Include the Spice Drawer in Your Spring Cleaning
Like many kitchens, mine has an unorganized, overflowing spice drawer. So it is not that surprising that I couldn’t find my chili powder, assumed I was out, and bought another bottle.
What was horrifying was the color and aroma difference between the new bottle and the old one (which had miraculously appeared the next time the drawer was opened).
Although my old discolored chili powder wouldn’t make me sick, it wouldn’t season the food like it should either.
General Rules for Spice Shelf-Life
- Indefinite: Vanilla extract and salt
- 3-4 years: Whole spices like cinnamon sticks, caraway seeds, peppercorns and mustard seeds
- 1 year: Ground herbs and spices including chili powder, ground cumin, basil and oregano
Extending the Life of Spices
There are a few things you can do to extend the shelf life of your spices:
- Stick with whole spices and invest in a grinder.
- Avoid moisture. This means no storing spices in the fridge or freezer or above the stovetop or dishwasher. Never open the spice containers over steaming pots and pans, and make sure measuring utensils are always dry.
- Keep their storage area temperature as close to 70 degrees as possible. Repeated exposure to heat can cause damage to the quality of whole or ground spices.
- Keep it dark. Light can decrease the quality of your spices so stick to a drawer, cupboard or pantry.
- Pick glass containers when possible. Keeping herbs and spices in glass jars seems to help preserve the natural oils and keep them fresher a bit longer.
- Keep the containers tightly sealed. You have probably seen what oxygen can do to a cut apple or avocado. The less interaction with oxygen, the better.
Use the Scent Test for Herbs and Spices
The best test for spice freshness is smell. Give the bottle a little shake and open, if it doesn’t have a fairly strong smell, it’s probably time to say goodbye.
If you are unsure or struggling to let go, you can try to revive them with a bit of heat. Before starting a recipe take the spices you need and toast them for 3-5 minutes in a dry skillet over medium heat. Stir frequently as they can easily burn. Or if the first step in the recipe is to heat oil in a pan or skillet, you can add the spices to the heated oil to release more of their flavor.
Spices can be a powerful tool in the kitchen. Take for example this homemade Cajun seasoning blend that will add a kick to any meat, fish or vegetable dish. You can use this recipe to whip up a batch that’ll last for weeks if not months.
Recipe: Do-It-Yourself Cajun Seasoning
- ¼ cup garlic powder
- ¼ cup onion powder
- 2 tablespoons paprika
- 1 tablespoon ground red pepper
- 1 tablespoon black pepper
- 1½ teaspoons celery seeds
- 1½ teaspoons chili powder
- 1 teaspoon salt
- 1 teaspoon lemon pepper
- ½ teaspoon nutmeg
- Combine all seasonings in a glass jar with a tight fitting lid.
- Shake to mix.
- Use as desired for meat, fish or vegetables.
Source: Lauren Cornay, RD, LN,
Lauren Cornay, RD, LN, is a registered dietitian at Avera Heart Hospital. If you’d like to learn more about healthy diet choices, contact the Avera Heart Hospital Dietitian Team.