Light, heat, and moisture are the enemy.
Spices are some of the longest-lasting ingredients you have in your kitchen, usually with a lifespan of many months to years for peak flavor and quality. But that doesn’t mean they’re completely invincible. If you’re looking for optimal flavor and longevity, tossing them in the back of your cabinet and shaking them over a hot pot every few weeks (or months) isn’t going to cut it—here’s how you store spices for peak potency.
Don’t dump spices over a hot pan. Aside from being one of celebrity chef Maneet Chauhan’s pet peeve, spices need to be kept dry if you want them to stand the test of time. Shaking a spice jar over a hot pan lets steam into the can and that moisture can lead to caked (or even moldy) spices in the long run. Take the time to use a spoon when using ground spices—it’s also more precise, meaning less accidents and no more tongue-singeing chili.
Do store spices in opaque containers. Yes, we totally understand that storing those beautiful multicolored spices in glass jars on proud display is every home cook’s dream—and spices are often sold in clear containers to begin with. But if you’re serious about preserving their flavor and freshness for as long as possible, it may be worth it to keep them in clearly labeled opaque containers instead. Similar to olive oil, exposure to light can affect the flavor of spices over time and make them age quicker.
Do store bulk spices in the freezer—with caution. This is a great option for when you manage to score bulk spices on sale—but only if you use spices very frequently. If you don’t, stick to buying what you know you’ll use in a reasonable amount of time. Also important: Don’t freeze for everyday storage. Instead, refill smaller counter containers with frozen spices, because the frequent freezing-defrosting process can lead to lots of excess condensation—meaning clumpy, cakey spices that will spoil quickly.
Do be mindful of where you store your spices. Because heat and light both affect the flavor of spices and makes them lose potency fast, windowsill spice racks, or displays close to your stove and oven are definite don’ts. Ideally, a cool, dark cabinet that won’t be subject to frequent temperature fluctuations is the way to go.
Don’t use a wet spoon to measure spices. This goes back to rule number one: Moisture is a big no. When you’re just trying to get dinner on the table, it’s tempting to pick up any spoon straight off the counter to scoop out some cumin, but it’s important to take that extra second to make sure it’s a dry utensil. Spices are pricey, and having to toss a whole container because it’s solidified is a tragedy I wish upon no one.
Do check on your spices frequently. You make sure you fridge is cleaned out on the regular—but for some reason, we treat our spice cabinet like some dark abyss where we quickly lose track of what spices we even own in the first place. Keeping organized, clearly labeled containers will make you more willing to use them regularly in rotation (And also prevent you from accumulating four half-used containers of crushed red pepper. Yes, we’re subtweeting you.)