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How to Store Dry Herbs and Spices

Post by community member:

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.

Storage:

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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Posted by on March 20, 2011 | Permalink  

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  1. 3-20
    7:35
    am
    Avatar of Gem

    I am SO getting myself an organized spice rack!
    Happy Spring!

  2. 3-20
    8:33
    am
    Avatar of lisabetholson

    I have some in the spice rack by the stove and the others in the cupboard.
    I just consider that I don’t have the space for them on the counter. I probably would nock them off and break something if I did.

  3. 3-20
    9:24
    am
    Avatar of Pete

    Still grinning! We have tried just about every possible arrangement of herbs and spices over the years, and also break some of the rules. We actually use some repurposed Starbucks bottles for the home grown herbs, dehydrated small quantities of things like celery, but keep them (mostly) in a cabinet.

    Still looking for the PERFECT storage system! Since the amount of stuff we grow, what is on sale that we need etc changes all the time, the definition of PERFECT changes constantly!! Enjoy the journey.

  4. 3-20
    9:39
    am
    Avatar of Marianne

    I treated my self to a spice rack a couple years ago as a Christmas present to myself! It totally rocks having so many spices so close at hand!

  5. 3-20
    10:01
    am
    Avatar of Syrup and Biscuits

    Suzanne,
    Great post with lots of useful information!

  6. 3-20
    10:24
    am
    Avatar of mom2girls

    thanks for the info, suzanne.

    i picked up a lovely vintage rack of 12 milkglass griffith’s spice bottles this past summer and i love it sitting out on my counter! it fits in perfectly in my vintage country kitchen. i love old spice jars the way i love old books….you wonder who used them where, and to make what. it’s all about being part of something with a history.

    i keep the rest of my spices in a lazy susan in a cupboard right next to my stove and i find that works really well for me(i’m blessed with cupboard space). i also keep a list inside the cupboard door with staggered replacement dates (usually six to eight months), so i know when i need to go to the bulk food store and stock up and replace (i always buy bulk…at least here, you can fill most spice jars for literally pennies).

    i love the pictures of your wagner and wagneresque jars. i have never seen ones like that here in canada, but i will keep my eyes out in the future! just lovely:)

  7. 3-20
    10:59
    am
    Avatar of Lilac Wolf

    I keep my spices out, I have the same problem. I don’t have the space, and I lose them in the cupboard. We had cupboard space for them and I insisted my husband build me a spice rack – which he did a beautiful oak piece and now I have all my most used spices on hand and just a few in the cupboard…which get lost still. lol

  8. 3-20
    11:48
    am
    Avatar of PinkyMac

    I am lucky enough to have a drawer deep enough to keep my spices in next to the stove. I found a source for spice bottles that fit with labels that go on the lids. It works jperfectly for me. I can just open the drawer and grab what I need. :D

  9. 3-20
    12:34
    pm
    Avatar of Ruthmarie

    I have two double-decker lazy susans that fit in the upper cupboard to the right of the stove. I’m limited as to what bottles will fit into the bottom shelves but that hasn’t stopped me from stuffing both with varied containers plus bulk bottles of whole spices like peppercorns. I’m now keeping LARGE jars on the counter for my most popular crushed delights … hence used most quickly … herbs like oregano, basil, pepper.

    I did once tackle my sister-in-law’s spice cupboard when cooking at her house for an event … would you believe she was still storing spices from her mother’s cupboard with prices of $.35!! My caveat is “if it smells like straw or NOTHING, time for the compost pile”!

  10. 3-20
    12:52
    pm
    Avatar of Judy

    The spices I use everyday I keep on the counter near the stove. My DH came up with this idea. He said to put the ones I didn’t use often in my old muffin tins….works like a charm. The tins stack on top of each other and I have room for 24 bottles. I keep them in a cabinet near the stove. When I want a spice I take down a tin.

  11. 3-20
    1:39
    pm
    Avatar of Kenya Cook

    On a rack, in clear glass jars (both from IKEA), mounted on the wall…above my stove! Cause that’s the only place I have. So there. Wink.

  12. 3-20
    7:19
    pm
    Avatar of Urbanite

    Sorry, but no, you can’t talk me into leaving my spices out in my current kitchen. [sad face] I have very little storage space, no wall space and very limited counter space. I already avoid making anything that takes much counter space, such as rolling out dough for sweet rolls, so there is no chance I’ll use any of it for storing spices. I do have a narrow (less than 6 inches) cupboard that I use for my spices. But my dream kitchen has plenty of cupboards, counter space and a work area, and in my dream kitchen I’ll have a beautiful spice rack handy with the spices I use most often!

  13. 3-21
    7:33
    pm
    Avatar of Gayle Dumas

    My spices were a total nightmare…I could never find what I wanted. I now have the most wonderful system and as a bonus…extra shelf space in my cabinets. This is the link to ideas for magnetic spice racks.http://www.custommagneticspicerack.com/spicerackplans Mine are on the inside of my kitchen cabinet doors. One next to the stove for “cooking spices” and one inside the cabinet next to my baking area for “baking spices”…I am totally happy with it. If there is a way to post pictures…I have some. I’m new to this forum so have a learning curve.

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