10 Easy Tips to Keep Herbs and Spices Fresh and Flavorful

Herbs and spices are some of your best friends and allies in the kitchen. Learn how to treat them right so they'll bring their best flavors to all your recipes.

overhead view of spices and measuring spoons
Photo: Meredith

How to Store Herbs and Spices

1. Buy whole spices

Whole spices such as nutmeg maintain their freshness longer than ground ones. If you can, buy one or two whole nutmegs and grate just the amount you need for your recipe.

2. Keep cool

Keep spices and herbs away from heat and direct sunlight. Even a commonly used herb like dried bay leaves should be kept away from the stove.

3. Buy just what you need

Try to resist buying giant quantities of spices at a big box store; they'll probably go stale before you can use them all up. That said, some spices and dried herbs will keep for a long time if you store them properly. Whole spices can last four years. Ground spices like mustard can last for two to three years and contribute to hundreds of tasty homemade salad dressings. Herbs last anywhere from one to three years, depending on the herb.

4. Spices don't last forever

They don't spoil, but spices and herbs do lose their strength. Old and weak seasonings will not deliver the taste that they should. If you don't want to end up with flavorless ham just because your cloves lost their power, give them the sniff test before you use them (see tip #5).

5. Test for strength

You don't need any special instrument to test whether spices are fresh. Just use your senses. If the color of the spices has faded, their flavor probably has too. Taste and smell your spices and herbs: If a strong spice like garam masala doesn't tickle your nose and tantalize your tongue, replace it.

6. Keep dry

Don't sprinkle spices and herbs directly from the bottle over a steaming pot. Steam can sneak into the spice bottle and sap your spices' power. If you're wondering why ground spices like allspice get hard and caked in the bottle, steam may be the culprit.

7. Measure correctly

Make sure your measuring spoon is completely dry when you dip it into the bottle. The moisture can quickly ruin the flavor of an aromatic spice like cinnamon. And do level off after you scoop.

8. Some like to chill

Members of the red pepper family, including paprika and chili powder, keep their color and stay fresher when stored in the refrigerator.

9. Lock it down

Replace bottle lids tightly immediately after use to keep out moisture and lock in the flavor you want from a highly aromatic spice like fennel seeds.

10. The daily grind

An inexpensive coffee grinder can also be used to grind whole seeds, cloves, and cinnamon sticks. Fresh-ground spices are especially flavorful. Just be sure to clean it thoroughly afterward so you don't get your flavors crossed.

What's the difference between herbs and spices?

Herbs are the leafy part of plants, while spices are the dried seeds, bark, fruit, or ground roots of a plant.

How do I substitute dried herbs for fresh herbs?

Dried herbs are stronger than fresh herbs (as long as your dried herbs retain their aroma and flavor). One teaspoon of dried herbs is the equivalent of one tablespoon of fresh herbs.


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