How do you organize your kitchen? How do you store dried herbs and spices?
When you buy herbs, spices and condiments, do you always buy them in jars and bottles? Personally, I like refills. They’re more economical. I just store them in empty glass jars (of coffee, mayo, peanut butter, pickles… you get the idea) that have been thoroughly washed and dried. You know, recycling. I like jars with screw type caps best because they are really airtight and they do a good job of keeping out moisture that ruins my precious dried herbs and spices.
The problem of course is that most of my washed-and-dried jars are much too big for the amount of dried herbs and spices that come in packets. And it really isn’t smart to buy dried herbs and spices in huge quantities because they have to be used soonest before they lose their flavor and aroma. So, I had this scenario where I had huge jars with more empty than used space inside. I said had. Past tense.
Earlier this week, I found these lovely jars at the supermarket. Just the right size for the content of packets of dried herbs and spices. I found seven of them on the shelf, I bought them all, and I would have bought more had the supermarket not run out of stocks.
There’s bokeh in the background? Oh, totally unintentional.
The jar cap is lined with plastic which really seals in the content and keeps the moisture out.
Clear versus opaque spice jars
But those are glass jars. Aren’t opaque containers better for storing dried herbs and spices? Not if you keep the glass containers in a cool and dark storage space like a cabinet. If, however, you usually leave the jars on the counter, then yes, it would be smarter to get opaque containers.
But why? What difference does clear and opaque containers make anyway? A lot depending on where you keep the jars of herbs and spices between your cooking sessions.
Direct sunlight and heat are enemies of dried herbs and spices
You might think that heat will dry herbs and spices even more and prolong shelf life but that’s not really the case. Sunlight and heat will hasten loss of flavor and potency. Can you imagine adding star anise to your Korean-style beef stew only to realize that the cooked dish has no flavor of star anise at all?
So, keep your containers of dried herbs and spices away from any shelf that gets exposed to sunlight. Keep them away from the stove too. We keep out spice and herb jars inside a cabinet underneath the kitchen island. We take out whatever jar we need only when we need it, we take the amount required in the recipe then put the jar back where it belongs.
Moisture is the enemy of dried herbs and spices
Ever wondered why dried leafy herbs like parsley and basil sometimes form clumps? That’s mold. And you definitely do not want mold to get in your food.
So, yes, airtight lids are important when choosing containers to store dried herbs and spices to prevent moisture from contaminating your stash.
But tight lids are not enough to keep the moisture out. When you take a measured amount of dried spice or herb, make sure that you’re using a clean and dry measuring spoon. Using something wet or worse, greasy, will make those airtight lids useless in keeping moisture away from the dried herbs and spices.
Buying in bulk is more economical, but…
It’s true anywhere and with almost everything. Buy in bulk and you get a lower price, gram for gram. But is buying dried herbs and spices in bulk advisable?
What constitutes “bulk” is relative. It all depends on how fast you consume dried herbs and spices for your home cooking. Here are some things I’ve learned:
- Dried leafy herbs don’t last as long as dried spices.
- Whole spices have more flavor in them than their ground (powdered) counterparts. Whole spices retain their flavors longer too.
In short, buy dried herbs in amounts that you can consume within a few weeks.
While ground spices are more convenient to use, remember that they won’t be as flavorful in a month as whole spices. There are spice grinders that you can buy and you can just grind whole spices. You can even use your trusty mortar and pestle.
Consume your stash of dried herbs and spices before replenishing
It is often the case that when we’re almost out of one kind of dried herb or spice, we run to grocery to replenish. That’s smart. Why wait until your supply is down to zero before replenishing, right?
What’s not smart is dumping the contents of the newly-bought packets into the jars with the old stash and getting them mixed together. That can result in less than optimum flavors in the cooked dish because some pieces of spices are more potent than others. So, finish off the old stock before refilling your spice and herb jars.