Extra Helpings: How Should I Store My Spices?

LK asks: I spent about 2 hours looking at spice storage on line yesterday… counter top racks, drawer inserts, pull out and lazy-Susan type shelves for cabinets. What’s the best way to keep herbs and spices fresh?

One of Mama’s (many, many) pet peeves is walking into a friend’s kitchen and seeing a HUGE spice rack, right above the stove, crowded with jars of spices like cardamon, asafetida or sumac.

Now, c’mon… I know everyone likes to occasionally get their freak on in the kitchen and whip up some crazy curry or Afghani dish… but when was the last time you used the urfa biber you bought for that Turkish tagine?

I thought so.

There are two things working here. I’m not saying “don’t buy exotic herbs and spices.” Quite the opposite… I love it when people step out of the box and try something wild. What I don’t like is wasting money. So, before I climb off my soap box, here are two suggestions:

1. Buy herbs and spices in small quantities.

2. Find as many uses as possible for whatever you buy.

Mama has a tiny kitchen so under-counter spice storage was a great solution.

Now, back to the question at hand.

Spices should be stored in a cool, dark, dry place. Not above the stove. Ever. Heat, moisture, light and air can zap the essential oils, which reduces the flavor and color. The best place is in a drawer or cabinet. Out on the counter also is not a great idea, but I know that drawer or shelf space is sometimes an issue. Just keep them out of direct sunlight and away from heating and cooling vents or the dishwasher.

Herbs and spices should be kept in tightly-closed lidded glass or plastic jars. They’re easier to organize and won’t spill like those small ziploc-type plastic bags.

As I mentioned earlier, you should try to buy herbs and spices in small quantities. I know those big-box stores sell gallon-size containers of Italian seasoning, but unless you use it at every meal or cook a lot of Italian (like daily), the “oomph” will be long gone before the container is empty.

FDA freshness dating gives whole spices a 4 year shelf-life and crushed or ground spices 2 years. How long a spice or herb will last really depends on the initial quality. The best method of determining whether a particular spice is still fresh is simple: smell it. If it smells like what you bought, use it. If not… replace it. You won’t get sick if you use it, but it won’t pack the flavor punch you’re looking for. Spices don’t go rancid or spoil, they just fade away.

But even if the spices and herbs in your cupboard are old and you’ve decided to toss them, give them one last chance: sprinkle them on whatever you’re grilling. Mama’s good friends at Chicago’s Spice House say this releases the last bit of remaining volatile oils, adding just a bit more flavor to your food!

Have a cooking or kitchen related question? Email mama at: mama@mamashighstrung.com






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posted under Extra Helpings

3 thoughts on “Extra Helpings: How Should I Store My Spices?

  1. Lauralee Sheff

    While some people may dismiss herbal remedies as quackery, the use of botanicals is well rooted in medical practice. Ancient doctors methodically collected information about herbs and developed well-defined pharmacopoeias to treat a variety of ailments. More than a quarter of all drugs used today contain active ingredients derived from those same ancient plants.;:..^

    Au revoir http://www.healthmedicinebook.comuo

  2. Linda Kissler


    Ask a question… get an answer… I am talking to the “handyman” today about building me something special for the spices.

    1. Mama Post author

      Let me know if I can be of help… I did a whole kitchen renovation! Yikes! Good luck and let me know what you end up doing…


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I’m Christina Chavez

I was a TV journalist for many years, but with a house full of kids I decided to come off the road, go to culinary school and follow my passion for cooking. Mama’s High Strung is all about food… everything from creative recipe ideas to some really cool kitchen gadgets and cooking tips. I live in Chicago, but I love to travel and write about my food discoveries! You can reach me by email: mamashighstrung@gmail.com