Dry herbs and spices retain their potency anywhere from 3 months to two years, if stored properly. I had a few questions the other day when I posted about my vintage glass apothecary spice jars and my restored spice rack. Here are some of the recognized guidelines for storing dry herbs and spices.
Shelf life (according to Spice Barn:
Whole spices–2 to 5 years
Ground spices—6 months to 2 years
Leafy herbs——-3 months to 2 years
Whole spices last much longer than ground spices, so it’s best to grind whole spices just before using. Whole herbs last much longer than crushed or ground herbs, too. Not sure if your herbs or spices are still good? Take the sniff test. If you can’t detect the potent aroma, toss it.
Store dry herbs and spices in a cool, dry location, out of direct light, in dark-tinted or non-clear containers. A screw-cap is best for a tight seal, and keep herbs and spices away from heat sources (dishwasher, stovetop/oven). Refrigerate cayenne, chili powder, and paprika to retain color. Buy in bulk for value, but don’t buy huge quantities. (The value in bulk purchase is in the packaging. Bulk spices can often be bought in plastic bags, which saves the cute little container cost, but you still don’t want to buy more than you would use in the shelf life of the product.)
You should always know the rules before you break them.
I keep a lot of herbs and spices in the spice rack as shown here: Fun with Spice Jars. I also keep some on my kitchen counter, handy for fun, imaginative, and impulsive recipe creations.
Suzanne, why break the rules?
Rules don’t always work. They may be good ideas, but they aren’t for everyone, and it’s not illegal to keep your herbs and spices in glass containers in spice racks or on your counter if the pleasure of the display adds to your joy in cooking. However! There are other reasons to keep your herbs and spices out.
Do your herbs and spices get lost in the cabinet? No matter how I arrange them, a cabinet is not a spice rack and things get in front of other things. (If you have excess cabinet space, maybe you could arrange your cabinet like a spice rack, but that won’t work for me. I have very little cabinet space.) I don’t know what I have, and have found myself repeatedly buying multiples when I already had plenty. (See this post from a couple of years ago, I Think I Need More Whole Cloves, in which I find four bottles of whole cloves in my cabinet.) I’ve also heard great stories of people who have organized spice jars into drawers. Again, that one won’t work for me, but it’s a good one if it works for you. I just don’t have the space.
How quickly do you use your herbs and spices? If you do a lot of cooking and baking, you may actually go through your herbs and spices pretty fast. The glass apothecary spice bottles that I have actually hold less than 1/4 cup of herbs or spices (about 11 teaspoons). That’s 1 ounce of herbs or spices. I buy most of my herbs and spices in bulk (again, bulk not meaning huge, just in bulk-style packaging) and I will be keeping my “stash” that I draw from to refill my glass bottles in the usual cool, dry, dark location, which keeps my supply at its freshest. Meanwhile, I will go through an ounce of most herbs and spices in a few months, far quicker than they will lose potency even in the (indirect) light. And certainly far quicker than if I keep hiding them from myself.
Aside from just being pleasurable to have herbs and spices displayed in your kitchen, you’re actually more likely to use them. I get frustrated trying to find various herbs and spices. If I’m in a hurry, I just don’t bother to hunt down some specific thing and replace it with something easily at hand. Need some herbs? I grab the basil because it’s handy. I keep basil, home-dried from my garden, in whole-leaf in a quart jar on the counter. NEAR MY STOVE! Call me a rebel. I crush as needed for the most potency. When I went through my cabinet the other day reorganizing and setting up my spice rack, I came upon some herbes de provence. I had forgotten I even had that! I’ve been tossing herbes de provence on everything for days now. It is so much more fun, creative, and delicious to incorporate a variety of herbs and spices into recipes, and I’m more likely to do that when I have everything available to me, no hunting required. I’ve always kept my favorite herbs and spices on a lazy Susan by my stove, and I also keep a number of others now in the spice rack on the wall, conveniently located (but not close to the stove). The ones I keep on the lazy Susan by the stove are the ones I know I will use THE FASTEST.
So, take the rules, understand them, then consider your own space, needs, and cooking style. The most important thing of all, to me, is to enjoy using herbs and spices. Set up your kitchen for your own pleasure–and you can’t go wrong.
How do you store your herbs? Can I talk you into the idea that you will love cooking even more if you keep them out? I need to know!
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