It's all about the spice (tips to extend the life of dried spices)
Updated: Nov 20, 2020
We all try to do that spring clean of our pantry only to discover all these packets of spices which we just didn’t get around to using or at best they were used for one or two recipes and that are way past their expiry date. Unlike other foods, you cannot get sick by eating a dried spice which is old. However they do start to lose their flavour as well as altering the intended taste of your dish.
When you are shopping for spices it is better to purchase smaller quantities and try to avoid spices which have been exposed to the air such as in bulk food outlets. If you are one of these organised people who plan for a whole week or fortnight of meals, buy the spices you will be needing for those recipes. That way you are only buying what you need. Don’t be tempted to buy spices in bulk unless you are absolutely certain that you will be using them quickly.
It is important to store your spices in a cool, dark place, preferably in your pantry. Sunlight and humidity will definitely start to deteriorate your spices. Do not keep them close to where you cook because the moisture from your cooking will cause your spices to clump together until they become harder to use. If this happens you can try using your food processor or blender to break up those hard clumps. Glass jars with a seal are the absolute best way to prolong the life of your spices. Plastic containers are porous, which means they allow small amounts of air in and that will slowly damage the spices. Even if you have bought your spices in a plastic bag, transfer them to a clearly labelled glass jar. You run the risk of spillages from unsealed packs of spices and we all know how turmeric can stain a surface.
Most ground or powdered spices have a shelf life of 2 to 3 years but they will start to lose their flavour as time goes on. One way to tell if your spice is old is by simply doing the sniff test. Can you still smell the hit of whatever the spice is or has it gone dull and you can’t quite decide what it is supposed to be.
Red coloured spices such as red pepper, paprika, cayenne pepper and chilli powder should be stored in the refrigerator. This helps to retain their colour and flavouring, particularly because you would only be using them in small quantities.
There is also a significant difference between dried herbs and spices. This is because spices usually come from a dried seed or fruit whereas herbs usually come from plant stems, leaves or flowers. Because of this the herbs lose their flavour sooner than spices. Usually herbs should be used within 6 months of purchase.
In summary, do continue to experiment with herbs and spices as they do add a great flavour hit to what could have been an otherwise bland meal. Only buy what you need and do pay attention to how you store them.