If being a home cook in the age of the Internet has taught us anything, it’s that kitchens can hide revolting revelations, such as bugs tucked away in a semi-hidden part of our Instant Pots or in our coffee.
The latest horrifying realization isn’t by any means new, as both casual foodies and professionals have long discussed how a spice cabinet can hold more than just fresh cumin.
But a recent report by the Huffington Post confirms our worst fears—pantry pests are real, and insects are constantly finding their way into our spices.
Why do insects and larger bugs find their way into your spices? Jody M. Green, an entomologist for the Lancaster County Extension at the University of Nebraska, told the Huffington Post that bugs can live in a myriad of spices you routinely use in your kitchen: turmeric, coriander, cumin, fennel, and dry ginger included.
But insects have a particular fondness for spices made from pepper, including paprika, cayenne pepper, and chili powder. “Paprika and cayenne have high prevalence of insect filth compared to other imported spices,” Green says. “The pepper family appears to contain the nutritional requirements necessary for multiple generations of stored product beetles to successfully sustain life.”
You would think that you’d notice live bugs rummaging through your spice rack, right? Green points out, however, that paprika is often the root of the problem because we don’t use it as frequently as other spices. It can sit in your cupboard for months, an undisturbed breeding ground, before you’d even notice.
And the most common spice invaders are tiny: Cigarette beetles and drugstore beetles, which are the most typical offenders, tend to only get as big as a sesame seed. Green says you can also spot these beetles as young worms, a sign that the bugs are, yes, getting busy in your spices.
Though some bugs may be crawling in from within your pantry, it can happen if you keep a clean kitchen as well: Often the insects sneak in during the production process. “Adult beetles are active fliers and can get into storage facilities via gaps, open doors, unscreened windows, infested vehicles, bulk bins, and containers,” Green said.
What can you do to stop yourself from unknowingly seasoning your meal with beetle-infused spice? Green had a few tips for all home cooks:
- Inspect the product before you buy it. Is the packaging damaged? Look closely if the container is glass, or see-through.
- Put your spices in the freezer for four days before placing them in your spice cabinet. This will kill off anything that's already in there.
- Divide your bulk spice into tightly sealed containers, and only keep out what you will use relatively quickly.
- Practice the FIFO rule: first in, first out. Use the oldest products first before moving on to newer products, which you should store towards the rear of your rack or cabinet.