anyway when the paper has an inner barrier/lining made with a more resistant material (like foil, or plastic) food (spices) can be store inside for much longer.
The problem in these lining is that the paper becomes no longer recyclable or biodegradable, and that is not good.
Luckily new material have been developed and now bio-plastic lining can offer protection being environmentally friendly (link to our packaging)
Paper pouches are very lightweight, resistant to light, humidity and air, and offer an added bonus: air can be squeezed out of resealable paper pouches when the content decreases, thus reducing risks of oxidation .
Metal, generally tin but also stainless steel, is another traditionally used material for spice storing.
Its advantages are:
- resistant to light, air, humidity
The only thing you should pay attention to is heat: metal is highly conductive so metal tin should be kept far away from the stove, oven or sunlight to avoid the risk of overheating the spices inside
Now it is time to go check in your cupboard, look at your spice jars and start re-organizing them to better protect them!
This post was updated on May 6th, 2019