Tips on Storing and Preserving Seasonings

When I first began speaking to garden clubs and women’s group my most popular talk was about proper care of seasoning. I would start by telling them to beware the deadly trio of light, humidity, and air. These three conspire to break anything down that is organic. Next they should use airtight containers for all seasonings –glass or metal containers are the best. Store them in the dark. Light is good for live plants but bad for dried plant material. The following are the highlights of the rest of my talk:

How Not to Store Herbs and Spices

Not using cloth, paper, or plastic bags that are not freezer bags
Not in the refrigerator or freezer (please believe me!)
Not out in the open where light, humidity, and air can reach them.

Tips on Buying and Storing Herbs

You get what you pay for when it comes to herbs. The bulk spices you find at Sam’s and Costco will not have a shelf life of more than a few months. They are meant to be purchased and used within weeks. Whole spices store longer than ground spices. This is why I store leaf herbs harvested from my garden in whole leaf form. After purchasing, write month/year on the label. Then you will know when the seasoning inside has gotten too old to keep.  

When It’s Time to Say “Good-bye” – How Old is Too Old?

Ground Spices — 1-3 years
Whole Spices — 4 years
Green, Leafy Herbs — 1-3 years
Whole Seeds — 3-4 years
Herb or Spice Extracts — 4 years
Seasoning Blends — 1-2 years

Use the “Look, Sniff, and Taste” Test

Look – Is it faded? Do the contents cake together? Are there suspicious signs of insects?
Sniff – Can you smell the herb or spice? If there is no aroma, then it is probably devoid of essential oils (what gives seasonings their flavor) and should be discarded.
Taste – If the distinctive flavor is still there, keep it. But if it tastes no better than cardboard or grass clippings, throw it out!


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