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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48 Comments
  • Kelley - Sailing Chance
    Posted at 17 July 2013 Reply

    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!

  • Kathy
    Posted at 17 July 2013 Reply

    Great tips. Will any type of dried bean work?

    • Carolyn Shearlock
      Posted at 17 July 2013 Reply

      I’ve used kidney, red beans, black beans and pinto and they’ve all worked (just whatever I grabbed when I opened up a container of spices). I think anything would work.

    • Fred
      Posted at 23 April 2017 Reply

      Soda crackers absorbs moisture very quickly, they will not un-clump, but they absorb better than rice or beans, put them in a small fine mesh cloth bag, . Check them often if they’re soft replace them. I’m 70, my grandma taught me this when I was young.

  • arleen
    Posted at 26 August 2013 Reply

    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

  • Joe
    Posted at 21 September 2013 Reply

    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.

  • ThisDameCooks
    Posted at 29 September 2013 Reply

    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.

    • Carolyn Shearlock
      Posted at 29 September 2013 Reply

      I’d LOVE to have a frost free freezer on a boat 🙂 No defrosting? Heaven!!

  • ThisDameCooks
    Posted at 29 September 2013 Reply

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

  • Tracey Ramsey
    Posted at 04 October 2013 Reply

    Thank you Carolyn.

  • Linda Hollan Kacy Sitton
    Posted at 04 October 2013 Reply

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

  • Angie Wilson
    Posted at 05 October 2013 Reply

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

  • James
    Posted at 17 December 2013 Reply

    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!

  • kasia reeder
    Posted at 31 January 2014 Reply

    can i use dried red lentils for absorbing moisture?

  • Nora
    Posted at 05 February 2014 Reply

    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!!

  • Barbara Lowell
    Posted at 25 April 2014 Reply

    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.

  • Barbara J. Cunningham
    Posted at 18 May 2014 Reply

    Great tip!

  • Lynn Brownlow
    Posted at 19 May 2014 Reply

    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!

  • Jeff
    Posted at 11 September 2014 Reply

    about how long until the beans need changing?

    • Carolyn Shearlock
      Posted at 11 September 2014 Reply

      I just change them when I add more spice to the container.

  • Kathy Kocar
    Posted at 19 September 2014 Reply

    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.

    • Carolyn Shearlock
      Posted at 19 September 2014 Reply

      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.

      • Bob Collins
        Posted at 14 April 2015 Reply

        I have the exact same issue with clumping/caking of onion powder. No other spice I have purchased, clumps like onion powder. I’ll have to try the beans. I have a small container of onion powder over the range & microwave. Even it clumped! I put rice in it, but it still clumped.

        So get a clumped spice back to usable condition, I ran it though a Ninja chopper. It turned the clumps back to a wonder powder. A few days later, I could have used it for concrete patch! I will de-clump it again and add some beans to the container this round. Hopefully, the issue will get some better.

        Thanks for the great idea!

        Bob

        • Daphne R
          Posted at 06 September 2016 Reply

          I wrap my onion salt container in foil and was amaze that it did not clump up.. try it

  • Sally
    Posted at 19 September 2014 Reply

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

  • Linda
    Posted at 09 November 2014 Reply

    I will be trying the beans too, great tip!!! For the already clumped jar I dump the contents into a small food processor and zip it is broken up and fine , no problem! Don’t waste it !!!!

    • Sally Ferguson
      Posted at 06 March 2015 Reply

      I’m the guilty one too: I shake spices over a hot stove. Came here looking for a way to salvage dried up spices. Thanks for the help!

  • Darlene Twitchell
    Posted at 05 May 2015 Reply

    Excellent suggestion via Candy Williams, whom we, on Wind Song, personally know via previously being moored at Fulton Marina in Texas!
    My 5 pound bulk SPIKE seasoning container now also contains dried black beans (DBB) to take care of the golf ball size caked seasoning within… All spices to gain DBB’s to combat the caking. Marvelous!

  • Tina Hansen Parris
    Posted at 21 May 2015 Reply

    So I didn’t grow up using dried beans is one type of dry beans more absorbing than another? Thanks !!

