How long will my spices last in the pantry?

 

We are often asked about the best way to store your spices, and how long they will last. Here are a few handy tips for making sure your spice collection is as fresh and as flavoursome as it should be.

Dried spices versus fresh spices 

When spices are dried, enzymes in them actually create the volatile oils that give spices their flavour. For example, when cloves are left to brown and dry in the sun, the naturally occurring enzymes create the volatile oil eugenol, giving cloves their distinctive flavour. A similar process occurs with a vanilla bean, which is green and relatively tasteless when fresh.

Therefore, when we talk about spices being ‘fresh’, we don’t mean ‘just harvested’ – rather we are referring to the brightness and freshness of the volatile oils in the dried items.

Protecting the flavour of your spices 

To protect these volatile oils from evaporating and retain the best flavour in your spices, you need to follow these simple steps:

1. After opening a pack and taking out the quantity of spice needed, squeeze out as much air as possible and zip the seal closed. Our spice pouches are made of a high-barrier material that has a very low oxygen transference rate. This keeps the flavour in and prevents the volatile oils from oxidising – a process that would destroy their beautiful aromas and flavours.

2. Next, keep your spices protected from extremes of heat, light and humidity. This includes not storing them next to a cupboard that generates heat, such as the fridge, dishwasher or stove.

3. Do not store your spices in the fridge or freezer. The main problem with this is that when the packs are exposed to air they will attract condensation, introducing moisture. This in turn accelerates the deteriorating effects that make volatile oils oxidise more rapidly.

How long will my spices last? 

As a general rule of thumb, whole spices such as peppercorns, cinnamon quills and star anise will keep their optimum flavour profile for up to three years when stored correctly.

This is because their volatile oils are neatly encapsulated in nature’s perfect packaging design.

Star anise. Star anise.

However, once a spice is ground, this changes things quite significantly. When the cells are broken up to release the flavour, the optimum storage life is reduced to anywhere from 12 to 18 months depending on the volatility of the oils in the spice. For this reason, it’s always risky to buy spices that don’t have a ‘Best Before’ date on the label.

What about spices that I rarely use?

For spices that you only use rarely, or in very small quantities, we suggest you just buy them whole, and grind what you need at the time. That way you have the whole spice when it needs to be used whole in a recipe, and you can always grind a little when ground spice is required.

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And spices that I use a lot?

For spices you use a lot of, such as coriander seed, cumin seed, fennel seed, chilli powders or cinnamon, simply buy the ground spice – you’ll no doubt use it well before its Best Before date!

If you have any other questions about how to get the most out of your spices, please don’t hesitate to get in touch.

For more information about spices, their history and much more including recipes, refer to The Spice & Herb Bible 3rd Edition by Ian Hemphill with recipes by Kate Hemphill.

The Spice and Herb Bible, 3rd Edition. The Spice and Herb Bible, 3rd Edition.