Like many products with limited shelf lives, spices require proper storage to ensure that they will still be usable when you need them. Spices go stale rapidly, even when stored correctly. What you will have left will be ground bark and seeds that are of little value. While proper storage includes the location in your kitchen where you store your spices, no factor is more important to the freshness of spices than the containers in which you store them. Choosing the right containers can ensure that your spices stay usable for as long as possible. Use the following tips to choose containers that maximize shelf-life and preserve freshness.
Your best options
Of all the factors that will affect the freshness of your spices, air is arguably the most damaging. You will want to avoid using containers that let your spices come into contact with moving air. Glass is a great option since it is not porous, which means that your spices will be protected as long as the lid fits tightly. Air brings moisture, which can cause some powdered spices to cake. Air can also result in spices losing their flavor due to the loss of volatile oils by evaporation.
The downside of glass containers is that they do not offer much protection from the light. On the other hand, transparent containers do have the benefit of making it easy to see and identify their contents. If you are unable to see which spices are in them, you may forget that they are there and they may wind up going stale. Store them in a dark, cool location to lengthen shelf life even further.
When stored in an airtight glass container and kept from light, powdered spices can stay fresh for up to 2 years. Useful glass containers for spice storage include mason jars. There are also cork-top spice bottles available that are attractive solutions that keep your spices from being degraded by air.
Containers that keep light out
Metal is the next best option after glass. Light is an enemy of freshness and metal containers are the best at keeping light away from their contents. A metal container with a tight-fitting lid will also keep air and moisture away from your spices.
Along with the materials, you should also consider the size of the containers. Smaller is usually better when it comes to containers for storing spices. A small container is important for limiting the amount of air and moisture that come into contact with the spice. The less empty space there is in the container, the less air and moisture there will to reduce a spice’s pungency or otherwise spoil it.
The next-best options
Reused plastic spice bottles
Instead of throwing out the plastic bottles in which spices are often packaged, reuse them for storing your bulk spices.
Self-sealing storage bags
Ziplock storage bags can keep your spices from being exposed to air and can be stored in a dark environment to shield them from light. In a pinch, you can simply place these bags in a paper bag to protect them from direct light.
In a pinch
These are a less-than-optimal storage solution for your spices, but can still use them to store spices in the short term if you use whole spices instead of ground. Whole peppercorns will stay fresher for longer when compared to ground black pepper. The same goes for whole cloves and cardamom. You can also seek out and purchase whole nutmeg and use cinnamon sticks in place of ground cinnamon.