Stop Spices from Clumping

By Carolyn Shearlock, copyright 2013 . All rights reserved.

Stop Spices from Clumping

Got clumping spices?  Actually, maybe I shouldn’t call them “clumping” — some of mine seem to have turned into concrete.  Onion powder is always one of the worst!

But over the past year, combining some other tips I’ve had on storing and using spices, I’ve finally figured out how to keep my spices from clumping.  This works with everything I’ve previously had problems with  — salt, onion and garlic powder, Mrs. Dash, Montreal Steak Seasoning and the bulk containers of taco seasoning (not the foil packets).

Basically, they’re clumping because of moisture, and some things attract moisture more than others.  So, it seemed, the trick was to prevent moisture from getting in the containers and absorb any that did.

First, a note — I didn’t change the containers that I was storing my spices in.  Most are in the McCormick or Great Value bottles and otherwise out in the open.  I do keep my large container of salt inside a Ziploc bag and use a lidded shaker (see the ones I like) for the portion that’s “out.”

Okay, so here’s what I did.  I started by putting a few dried beans into the containers.  This helps absorb any moisture that gets into the container.  Rice is the traditional thing to use in salt shakers, but the problem with using it in spice containers is that rice is too small — if it’s a a typical shaker container, the rice goes right through the shaker holes and into whatever I’m making.  And if I was using a measuring spoon to scoop some of the spice out, I’d always get a few grains of rice as well.  The beans, being larger, are much easier to deal with.  Thanks to Candy Williams for that tip (she left it in the comments on Adding Flavor to Meats; another reader — LaDonna — says she uses unpopped popcorn).

And second, I’ve really trained myself not to shake spices over pans of hot food.  The heat and steam from the cooking just really does a number on the flavor of the spice (see my article on this).  But just as importantly, I’ve learned that the steam just instantly will clump any spice that has any sort of a tendency to have a problem.

The other day, I found this old jar of onion powder in the back of my spice area.  A relic of a by-gone era, when I had clumpy spices.  I obviously pushed it to the back when it got too hard to easily use the contents and I’d just forgotten about it.  My current spices don’t have a problem and I’m not wasting money by throwing out bottles before they’re empty!

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Comments

  1. Great tip! I’ll be sure to put a few beans in my spices. I have them all stored in ziplocs right now but it’s not doing the trick completely because the steam gets in them. I’ll have to remember to shake them into my hand before putting them in the dish. Thanks!

  2. Great tips. Will any type of dried bean work?

  3. this is GREAT Carolyn! I was wondering how the heck to prevent making concrete. I buy my spices in bulk, in small quantities to avoid this problem, but I had only bought the onion powder 2 days ago, and it’s getting ready to make a foundation now! I will definitely be using a few beans. My spices are store in tight jars, ya, i’m one of those touchy feely ppl. shakers don’t do it for me. except spice grinders, those rock :) <3

  4. I put moisture absorber baggies in. Cut off corner of a plastic storage baggie & poke holes by pushing tines of a fork through the plastic. Fill with rice, beans or popcorn kernels. Seal with a tie or cello tape.
    Alternatively, I put a thin plastic storage baggie over the opening before screwing the top down – to make it more airtight.
    Works for powdered coffee creamer too.

  5. Keep your powdered garlic and onion etc. in the freezer. I live in Puerto Rico where it is extremely humid and this works great…as long as you have a frost-free freezer there is no humidity.

  6. BTW Carolyn I was a charter cook on yachts out of St. Thomas for several years. Great fun!

  7. Thank you Carolyn.

  8. I use a mortar and pestle to unclump. Beans great idea.

  9. Have to go to an ASA luncheon on Friday so will look for you as I wander. I appreciate all your info.

  10. I could not for the life of me figure out why my powders continued to clump up no matter how tightly shut and far away from moister I kept them. Guilty as charged for using them over a hot skillet when cooking. I’ll just need to remember to pour the powder onto my hand then bring it to the skillet or flavor meats before placing them into the skillet (which I normally do anyway). But I never would have thought using beans to combat the clumping and will try it with all my spices. Great article and tips. Thanks so much!

  11. kasia reeder says:

    can i use dried red lentils for absorbing moisture?

  12. Thanks for this great hint. I do use the rice in mt salt & have tried it in other spices, but like you said it’s too small when you need to shake out garlic salt or the likes. I will surely try the beans because it seems no matter where or how I store my spices they end up like concrete!!

  13. Barbara Lowell says:

    Hi All … thank you for this gr8 tip and everyone else’s wonderful comments. I buy organic spices and they are even worse because they do not add anti-caking agents. I will put in some beans, and use the freezer yea! I surely have found the same with shaking over a steaming wok, common sense but when you are creating in the kitchen, no rules, just wizardry!!! Also I have found using up old clumps so as not to waste …. add the whole clump to a slow cooker of chili or some other, maybe soup. It will break down and use it up nicely. I will now no longer have clumps thanx to y’all.

  14. Great tip!

  15. Thanks that is a wonderful tip. I will be storing that away in my “tip jar” for when we begin our live aboard days next year!

  16. about how long until the beans need changing?

  17. Kathy Kocar says:

    Do you know if adding beans to already caked spices will dry them out? i guess I could just try it and see what happens. Just wondered if anyone knew. There’s a product called “Dryspice” which is a little canister of silica gel that can be purchased on the interenet and it is supposed to keep spices dry and dry them out if already caked. But, beans would sure be a lot cheaper! Thanks for the tip.

    • I haven’t found anything that will un-clump spices and I’ve tried some desiccant packs even. It seems that once it turns to concrete, a jackhammer is about the only thing that will break it up.

  18. Yay! I bought bulk onion powder and garlic powder today.
    Adding dried beans is the tip I was looking for. Thanks!

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