There's lots of chatter today about the best way to store your spices. Do this. Don't do that. But when it comes right down to it, your spice storage should take into consideration both the shelf life of your spices and your lifestyle...your cooking style.
The shelf life for herbs and spices varies. There are many opinions about shelf life. Here's a general idea. But keep in mind that where and how you buy your spices has as much to do with shelf life as how you store them and how long you store them.
Whole Spices (such as Whole Nutmeg, Cardamom Pods, Clove) have a shelf life of 2-4 years.
Ground or Crushed Spices (Ground Nutmeg, Ground Ginger, Ground) have a shorter shelf life than their whole form. Six months to two years is the general consensus. If you keep ground spices, check them every 6 months to a year. If they have lost their aroma, replace them. Consider whether you should purchase less when replacing them or instead grinding whole spices when you are ready to use them.
Dried Herbs (Rosemary Leaves, Sage Leaves, Parsley, Epazote, Basil, Savory) are good for about a year. Some say less than a year; some say more. Consider this: If you grow, dry and store your own herbs every year, you would toss out any unused herbs from the previous year's harvest and replace them with the new crop.
Dehydrated or Freeze-Dried Vegetables (Minced Onion, Granulated Garlic, Freeze-dried Peppers) can be kept for up to 6 months. However, some items, such as Granulated Garlic, can be kept for a year.
So now you have an idea of how long different herbs and spices will last in your kitchen. But the question remains, do they hang around long enough to have to worry about it?
What's Your Cooking Style?
Every cook is different. No two cooks use the same spices in the same quantity over the same period of time. Cook #1 might use a half pound of cumin in a year. Cook #2 might use an ounce in a year. Some cooks constantly experiment with new recipes, calling for new or different ingredients. Some cooks have their favorite recipes and flavors that make life good! Why change a good thing?
Annual Check-Up -- Consider marking your calendar for a date once a year when you assess your herbs and spices. If you have items that have lost their color, smell and/or flavor, you'll want to discard them. Consider whether you should purchase and store smaller quantities. Giving your spice rack an annual check-up will also ensure that you have the freshest ingredients on hand every time!
Tortoise or Hare? -- It is likely that you have some herbs and spices that you use often and replenish regularly. And you have some that are rarely used. Your annual spice rack check-up will help tell you that, if you don't already know! Knowing which of your spices are tortoises (moving slowly out of your kitchen) and which are hares (gone before you know it), can be a great guide when deciding on your spice storage.
Recipe for Spice Storage
........take a little bit of Shelf Life and sprinkle generously with your Cooking Style!
It's true! Herbs and Spices can breakdown with extended exposure to light. Storing herbs and spices in the glass grocery store bottles (or any glass or clear plastic) on a open shelf will shorten useful life. You can reduce exposure by storing in a Spice Tin with just a clear window lid. Also consider, however, the some herbs and spices (the hares) will be long gone before the light can do them harm. Our clear window tins offer a decorative, useful alternative.
High Essential Oil content: Choose our solid lid tins for any ground spices with essential oils (such as cloves, nutmeg, ginger, turmeric and cardamom). Essential oils will react with all clear plastics. Be sure to keep the edges and insides of the lids wiped down before returning the lid to the tin.
Location, location, location! In addition to deciding which storage containers are right for your cooking style, you also need to decide where your spice storage will be.......on a wall near the stove? on the inside of a pantry door? Consider convenience. Consider space limitations. Consider your decor. We've featured some of our customers' ideas on our Featured Cooks pages. Also, visit our Ideas pages.