I’m sure you’ve heard the rule that you should replace your spices and dried herbs every year. And I’m sure you’ve wondered, “is that really necessary, because that seems pretty wasteful and expensive.” Well, yes, it is a best practice, and I’ll explain why. But keeping your herbs and spices fresh doesn’t have to involve a lot of waste or spending a ton of $. I’m going to share 5 tips and tricks for the best ways to buy and store herbs and spices that will save you time and money. Read on!
Why fresh matters
If you’re going to take the time to cook or bake something, you want your creations to taste like something, right? Using fresh, potent herbs and spices is the difference between “meh” and “wow”. Even baking mixes or premade foods benefit from adding a few dashes of your own perky herbs and spices.
The thing is, for herbs and spices to impart any flavor, they have to be rocking ALL their flavor compounds – the oils and such that make herbs and spices smell and taste the way they do. Over time these flavor compounds steadily flitter away. Consequently, after a year or so, even properly stored seasonings will lose a LOT of their flavor and aroma.
Think fresh spices and dried herbs aren’t THAT much better than old? Try this simple experiment:
Your nose is the only equipment you need for this highly scientific three-step experiment:
- Buy a new bottle of anything you already own that’s over a year old – oregano, thyme, cinnamon, cardamon, whatever.
- Open your old bottle and take a sniff.
- Open your new bottle and take a sniff.
Boom! The difference will be night and day. I thought my five year old ground cardamom was pretty potent, until I bought a new packet and cleared out my sinuses by sniffing it! Seriously tho, you will be amazed at the difference, especially with the more delicate herbs like oregano or dill.
Here’s the main takeaway – for your spices to taste like something, they have to smell like something. After 12-18 months, dried herbs and spices lose a lot of their oomph, and they won’t add much flavor to your food. It’s time to toss those old seasonings and stock up using the strategies below.
Five Tips to Save Money Buying, Storing and Using Herbs and Spices:
1. Store Herbs and Spices Properly to Make Them Last Longer
The mortal enemies of the flavor compounds in your seasonings are light, heat, and moisture. The absolute WORST thing you can do is store your herbs and spices in clear jars out in the open or anywhere near the stove or other appliance that generates heat (think dishwasher, toaster over).
I know it’s convenient to have seasonings at the ready next to the stove, but please just. don’t. do. it! You will get the most life out of your herbs and spices if you store them in a cool, dark place. It’s even better if you can store them in dark glass bottles.
Bonus tip: The same advice applies for your cooking oils – storing them in a cool, dark cupboard away from the stove will keep them from quickly going rancid.
A Super Cheap Storage Solution: The probiotics I take come in small, amber glass bottles which I save. They are PERFECT for decanting my herbs and spices into. If you don’t have bottles you can repurpose, amber glass bottles are cheap to buy online. I use little chalkboard labels and a water-resistant chalkboard marker to label my jars.
2. Shop Smart to Get the Best Quality and Save Money
First things first here – unless you are running a food truck, feeding an army of teenagers or just love throwing out unused product every year, fight the urge to buy your spices at a warehouse club. You are never gonna use that stuff up before it dies, and those humongous tubs take up waaaay too much precious shelf space. Sure, if you are sharing with 4 or 5 friends, go for it. 😁Otherwise, buy in small amounts.
That said, buying small bottles at the grocery store can be crazy expensive! Your best bet to save money buying herbs and spices, quality and price-wise, is buying your spices in small amounts at a store like Whole Foods, Fresh Market or even a good ethnic market. Trader Joe’s is also a great source for decent quality seasonings on the cheap. What I can’t find at Trader Joes or my local Middle Eastern market, I grab at Whole Foods.
How to get the best product, wherever you shop:
- Purchase herbs and spices from a busy store that has a lot of product turnover so your seasonings haven’t been sitting on brightly-lit shelves for 6 months.
- Don’t shop where the seasonings are in open jars or bins, constantly exposed to air and light. And germs. ICK!!!
- Always grab a packet from the back of the display – where the newest product should be – and check the dates to make sure you are getting the freshest product.
- Pick your battles and choose where to spend the most. Go ahead and spend a little more for a higher quality product if it’s something you love and use frequently. There really is a noticeable difference between generic Cinnamon and genuine Vietnamese Cinnamon. Worth. every. penny!
3. Save Money by Making Your Own Herb and Spice Blends
A great way to save money buying herbs and spices is to make your own spice blends. Making your own means you control the quality, freshness and flavor. There are tons of recipes online or get creative and tinker away. I always make my own season salt, cajun seasoning, pumpkin pie spice, apple pie spice and even chai spice blend. Super easy and fun! Here are my recipes for Season Salt, Cajun Seasoning and DIY Old Bay.
4. Keep Your Herbs and Spices Organized and Ready to Use
As you can see below, I stock a lot of herbs, spices, extracts and seasoning blends! Over time I’ve created a system to keep everything easy to find and use.
- First, I sort my seasonings on two shelves – one for savory herbs, spices and spice blends and the other for extracts and sweet (i.e. baking) spices.
- Second, the front row of each shelf is “prime real estate” reserved only for the seasonings I use frequently.
- Third, the remaining seasonings are arranged alphabetically in rows.
- Fourth, I store everything on tiered shelf inserts. This last tip is especially important if you are storing all your spices in a deep cupboard – aka a black hole where stuff goes to die. What you can’t see, you’ll forget you have, and you’ll never use – and that’s wasted $. Even tho the shelves in my wall pantry are shallow, I love using little tiered wire shelf inserts. I can easily see and reach everything I have. I’ve had mine for ages and can’t remember where I got them, but they are sold in kitchen and home organizing stores. Here’s an inexpensive option from the Container Store.
5. Keep a Chart to Record Your Purchases.
I print my spice chart on cardstock and keep it taped inside the cupboard where I store my seasonings. Each time I buy something, I record the date. Whenever I run out of anything or every couple of months, I take a quick glance at the chart to see if any of my seasonings are getting old. When something gets to 18 months or so, I buy new. This way I’m never caught with stale spices.
Another benefit of keeping track of your purchases is that it can save you money. Over time your chart will tell you what you don’t need to buy. If your Sage is 18 months old and it’s still 95% full, that’s something you probably don’t need to buy again. Toss the old stuff and only buy more if and when you absolutely need it for a recipe in the future.
You can easily create a chart for yourself in Excel or a fancier one on a free design creation site like Canva.
I hope I’ve encouraged you to keep your spices fresh and given you a few easy ways to save money and get the most out of your purchases. If you have any great tips of your own, please share them with us below!
Be sure to pin these tips to your cooking and organizing boards!
PS- Don’t forget to check out these easy, all-purpose spice blends you can make yourself!