spices ingredientsSpices and herbs are central to any form of creative cooking, and it’s important to store them right so that you can enjoy them to the fullest. Here are some tips to storing spices correctly and keeping them fresh.

Keep spices away from strong heat and light.

It’s best to keep your spices and herbs away from high levels of heat, which will speed up the loss in flavor of your spices over time. Moreover, exposure to steam can cause your spices and herbs to cake together over time. Direct light can also be damaging to your spices, as many spices and herbs are actually light sensitive. While for some spices exposure to light might only mean loss in rich color, leading to a less-appealing appearance, for many spices this means substantial flavor loss, as well. Therefore, especially if you are storing your spices and herbs in glass containers (which can be highly convenient), be sure to keep your spices stored in a dark space.

Practice good measuring techniques.

How you handle your spices and herbs while measuring will influence how long they last as well. Avoid dipping even slightly damp measuring spoons into your spice jars, as the moisture will affect the spice’s lifespan. As soon as you are finished measuring, be sure to close the lid of the jar as tightly as possible.

Make it convenient.

It’s important to store your spices in such a way that they’ll always be within easy reach while you’re preparing your meals. This way, you’ll be much more likely to get creative with your cooking and to prepare things that call for a number of spices. This is one reason why built-in spice racks are so popular for those picking out new cabinets.

Know when to replace old spices.

While spices don’t technically spoil, they do lose their flavor and color over time, especially when exposed to high levels of heat and light. Spices that are left unopened generally have a shelf life of two to three years, depending on the spice. Opened spices, on the other hand, are slightly different. Whole spices last longer than ground spices, so if your spices are left whole, you can still expect them to last about two years. If they are ground, however, they will last only about six to nine months.

It’s a good idea to check your spices about once a year, surveying each jar for fresh appearance and aroma. If your spices don’t have their characteristic fresh look or an aroma that meets your nose when you bring it to the lid of the jar, it’s time to replace.