Spices are meant to be used. Right? And if they are going to be used you want them to actually do their job of delivering fresh flavor and fragrance to your food. Unless of course you just want to look at them. Don’t laugh. Here’s a short but true story. Don’t worry…it all ties together in the end.

About fourteen years ago I went to Saudi Arabia. Being a spice-lover I felt like I landed in Oz. The souks were filled with an aromatic potion that drifted through the stalls and the merchants stood proudly behind mountains of cardamom, cloves, and coriander. Every mixture looked exotic and smelled like an adventure.

I bought 8 pounds of various mixes (yes, that’s right, 8 pounds)! Now, I’m just a regular home kitchen cook but I thought I’d load up so I could use these spices for a long time. Now, these mixes were beautiful blends of textures and color. Looking at them reminded me of this amazing trip that felt like something out National Geographic. So I picked out some handsome glass jars and put the spices in there to show them off. Hey, I was proud.

Fast forward five years. I went to go use some of my lovely collection and sadly discovered they were not exactly as I remembered. The colors faded and the powerful aroma had nearly vanished.  I unknowingly subjected my prized spices to their three worst enemies.

  • Enemy #1: Moisture. Unless your spices are kept dry they risk clumping and caking. Too much moisture will cause mold to grow. Good for bleu cheese not for bay leaves.
  • Enemy #2: Light. Light causes fading and loss of flavor. Exposure to light means exposure to…
  • Enemy #3: Heat. Heat causes the aromatic oils to evaporate. These oils¬† are what give spices their flavor and fragrance.

The best place to keep your spices is somewhere cool, dark and dry like a refrigerator or a cupboard away from your oven and stove. Ironically, these are probably the least convenient place to store spices. If you want them on a shelf use opaque jars with a reliable seal. Ground spices have the shortest shelf-life (6 mos.-2 years) so these are a good candidate for ceramic or other opaque jars. Grinding whole spices is the best way to ensure freshness and flavor.

As for my Saudi spices? They’re still on display in their glass jars: adding visual flavor by looking cool and reminding me of my Arabian adventure.