Food Storage: Storing Herbs and Spices for Long Term Storage

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Storing Herbs and Spices

Herbs and spices are an important part of food storage. Many of the food items that store well in long term storage are a bit bland in taste. Although, beans, rice, and grains might be enough to sustain life they definitely need a little something to make them taste good. Considering a lot of preppers have picky eaters in their hoard, making food taste good can allow you to turn your attention to other aspects of survival. Picky eating is not such a big problem when there are a lot of choices but in a survival situation it can become a big problem really fast. I know there are those who are of the “if they’re hungry enough, they’ll eat it,” school of thought. But there are individuals who will compromise their health before eating something they don’t perceive as tasting good. Also consider your family: do you have kids and elderly you’d like to keep well feed because they are the ones who are at high risk of disease or other hunger related issues? Making your food taste as good as you possibly can is important for health as well as morale.

The Difference between Herbs and Spices:

According to the American Spice Trade Association, spices are “any dried plant product used primarily for seasoning purposes.” That would seem to include all herbs too. The dictionary is not much help either: Webster’s defines an herb as “a plant or plant part valued for its medicinal, savory or aromatic qualities.” Doesn’t that include spices? Chefs, foodies, and gardeners commonly note these general differences:

Herbs:

Herbs refer to the leafy green parts of a plant. The word herb often carries a medicinal connotation. Herbs are usually easier to grow than spices and flourish in milder climates.

A few common herbs: sage, oregano, parsley, thyme, basil, chives, rosemary, and mint.

Spices:

A spice refers to other parts of the plant: the root, stem, bulb, bark or seeds. Spices tend to grow in more extreme climates and for that reason seem to be rarer than herbs.

A few common spices: cinnamon, ginger, cloves, nutmeg, vanilla, and cumin.

Both herbs and spices can be dried. Spices that are not ground, whole spices, tend to keep longest because there flavors and oils have not been released by the grinding process; to a lesser degree this is true for dried herbs too. (See “Putting up” Herbs) Dried herbs and spices really don’t go rancid, they will just lose their pungency and color over time. The government recommends dating spices for freshness four years from packaging date and herbs at two years. Many chefs and cooks will always recommend that you replace your herbs and spices every six months. Most commercial herbs and spices are only harvested once a year so that might not always be the best advice.

If left in the original packaging you can expect the following shelf life:

Whole spices, whole herb leaves and whole flowers1-2 years
Seeds and barks2-3 years
Roots2-3 years
Ground spices and herb leaves1 year
Ground roots2 years

Obviously, you’re going to get more bang for your buck if you buy whole spices and use a grinder. The very best way to obtain the freshest herbs is to grow your own. It’s not always possible to grow your own spices because of climate. There’s also the question of cost. Herbs and spices are very expensive and most people shy away from buying spices in bulk because they do lose their pungency over time. Also, there’s a debate in the prepper community whether to store herbs and spices based on how much cooking you do. If you cook a lot buy and store herbs and spices, if you don’t cook a lot don’t store herbs and spices, I’m not sure how this debate started. I guess someone’s attempt to save money. If you have beans and rice and grain in your storage you should be eating beans and rice and grain. Store what you eat! Eat what you store! Still buying herbs and spices in bulk leaves you with a lot of herbs and spices, maybe more than you would use in two years. So what’s a prepper to do?

Here’s what I do:

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 I buy spices from a big box store or ethnic store.

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 Clean and prepare a variety of Mason jars and lids.

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I use my FoodSaver to dry can/vacuum pack the herbs and spices. (I know dry canning implies adding heat but since there should be no moisture and it’s not enough heat to kill anything essentially it does the same thing. Although I would argue vacuum packing is actually better because heat will help the contents of the jar deteriorate.) In this picture I’m vacuum packing parsley.

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 I use the FoodSaver canning jar attachment. You can find it on Amazon here.

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 It fits any size jar, even the little bitty ones

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Since I do cook a lot I don’t want to have to open a vacuum packed jar every time I need some parsley so I use the little canning jars with the plastic storage lid.

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Here you can see the lid and the box it came in. I think it’s a package of eight. You can find them on Amazon here. I use the plastic lids for the herbs and spices I use all the time and then vacuum pack the extra and then I also vacuum pack the herbs and spices that I don’t use so often so they stay fresh.

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 I also mix my own blends like garlic salt and Italian seasoning so I often just write the recipe right on the top.

