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Food Storage: How to Store Herbs and Spices Long-Term
Just because you’re preparing pantry-stocked foods doesn’t mean you have to settle for bland meals. By using spice and herb blends for seasoning your dishes, you can benefit from great-tasting meals year-round. However, to ensure your spices and herbs have a long shelf life, it’s important to learn how to store them correctly for long-term storage.
Herbs and spices are shelf-stable ingredients, so although they do age, they do not expire. As the ingredients age, their flavor potency decreases, but they are still usable. In this article, we will discuss how to store herbs and spices long-term to preserve the flavor. But first, why should you store it long-term?
Why Preppers should Store Herbs and Spices Long-Term?
We know that eating seasoned food may not be a top priority in an emergency, but it can go a long way to make an experience more bearable. As we talk with preppers, one of the most common complaints we hear is that food in their long-term storage is pretty bland. We get that. The usual prepper foods: quinoa, white rice, oats, etc., do not have much flavor on their own. But having herbs and spices to make these meals more enjoyable can help increase the overall mood in any situation.
What Is the Shelf Life of Herbs and Spices?
Generally, whole spices can maintain their quality for 5 years, and ground spices for 2-3 years. However, storing spices in mylar bags can help extend the shelf life of spices up to 10 years. As for herbs, once dried, herbs have a shelf life of 6 months to 2 years. In their original packaging, most herbs and spices can be kept for 2 years.
Below is a chart of the shelf life of common herbs and spices:
Herbs and Spices Mason Jar (Ground or Dried) Mason Jar (Whole) Mylar Bag (Ground or Dried)
Basil 2-3 years n/a 3-5 years
Bay leaves 2-3 years n/a 3-5 years
Black pepper 2-3 years 5-6 years 5-10 years
Cayenne pepper 2-3 years n/a 3-5 years
Cloves 2-3 years 4-5 years 5-10 years
Cinnamon 1-2 years 3-4 years 2-4 years
Garlic Powder 2-3 years n/a 3-5 years
Nutmeg 2-3 years n/a 3-5 years
Onion Powder 2-3 years n/a 3-5 years
Oregano 2-3 years n/a 3-5 years
Paprika 2-3 years n/a 3-5 years
Rosemary 2-3 years 3-5 years 3-5 years
Sage 1-4 years n/a 5-10 years
Salt Indefinite n/a Indefinite
Thyme 2-3 years 3-5 years 3-10 years
Turmeric 2-3 years n/a 3-5 years
Remember, it is important to limit exposure to environmental aggressors as they can cause the herbs and spices to lose their flavor and color faster.
How to Store Herbs and Spices Long-Term?
Spices are definitely a game-changer in culinary arts, and they’re not all that hard to stock once you get the hang of it. Your goal when preserving herbs and spices is to stop exposure to heat, light, air, moisture, and pests. By having this in mind, spices and herbs will not lose their flavor. So, let’s take a look at some of the best methods to store herbs and spices.
Method 1: Mylar Bags
Mylar bags are one of the most effective ways to store food properly, even more than regular vacuum-sealed bags. Since mylar bags are made of three protective layers of protection, they keep away light, oxygen, moisture, and odors from entering the bag. The bags are also flexible and durable and can be stored in a freezer. When properly stored, mylar bags can keep the quality of herbs and spices for up to 10 years. If you intend to store herbs and spices in bulk, consider placing large mylar bags in 5-gallon buckets.
The main downside of mylar bags is that they do not protect against rodents. Rodents are known to gnaw through the bag, making the contents unsanitary. However, placing the mylar bags in the food-grade bucket prevents rodents and other pests from accessing the airtight container.
If you decide to go with this method, we suggest using smaller mylar bags so you only use what you need. Once you open a bag, all the contents will be exposed to air, which will shorten its shelf life. So you want to use smaller bags, so you won’t expose your whole inventory to the environment.
If you would like to learn how to store food in mylar bags and 5-gallon buckets, you can find our step-by-step guides here.
Method 2: Mason Jars
If you’ve got ample storage space, why not go for mason jars? Mason jars are airtight glass containers that prevent exposure to oxygen, moisture, and pests. And, just as important, mason jars do not have microplastics leaking into your food (we always advise glass over plastic containers). Glass material and airtight lids also help preserve the aroma and flavors.
