Plus, get expert-approved advice on properly storing them, including the correct jars to use.

essential spices
Credit: Peter Ardito

Whether you're adding a teaspoon of cinnamon to our Perfect Pumpkin Pie recipe or mixing up a combination of coriander seeds, chili powder, and Spanish paprika to add intense flavor in Instant Pot Chicken Curry, the spices you use in your cooking can take any dish from ordinary to out of this world. But taking care of your spices is important in order to preserve their flavor, aroma, and color. "[In terms of buying spices], my philosophy is as little and as often as you can. It is tempting to buy large amounts of spices, but if you don't think you're going to use it within three to four months, then you're buying too much," says Lior Lev Sercarz, chef, spice blender, and owner of La Boîte, a spice shop in New York City. So, what should you do once you bring a fresh selection of spices home?

Should You Decant Your Spices?

If you purchase spices in small quantities, then whether or not you decant them into new containers really comes down to preference. If you have a particular style jar that you like using for aesthetic reasons, or if you rely on a countertop spice rack, then you might want everything to match. "If you are buying in bulk, I suggest keeping a large jar in your pantry and have a smaller jar for day to day usage so then you don't expose your entire stash to air, which can cause the flavor and aroma to evaporate over time," Sercarz says.

If you buy spices in plastic bags, then Sercarz says you should transfer them to smaller glass jars. "The seal on most bags is bad so spices are exposed to humidity, which can add moisture and cause lump to form," he explains. However, the lumps can be turned back into a fine powder using sieve or spice grinder, so you shouldn't automatically discard the spice if this happens.

What Type of Jar to Use

With so many functional and attractive types of jars on the market, how do you know which to choose? Sercarz says the most important thing to look for when shopping for spice jars are ones that have a sturdy lid with an airtight seal, which prevents the spices from being exposed to air. "Glass is fantastic because it doesn't interact with the spice. Plus, clear glass is transparent, which allows you to see how much spice you have left in the jar," he says.

How to Organize Your Spices

While it may be tempting to sort your spices alphabetically or by color, Sercarz says he prefers to organize his spices based on how often he uses them. Ingredients like salt, pepper, cinnamon, and cayenne pepper that he reaches for frequently are placed in the front of his cabinet or drawer for easy access.

Once you've emptied a jar of a particular spice, wash the jar thoroughly before refilling it. Sercarz says to be wary of using plastic containers as, over time, strongly colored spices such as saffron, turmeric, or paprika may tint the plastic, making it harder to see what's inside.


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