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 So here’s my parsley. The little jar I use all the time and my storage vacuum packed jar.

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I like the canning jars for storing herbs and spices so I can get my spoons in easily. I can’t tell you how many nails I’ve broken trying to get those little inside caps off with the holes (you know the thingy that’s suppose to let you shake it into the food. I hate those things).

If you don’t use a canning jar you can put spices inside a FoodSaver bag but you have to be careful not to let the machine suck up the powder into the hose. I’ve heard you can try placing a paper towel just inside the bag and that keeps the powder from getting into the hose, but I have not tried it out to see if it works.

All dried herbs and spices should be kept in a cool, dry, dark place for optimum storage. I don’t have an official figure as to how much longer the vacuum packed spices will last, and it’s hard for me to let you know from personal experience because I have a high consumption rate at my house. But there are a few spices I don’t use a lot of (cayenne pepper), and I can tell you that vacuum packing more than doubles the shelf life.

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Storing Herbs and Spices For Long Term Storage~AreWeCrazyOrWhat.net

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Comments

  1. says

    I really need to look into doing this. I do like making foods that call for spices that I don’t use often (like cardamom or fenugreek) but like to keep on hand for when I do get a wild hair to cook something exotic. We use so much cumin, cayenne and garlic around here that I buy it in bulk! We eat a looooooooot of Mexican food.

  2. Anonymous says

    In ’08 I “dry-canned” over a case of assorted herbs and spices (cumin, garlic powder, basil, oregano, black pepper etc.). I don’t have a FoodSaver attachment, so I used the oven method (you can Google “dry canning”). Approx. June of ’12 I opened a jar of oregano to test the method. We couldn’t tell the difference between the 4-year old jar and the fresh we were using out of the pantry. Success.

  3. Anonymous says

    I’ve been dry canning herbs and spices for 5 years. The jar attachment works wonders.

    Over this time, I have learned a few tricks you might add to your list:

    1. Always choose the most recently dried herbs and fresh spice for dry canning. They have the most flavor and the longest lifespan.

    2. Keep the light out of the jars. You can paint the outside of the jars before packing them away, or you can simply put them in a dark place.

    3. If you ever have to move your jars any distance, put a thick elastic band around the top and bottom of each jar before boxing them. The bands will absorb vibration and prevent the jars from rattling against each other.

    4. Some products are very light powder, such as onion powder, ground kale, and ground spinach. It will seem impossible to dry can these products even if you put paper on top, but it is not! Just place them in a Ziploc sandwich bag and put that in your jar. Puncture a small hole in the Ziploc so the bag can depressurize. You can now dry can the jar. This approach prevents sealing problems and keeps dust from getting in your FoodSaver.

    5. When your spices are packed away, remember to give yourself a pat on the back! I think we forget to thank ourselves for our good work much too often.

    Happy dry canning!

    • Anonymous says

      Thanks for the Ziploc tip, I hadn’t heard that and I can see how it solves the problem. Also the rubber bands around the jar; I keep my jars in the boxes they come in which protects them fairly well, but adding the rubber bands seems like cheap/easy insurance.

    • Texasfilly says

      Another easy tip that will keep your jars in the cool dark AND protect them if you need to relocate is slipping the sealed jar into an old (odd) sock. Or buy a pack of cheap socks at the dollar store or yard sales. Wa-la! :-)

  4. Anonymous says

    A thought on vacuum sealing spices and herbs in bags: Fold the herbs up in wax or parchment paper (like a little envelope). Then place the packet inside the vacuum bag. Should keep the vacuum sealer from sucking up the powder.

    • says

      I use canning lids for all my spices. The “lids” you see in the pictures are actually FoodSaver attachments that vacuum pack the canning jars with a canning lid. I’m not sure what you mean by FoodSaver lids. I know there used to be a universal lid that came with some older FoodSaver models (my first model) but I have not seen those in years. Are they still available? I’m sorry but I have to be leery of anything that says, “as seen on TV”. I’ve only really liked one thing that ever had that label…..:)

    • Are We Crazy, Or What? says

      Yes, you can vacuum pack any of those items you mentioned. Both nuts and seeds are best kept in the freezer because of their high fat content. However, if that is not an option vacuum packing them in jars will extent their shelf life. They can also be vacuum packed and then placed inside the freezer for the maximum life possible. Vacuum packing also works well for chocolate baking chips…..:)

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