That said, you might still need oxygen absorbers to extend the storage duration. As the name suggests, o2 absorbers remove the air from the container, allowing the spice and herbs to keep their freshness and quality. In most cases, a 50cc pack will do just fine for a one-pint jar.
All in all, it’s better to buy several small-sized mason jars than a few large ones. This is because the spices in large jars will start losing their flavor once you open them.
The main downside here is that the light can affect longevity. So, try to keep the jars in a dark and cool place for long-term storage.
Method 3: Pantry
In its original packages or container, you can store herbs and spices in the pantry. Most herbs and spices are dry and have a long shelf life as long you ensure it is stocked in a dark, cool, and dry place.
If you are using this method, we suggest arranging your spices using the first in, first out rule (FIFO). To put it simply, as you add more spices to your inventory, you use up the older containers before using the new ones. This will ensure you don’t leave behind aging spices that will lose flavor.
As you consider the best storage method for you, you should know that the pantry method is less effective in storing spices and herbs long-term. Mason jars and mylar bags are more effective in protecting against environmental aggressors, which ensures you keep the flavor and quality.
Why Do Herbs and Spices Go Bad?
When it comes to storing herbs and spices, the key is to keep them away from oxygen, light, heat, moisture, and pesky intruders. Here’s why:
- Moisture: Moisture encourages bacteria and mold growth. If your containers aren’t tight enough, herbs and spices can absorb moisture from the air, spoiling the ingredients over time. As a result, your dried herbs and spices won’t be safe to consume.
- Pests: Several insects, like beetles, have a fondness for peppery spices, like chili powder and paprika. Pests, including rodents, can make herbs and spices unsanitary for consumption.
- Losing Quality: Air, heat, and aging will make your herbs lose flavor over time. That’s not a big concern, though. All you need to do is to add larger portions if you feel like your meals aren’t as rich as they used to be. After a certain point, it may be a better investment to buy new spices and herbs.
What to do with Expired Spices and Herbs?
So your spices and herbs have expired? No worries. Luckily, there are lots of creative uses for old seasonings. Here are a couple of ideas:
- DIY Spice Potpourri: Get creative at home and use spices and herbs to freshen your happy place.
- Help your Plants Grow: Herbs and spices have natural minerals and vitamins which can help your plants grow strong and healthy. Herbs like thyme, bay leaf, rosemary, and oregano work best.
- Keep Animals away from your Garden: Rabbits, deers, and raccoons aren’t fans of red pepper spices like we are. You can add a bit of chili powder or cayenne pepper into the soil to prevent animals from eating from your garden.
How to tell if Herbs and Spices are Still Good?
To tell if your herbs and spices are still good, simply rely on your sense of sight, smell, and taste to determine if they’re still fresh. Follow the 3-step process below.
- Sight: First, pay attention to the color of the seasoning. Ask yourself, “has the color faded since buying the spice?” If so, it may be an indicator the flavor has dulled.
- Smell: Next, you can take a quick sniff of the spice. Normally, the stronger the smell, the more potent the flavor. So if you are not noticing a strong smell, then it could be the flavor has faded.
- Taste: Lastly, you can taste the spice. This is the best and most obvious indicator to tell if the spice is still good.
Can you Freeze Spices and Herbs for Long-Term Storage:
Yes, and freezing helps retain the potency of herbs and spices so they can be preserved longer. Cooking oil can be added to chopped herbs, giving them more flavor and helping them preserve as it freezes. This tactic also limits exposure to oxygen and reduces the chance of freezer burn. If you store herbs through this method, you should aim to use the herbs within 6 months for the best flavor. After 6 months, it is safe to eat, but the potency of the flavor will decrease.
You can also store spices long-term using the freezer method. Generally, when storing spices, the best way to store spices is in an airtight container. In the freezer, the ground spices should be used within one year, and whole spices should be used within 3 years. Spices can be used after the suggested period, but the potency of the flavor will start to decrease. Also, be mindful of discoloration or foul odor, as it can be an indicator the spices have gone bad.
Herbs and spices are pantry essentials that should be included in your long-term storage location. Whether you are prepping for an SHTF scenario or simply looking to save money, storing herbs and spices will ensure you can benefit from flavorful food for up to a decade. As discussed above, some spices, like salt and black pepper, have a long shelf life. However, most spices and herbs should be used within two years to ensure the most potent flavor when cooking delicious meals for your family.
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