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Storing Dried Herbs – Tips for Success

Herbs and spices add a ton of flavor to food and most add little to no calories.  I cook with herbs all the time and many of them are those that I grow myself.  But the sheer number of possible herbs means that some will need to be of the dried variety. Storing Dried Herbs so that they will stay Fresh can be a challenge. These cooking tips will make sure that yours will continue adding flavor for a long time to come.Storing dried herbs to keep them fresh depends on several factors. Heat, light, storage and time all matter. See my tips for keeping your herbs fresh longer.

If you enjoy this type of post about cooking tips, be sure to check out my article on food substitutes.  It tells you what to use when you run out of a needed ingredient for your recipe. 

Many people think that only fresh herbs will deteriorate. That is not the case. Even dried herbs will lose their flavor and effect if they are not stored correctly.These tips will give you an idea of how to purchase and store herbs, as well as some ideas for using them more quickly so they don’t lose their effectiveness.

Light, heat and containers matter for Storing Dried Herbs.

The main problems in your task of storing dried herbs are these key factors: moisture, oxygen, light, heat, and length of time in storage. But if you keep these tips in mind, you will make sure that your herbs will not only last, but will be adding flavor right until the end.

Purchase whole herbs. Whole herbs will last much longer than those that have already been ground or minced.  Crumbling the herbs releases their aromas and flavor and also makes it harder to keep them fresh. So buy whole herbs where possible and grind them as you need them. Purchase herbs whole where possible. They will last longer.Commonly found whole herbs are 

Crush leaves and seeds as you need them. In the same way that whole herbs are best, whole leaves are also better than ground spices. Many stores sell whole herb leaves now and if you grow your own, the sky is the limit. Just dry the leaves or seeds, and keep them whole and crush them with a mortar and pestle when needed.Crush herbs when you need them with a mortar and pestle.

Moisture is the enemy when storing dried herbs.  Keeping herbs very dry is an important factor in storing them. This is particularly important if you dry your own. Even a small amount of moisture can contribute to mold growing on them. Drying them upside down will go a long ways towards removing moisture naturally.Dry herbs upside down to remove moisture.

Store herbs in a cool and dry location. Herbs don’t like either heat or direct sunlight. Darker jars are better.  Closed cabinets are best.  You may love the look of the sun coming the in the window and shining on your pretty spice jars sitting above the stove on open shelves, but the herbs will be deteriorating because of this. Stoves use the one thing that herbs hate – heat! Remember with words – “cool, dark and dry.”  Some herbs such as cayenne, chili and paprika even like to be refrigerated to retain their color. Glass or ceramic spice jars are best. Metal and plastic containers can affect the flavor of some herbs.Keep dried herbs away from heat.

Use air tight containers for storing dried herbs. Containers that screw on are the best.  If you use fancy spice jars, be sure that they have a rubberized inner seal to ensure freshness. Replace the seals as necessary.Ceramic and glass spice jars are best for storing dried herbs

How long will dried herbs last?  It depends and there is no definitive answer. The best way to tell if they are still fresh is to crush them in your hands and smell them.  If they are still aromatic, they can be used.  If they smell like a container of straw, (or worse!) they should be tossed. As a general rule, herbs will last this long:

  • Whole herbs –2 to 5 years
  • Ground herbs—6 months to 2 years
  • Leafy herbs——-3 months to 2 yearsThere is no hard and fast rule for how long dried herbs will last, but this chart gives a general idea.

Uses other than cooking. There are some herbs that I would never have go stale. They are the ones that I use all the time in cooking – tarragon, thyme, cinnamon, etc. For me, they don’t last long enough to deteriorate.  Others, such as poppy seeds, fennel and cloves are ones that I rarely use.  To make sure that I don’t waste them, I purchase smaller containers of them and find ways to use them other than in cooking. Teas, home cleaning remedies, and beauty products can all be made with herbs.Make tea with dried herbs while they are still fresh.

Think outside the spice jar. if you know that you won’t be using all of a container of herbs before they deteriorate, think of other ways to store and use them.  Freeze them in oil in ice cubes containers for later use, or make herb butter are two great ways.Use herbs to make flavored butter before they deteriorate.

If you dry your own herbs, label them with dates. There is no point in drying your own herbs and then not knowing when you did this. Be sure to label the containers that you keep them in so that you know for sure. Label your herbs with dates to know how old they are

While many things matter when it comes to storing dried herbs, time is the major factor. The longer the herb sits around, the more of the flavoring compounds that they contain will disappear. So store carefully, use creatively and keep whole when possible.

If you enjoyed this article, be sure to check out my tips for using fresh herbs for cooking, as well.  It shows which herbs are best for specific types of recipes as well as many recipe examples.Guide to fresh herbs for cooking

What are some of the ways that you store your herbs?

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