When I first began speaking to garden clubs and women’s group my most popular talk was about the proper care of food 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 I recommended they 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 SpicesNot using cloth, paper, or plastic bags that are not freezer bagsNot 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?
Like all foods spices have a shelf life. In general, whole herbs and spices last longer than ground or blended ones. Here is a quick list showing average shelf lives for each storage method.
- 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!