If you’ve been following our Spices 101 series, you may have had some spice myths debunked, and also may have decided to invest in quality spices. Today, we’ll learn how to store your quality spices properly so that they’ll maintain their maximum freshness and potency.
It may come as a surprise to you, but a decorative spice rack conveniently situated above the stove is not doing your spices any favors. Sure the row of little glass jars are pretty to look at and the rack itself may be a space saver, but with all the heat, steam, gas and fallout from your cooking, your spices are no better off than the Icelandic cattle living in the path of the Eyjafjallajokull volcano spew.
OK, maybe a little better.
Here’s how to store everything from anise to za’atar.
What Your Spices Should Avoid
No sauna’s (or volcanoes) please! When storing spices, your biggest enemies are:
What comes to mind? Can you think of someplace that’s airtight, dark, cool and dry? Read on!
The Best Kitchen Locations
- The Freezer. Ground spices retain their condition and quality best when stored in an airtight container in the freezer. Up to six months is recommended, but I keep some for up to a year.
- Inside a Cabinet Door. Here’s a visual tour of a lovely storage solution inside a cupboard door. This space-saving idea is fantastic for small kitchens.
- In a Drawer. Very convenient, but drawers are precious real estate in most kitchens. Drawer racks and jars are available from The Container Store.
- On a Pantry Shelf. This is where most of my mason jars of spices and dried herbs are stored. It’s cool, dark, and far from heat sources.
- Open Storage. If spices are sealed in tins, open shelving or counter-top storage is fine, as long it is not near a direct heat source.
Magnetized tins on refrigerator doors, while very visually appealing, are not ideal. Their glass tops expose the spices to light, while the fridge gives off heat; unless they are used up quickly, the quality of the spices will deteriorate rapidly.
Storage Tip: Keep your top 10 (or 20) most used spices handy in a cupboard at eye level and stash others out of the way.
The Best Storage Containers
- Tins. This is the best possible place for your spices; preferably tins without glass tops. These ones from Specialty Bottle are some of the most affordable I’ve found.
- Small Spice Jars. Ikea has affordable options.
- Carousel spice racks. These popular organizers are best stored inside a cupboard, away from sunlight.
- Mason Jars. Perhaps the most eco-friendly choice. Most of us have them hanging around, waiting to be repurposed. Perfect for herbs and spices of all shapes and sizes.
Labeling Tip: For quick turnover of spice varieties, identify your spices with a small paper or sawed off Popsicle stick and drop it into the jar along with the spices. When you’ve finished the jar and are switching ingredients, simply toss the label. No more time wasted scratching at a stubborn adhesive with your fingernail.
Recipe: Black Pepper Shrimp
A famous chef I once worked for was asked what his favorite spices were. His answer was quick and delivered with a smile: “Salt and Pepper”. His reply surprised me a bit, but now, having discovered the tantalizing scents of good quality fresh pepper, I understand.
Pepper doesn’t have to just garnish or complement a dish anymore; it can be the star ingredient. This shrimp recipe we enjoyed this week demonstrates just that.
Thanks to the Food Network’s Paula Deen for this simple and succulent recipe. Eat the shrimp with your fingers, and serve with a tossed green salad and a crusty baguette to sop up the garlic-pepper butter.
This dish is perfect for a relaxed Sunday supper or you could tip the entire pan into tin foil and pack it up for a deluxe picnic on the beach!
Don’t be shy with the pepper, you want to feel the heat and the full flavor.
Black Pepper Shrimp
Serves 4, generously
- 3 lbs (1.5kg) fresh shrimp, with shells on*
- 1 stick butter (1/2 cup)
- 3 Tablespoons chopped garlic
- 4 Tablespoons freshly ground black pepper (my current favorite is ‘Tribal‘ from India)
- Preheat oven to 450-degrees F. Rinse and drain shrimp, then place in a single layer on a shallow baking sheet. Set aside.
- Melt butter in a saucepan, add garlic and saute for 3 to 4 minutes. Pour garlic butter over shrimp and toss to coat.
- Pepper shrimp until well covered, then place in the oven and bake until pink (about 5 minutes). Turn, bake a few minutes longer, and pepper again.
- Serve immediately with plenty of napkins.
*Note: I used shrimp sized 31-40 (per pound).
How do you store your spices? Feel free to link to photos of your own spice racks, cupboards and drawers – we’d love to be inspired!