Storing food is beneficial for both preppers and families who buy in bulk. To add flavor to your canned goods, here is a guide for how to store spices long term.
When was the last time you ate a meal with no spices in it? If so, it probably was not a very good meal. When it comes to prepping, stockpiling canned goods and staples can only get you so far. Without some spices to make your canned goods enjoyable to eat, you’ll probably have to choke down a lot of less than tasty meals. This is why your family should add spices to your list of foods to store long term.
The best way to store spices for long term use is to keep them in a dry, cool, and dark place, such as a food cellar. Doing this can significantly extend the shelf life of your spices. Additionally, spices can be vacuum sealed in mason jars or mylar bags to make them last even longer.
The breakdown of the oils in spices is what causes them to go bad after a few years. For this reason, it is best to start with the freshest spices possible and preserve them in their whole, unground form. Whole spices will last longer than ground spices because of how the grinding process affects the oils in them.
Sources on storing spices include Healthline, Family Survival Planning, Bon Appetit, and The New Survivalist. All sources have been fact checked for accuracy and up-to-date information.
Why Do Spices Go Bad?
When most people think of food expiring, they think of blocks of moldy cheese and spoiled milk. Spices can also go bad. When spices are exposed to oxygen, sunlight, and humidity, it breaks apart the oils and chemical compounds in the spices. This causes them to lose their scent, flavor, and nutritional value.
For most spices, consuming them after their Best By date will not make you sick or cause any health effects. It will just make for a more bland meal and you will not get the dietary benefits of those spices.
What is the Shelf Life of Spices?
The shelf life will depend on the type of spice, how fresh it was when you bought it, and if it is whole or ground. When you buy spices at the grocery store, they come with a Best By date stamped on the side. If you grow your own spices, it can be harder to know how long they will last.
Most spices last 2-3 years before they go bad. Ground spices normally only last for 1-2 years when stored in the proper environment. Whole spices can keep for 3-4 years.
The exception to these estimates is salt. Most containers of salt do not come with an expiration date. In theory, pure salt will never go back and can last forever due to its chemical makeup. However, most cooking salts are altered or have seasoning added. For these salts, they can last 3-5 years depending on the type of salt and how it is stored.
How to Extend the Shelf Life of Spices
In the same way that you might store bread in the refrigerator to make it last longer, there are some best practices that can be used to make your spices last longer.
Store spices somewhere cool and dry
Exposure to moisture will cause spices to develop clumps, grow mold, and begin to break down. Heat can also make spices lose their flavor faster. If your family already has a food cellar, that is the perfect place to store spices long term. If you have to store spices in your kitchen, it is best to keep them away from the stove, sink, and off the counter.
Do not keep spices in the refrigerator
Refrigerators are cool and dark for food storage, but they are not safe for spices. Refrigerators normally contain too much moisture to be good for spices.
Keep spices in air-tight containers
Glass jars, such as mason jars, that seal tightly are the best way to store spices. Most supermarkets sell spices in flimsy plastic containers; these are not the best for long term spice storage because plastic is more porous than glass. The best containers for storing spices are glass jars that have a rubber or silicone seal. These types of jars can extend the shelf life of your spices.
Prioritize buying whole spices
Whole spices keep longer than ground spices. It is the same principle as when you slice an apple: the second the inside of the apple is exposed to air, it begins to slowly brown. With spices, it is not nearly as visible, but the grinding process exposes spices to air and causes them to break down faster than whole spices
What is the Best Way to Preserve Spices Long Term?
Whether you are a prepper or just someone who needs to buy in bulk, there are several additional tricks to preserve your spices long term.
Dry Canning for Spices
One method for preserving spices is dry canning. This method is most commonly used to preserve rice, pastas, grains, and dry mixes. When you dry can most food items, the process involves packing dry food goods into a jar and baking that jar in the oven. Because spices should not be exposed to heat, the best way to dry can spices is by using oxygen absorbers.
Oxygen absorbers are small, food-safe packets that decrease the amount of oxygen in the jar or package. This effectively prevents the spices from being exposed to oxygen, which will cause it to break down over time. When you place an oxygen absorber in your jar, it will also create a seal. You know that the jar is properly sealed if it makes a popping noise or if the lid looks slightly concave.
Vacuum Sealing Spices with a FoodSaver
Another proven method for preserving spices is with a FoodSaver. This is a device that is well-known in prepper communities; it vacuums all the air out of a jar or mylar bag to help food and spices last longer.
When you vacuum seal your spices to preserve them, all you have to do is get the right attachment for your FoodSaver, fill your jar or mylar bag with spices, and let it remove the extra air.
7 Tips to Successfully Preserve Spices Long Term
When you preserve spices for your family, here are a few tips to help your spices last longer and stay fresher.
- When stocking up, always buy the freshest spices that you can get.
- Home grown spices are usually fresher than store bought spices because they have not been exposed to preservatives.
- Sterilize your empty jars before you add your spices. This can be done by boiling them in hot water then drying them thoroughly, or by putting them in the oven.
- If you are preserving ground spices, deal with clumps quickly before they harden.
- Be sure to label all your stored spices with what they are and when they were preserved.
- Keep two separate spice stores: one to preserve long-term and another to use now in everyday cooking. If you repeatedly open your preserved spices, they will not last as long.
- Maintain a “first in, first out” system where you use older spices first to prevent food waste.
What Are the Benefits of Storing Spices Long Term?
Stockpiling and storing food is a key survival technique for prepper families. It is also popular among homesteaders and anyone who lives off the grid. If your family is already storing food and canning your summer harvest, it is beneficial to also store spices. Without spices, your food stores are not going to taste as good. If your family is going to be prepared for an apocalypse, you might as well give yourselves all the ingredients you need for tasty food.
Your family does not have to be preppers or homesteaders to enjoy the benefits of storing spices. It is often more cost-effective to buy frequently used ingredients in bulk. However, buying in bulk is not helpful if the extra food goes bad before your family can eat it. This is where storing spices comes in. If you are going to save money by buying spices in bulk, it is very important to make sure that they last until you can use them.
The benefits of being prepared are abundantly clear in today’s world. With supply chain issues due to the pandemic, ships stuck in the Panama Canal, boycotts, and trade embargoes, it is impossible to know what will happen to food prices and availability next. Gas prices have skyrocketed, and spice prices may be the next thing to double or triple. When you store spices long term, you can ensure that your family has access to your favorite ingredients for healthy, delicious meals.
About THE AUTHOR
I have over a decade of experience in food and beverage management, including a ServSafe food safety qualification. As part of this qualification, I have been professionally trained in safe food storage.Read More About Mark Walker