Love adding spice to your life? Cooking with spices adds the rich flavor—and aroma—that really make our taste buds sing. To keep spices at their freshest in your kitchen, follow a few simple guidelines. First and foremost, it's best to keep spices in airtight containers. Aim to let as little air in as possible to preserve them. If you do store in decorative or other containers, make sure the lids close tightly. "Amber glass jars with airtight lids are ideal," according to Frontier Co-op, the Iowa based supplier of organic and natural spices, herbs, and extracts. Also buy spices in small amounts so you will use them up within the guidelines below.
Keeping containers in cool, dark places work best. Spice drawers were created to do exactly that! Enclosed cupboards or pantries also serve the same function. As with coffee beans, heat and humidity are the enemy of freshness in spices, so keep yours out of sunlight. Displaying a spice rack on a wall near a sunny window may look great, but can shorten the shelf life of the ingredients. The best storage temperature for herbs and spices is one that is fairly constant and below 70 degrees Fahrenheit. Moisture also degrades the freshness of the spice.
Ground Versus Whole Spices
The shelf life of each spice varies, but in general, whole spices have a longer shelf life than ground spices or ground spice blends. "Grinding exposes more surface area to the air, so ground spices lose their freshness more quickly than whole spices," Frontier says. "Those that have been cut or powdered have more surface area exposed to the air and so lose their flavor more rapidly than whole herbs and spices."
Many spice companies list a "Best-By" date on the product, so check the label on the bottle (sometimes stamped on the bottom) for the maximum freshness date for unopened products.
Whole Spices and Herbs
If you have open packaged products or bulk products, Frontier Co-op recommends the following guidelines for whole spices and herbs: Leaves and flowers will be fresh for one to two years; seeds and barks remain fresh for two two to three years; and roots will stay fresh for three years.
Ground Herbs, Spices, and Seasoning Blends
For opened or bulk ground herbs, spices, and seasoning blends, the experts give the following recommendations: Leaves, seeds, and barks will stay fresh for one year; roots will remain fresh for two years.