Take a look at your spice cabinet: if it’s anything like mine, you have a mix of plastic and glass jars, and maybe a few sachets here and there too. All come from different retailers, ranging from the nearest dollar store to by Kaloustianand there’s at least one duplicate bottle, from when you forgot you already had a certain spice at home – in my case, cardamom.
While it’s not the prettiest or most organized piece of furniture on the market, it’s deeply functional, and that’s what matters most to me. However, I was wondering if, given the variety of spices in my kitchen (and their containers), there was anything I could or should do to extend their shelf life. Although spices don’t typically go bad or mold like other ingredients, they can lose their potency within a few months. So I contacted Ethan Frisch, co-founder and co-CEO of Burlap and barrela spice company that works directly with farmers to source products, which had an unorthodox answer to my question about storing spices.
“In general, I recommend not saving your spices, but using your spices,” Ethan told me.
Look, I understand your skepticism: this is exactly the advice you’d expect from someone whose goal is to get you to buy more spices. But as we talked, I began to understand his philosophy better. “Spices don’t get better with age, no matter how they are stored,” Ethan explained. So while there are ways to slightly improve the shelf life of a spice (we’ll get to that below), the fact is that “most people won’t be able to tell the difference” between a spice stored in a sealed package, glass jar or plastic bag.
“What I recommend is don’t worry too much about (how) you store them,” Ethan said. “People are often overwhelmed by the amount of spices they have, and things get shoved to the back of the cupboard and stay there for years.” Instead of letting spices gather dust, he suggests keeping them either on your counter or in the front of your pantry so they’re visible when you cook daily.
All that said, for those who are already putting spices in their pantry to good use, Ethan has a few tips that might be helpful to keep in mind.
Buy whole spices
Whole spices “will definitely last longer” and are “stronger and more flavorful” than their ground counterparts. For what? Ground spices have a greater surface area, which means they are more prone to oxidation, which causes their essential oils, which provide their smell and flavor, to evaporate. Additionally, the very process of grinding spices can reduce their potency due to the heat and friction it can generate.
Glass is best
Airtight metal or glass containers are ideal, although in most cases plastic containers will suffice (i.e. there is usually no need to decant spices from plastic containers or sachets). plastic and in glass jars, unless you Really to want). However, there are certain spices (such as cloves and star anise) which, when particularly fresh, can actually degrade plastic due to their high concentration of essential oils.
Store at room temperature
For everyday use, Ethan advises against storing spices in the refrigerator or freezer: “I generally don’t recommend it because of the condensation that can build up in the jar,” he says. “You can introduce moisture and that’s where you can really start to get damage or mold.” However, if you’re going out of town for an extended period of time (say six months), you can store the spices in the freezer: just store them in an airtight container. Once you return, simply let the spices thaw and then store them at room temperature.
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Do you store your spices? Tell us about it in the comments!