  • Cate McCarty
    Posted at 21 May 2015 Reply

    Think you. I had used split peas in the salt shaker, but never thought to use in the garlic and onion powder . . . or to shake out away from steam. It’s the little things;)

  • Sara Burns
    Posted at 21 May 2015 Reply

    I just put a little silica packet in clumpy spice jars, works great.

  • Thomas Keenan
    Posted at 22 May 2015 Reply

    Nice!!

  • Diana K Weigel
    Posted at 22 May 2015 Reply

    You have the best tips!

  • Mark
    Posted at 07 September 2015 Reply

    I just put a small amount of rice in a coffee filter than staple it together. It seems to work ok for me. Any other thoughts?

  • KF
    Posted at 15 January 2016 Reply

    Hello. I was looking for spice moisture issue remedies and came across your site. Thanks. I will be moving to the coast of West Africa in a couple of years and am already wondering about my spice rack. I have always wanted to be on my own and use the wooden spice racks (with doors, like a little cupboard) with the plain matching glass jars. The coastal areas are very humid, and I thought to myself, “Perhaps I could find some type of moisture-drawing ‘sheet’ of some kind to attach to the inside of the spice rack doors or something. Then I read on here about the beans. Now, can I just put, let’s say, two beans in the bottom of each spice jar? And does it have to be a certain type of bean?

    • Carolyn Shearlock
      Posted at 16 January 2016 Reply

      Yep. I’ve used several different types and all seem to work equally well — I think you could use whatever you find. Rice also works.

  • Lora Hubbard
    Posted at 29 April 2016 Reply

    I will definitely try the beans! I have been keeping my onion powder in the freezer. It still clumps, but I can pry loose some clumps. I just rub the clumps across the bottom of a small metal strainer to break it back down into powder.

  • Kelli Glesige
    Posted at 29 December 2016 Reply

    I have wondered what putting the clumped product into a very low temp. oven would do? Afraid it would alter the intensity of the spice, and possibly make the clumping worse. Or would it make it easier to break apart?

    • Carolyn Shearlock
      Posted at 29 December 2016 Reply

      I think it would make it rock hard and yes, it will harm the flavor.

  • Heidi
    Posted at 10 January 2017 Reply

    Great tips! I’m guilty of shaking spices over hot pans all the time and never thought of the consequences! It’s also important to remember that spices lose their potency (and healing medicinal properties) fairly quickly. We try to buy spices in small quantities that we can use up in 6-mo to a year. Any longer than that and you’re missing out on both flavor and health. Also check out Infinity Jars that keep out air and degrading UV light.

  • Beverly Schaefer
    Posted at 10 January 2017 Reply

    I use my old panty hose from my (UGH) working days. Cut into small squares, make little rice pouches, tie, and put in spice jar. Seems to work and the rice is kept separate.

  • Ralph
    Posted at 10 January 2017 Reply

    I used to read “put rice in the jar”, and that didn’t work. I don’t think the beans will work well either.
    BUT .. here’s an idea I had and tried that DID work:
    mix a little cornstarch with the spice. I know of nothing that will suffer from a bit of cornstarch in the spice.
    Onion pwd is the worst. To about 9 parts onion pwd add 1 part cornstarch. I may have used a little more, I didn’t measure.
    A year later, it’s still not caked!
    I was proud of this fix. Give me credit- Ralph

  • Richard Kokemoor
    Posted at 10 January 2017 Reply

    Only tangentially related, but useful: used to have trouble when making pumpkin pie with spices esp ground cloves not mixing in even though not in large clumps. Solution is to mix all spices in the granulated sugar with a fork until all particles separated and color is even, then add to the liquid ingredients.

  • tony griffin
    Posted at 29 March 2017 Reply

    I have invented a container which repels moisture. it is impossible for the contents to cake, as the internal technology wont allow the moisture level to reach its critical peak, i am looking for a company help me get it on the shelf. i do posses a patent for it.

  • Yvonne
    Posted at 13 April 2017 Reply

    I had tried all that and it did not work for me so now I mixed my garlic powder with water into a paste, take a plastic tray and make drops that I freeze, once frozen I put them togehter in a plastic freezer bag ready to be used.

  • Ralph Smith
    Posted at 23 April 2017 Reply

    You can add 10% or so of cornstarch to the spice, and end clumping Works great, better than beans, rice, anything else Ive heard of. _I_ found this solution!

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