Is there a mishmash of messy old spices in your cupboard? Here’s some spice-saving wisdom…

First, how long can spices last? We’ve heard no more than six months to a year tops, but according to McCormick for Chefs (McCormickForChefs.com), ground spices should last for three years! Whole spices last for four years, and dried herbs for one to two years….

That is, if they are stored correctly: Spices should be in an airtight container in a cool, dark place away from heat, moisture and direct sunlight. Sunlight speeds up flavor destruction. Your usage also affects how long a spice or dried herb lasts—if you frequently open a spice or herb container, or forget the tight seal, your spices will wilt in flavor. We place a piece of tape with the purchase date on the bottom of our spice and herb jars, just as a guideline. Any spice or herb that lacks color, aroma and/or flavor (no matter what the date says) is ready to be replaced.

Red spices, such as red pepper flakes, chili powder, cayenne pepper and paprika, lose their color and potency faster than other colored spices, so keep them in the refrigerator. McCormick advises against keeping spices in the freezer, especially if they are removed for use. Condensation will form in your spice storage jars and can accelerate the loss of flavor and aroma. (We have heard of chefs freezing bulk spices that they don’t dip into until their cupboard supply runs out…but, according to McCormick, freezing does not extend the life of a spice.)

Careful how you pour: Never sprinkle spices and herbs directly from the bottle over a steaming pot (which means pretty much any pot on your stove)! Steam introduced into the bottle will hasten the loss of flavor and aroma and could cake your spice.

Whether you pour your spices into a pretty jar or shaker or use a measuring spoon, do it over a small piece of waxed paper. When the inevitable spill happens, just fold the piece of waxed paper and pour the spice back into the container.

Thanks to McCormick for Chefs (McCormickForChefs.com) for help with this tip.

More help with kitchen storage…