Spices have a hard life aboard a boat, with the typical heat and humidity. Don't shorten their life even further in the way you use your spices!

A Leading Cause of Dead Spices

What’s wrong with this picture??  Six weeks ago, I would have said “nothing.”

Are you like me?  When I’m making something that I’ve made lots of times before — or something that I don’t really even have a recipe for — I tend to just shake spice containers over the bowl or pan and judge the amount by eye.  Particularly if I want “just a dash” of a particular spice.  Here, I’m making gumbo — and adding plenty of garlic.

Well, guess what?  It’s fine to just shake spices over a bowl, but over a hot pan?  It’s a leading cause of dead spices.

Yeah, spices with all the flavor of sawdust.

I’ve known for years that heat and humidity were the enemies of spices.  I recommended storing them away from the stove and as low in the boat as practical.

It never dawned on that the way I was using my spices was killing them.  But it was.  I discovered this recently when I was researching something else and found a note on the McCormick spice site (click on handling).

Turning the container upside down over the hot, steamy pan not only exposes the herbs and spices to heat, but the rising steam goes right into the bottle and has no way out.  Oops!  The typical heat and humidity on a boat are already hard on spices and shortens their life considerably.  Let’s not add to it!

Now, I’m trying to remember to use a measuring spoon — or even just pour the spice into my hand — and do it away from the stove.  Wherever possible, I’ve removed shaker tops on the spice containers to help me remember, too.

Now, want to know the really funny thing?  Despite reading this tip on the McCormick spice web site, every single McCormick spice I have has a shaker top, subtly encouraging you to shake your spices into your cooking!  I’m trying hard to remember to unscrew them and use a measuring spoon to scoop out what I need.

Another tip on the site was to always use a dry measuring spoon when dipping into a spice jar.  That, at least, I’m pretty good about doing.  But every so often, I catch myself wiping out a measuring spoon with a damp rag and then scooping out a different spice without drying it.  Or re-using the measuring spoon that was just in the steam over a pan without wiping the condensate from it.

I’m sure that in time, I’ll get better on both counts . . .

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  • Dearbhla
    Posted at 04 June 2012 Reply

    Im loving all of these tips, Carolyn! Keep ’em coming! Can’t wait to be responding to you from my own galley!

  • Terri Flynn on Facebook
    Posted at 17 December 2012 Reply

    Interesting as I do the same thing just sprinkling from the jar.

  • Terri Flynn on Facebook
    Posted at 17 December 2012 Reply

    Good idea about removing the shaker top.

  • tami
    Posted at 17 December 2012 Reply

    who knew? Thanks!

  • Annual Salvador Rally on Facebook
    Posted at 17 December 2012 Reply

    Over the years we have culled our spice selection because age also affects spices and a lot of spices we only use a couple of times during the year. We probably have 6 different spices and we toss them as soon as they “clump” in the jar. We started buying spices in small containers. I mean who can use 1/2 cup of ground ginger in 1 year (the average lifespan of spices). Whole spices keep much longer like Bay leaves, whole pepper, whole… well anything. You can get most spices everywhere so there is no reason to stock up unless you use exotic spices like unobtainium or virgin bee pollen.

  • Mary Makepeace on Facebook
    Posted at 17 December 2012 Reply

    I use a spice mix called Mexican Adobado for meat and one called County Claire for fish and poultry which I get from the Savory Herb company. Tired of throwing away spices.

  • Andy Gallup
    Posted at 10 February 2013 Reply

    Another reason to use the extra step I learned from a friend who was a restaurant cook. You do not want a whole container of oregano in a recipe meant to serve two. Of course you do not believe it until you do loose control.

  • JB
    Posted at 02 July 2014 Reply

    In addition to the palm method of eyeball measuring (one of your old articles), away from the heat and steam of course, I also store the spice jars in OXO Good Gripes Pop-Top storage bins. I like them as I can open and close them one handed and they help keep them as fresh as possible. Most of them don’t seal worth a darn on their own.

  • Robin Bean
    Posted at 08 November 2015 Reply

    I have also found that putting a few dreid beans like pintos in the container keeps the spices longer like rice in salt. The beans absobe any humidity during storage !!!

  • Dolores M. Ik'Nal
    Posted at 06 September 2017 Reply

    We buy the spices in bulk at the hispanic stores, and to keep them safe, we use lock and lock little containers from Daiso, and upcycle little square milk containers (washed them very well and let them dry) since they are waterproof. No shakers to dispense them.

  • Sara Burns
    Posted at 06 September 2017 Reply

    Just spent a good chunk of yesterday using a hammer and chisel to free onion powder and garlic powder from their containers so I could give them a spin in the food processor. The silica gel packets I keep in the containers are no match for ocean humidity.

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