Step 1: Purchase whole spices, not ground
The most important thing you can do to maximize the flavor of your spices is to purchase them whole, not ground. Ground spices tend to deteriorate after about three months, especially if stored improperly. Whole spices, on the other hand, can last several years. If small amounts are needed, crush with a rolling pin; for larger amounts, grind in a coffee grinder.
Step 2: Dry and dark is best
Spices are best preserved if stored in a dry, dark space. Light, air, moisture and heat are spices' biggest enemies. These four factors keep spices from performing at their highest potential. Avoid clear bottles for storage, especially if using a spice rack hanging on your kitchen wall, as the spices will be exposed to too much light. Steel tins and canisters work best to ensure lightproof storage. Also, make sure spice racks are never kept above a dishwasher or oven, which will expose them to heat and affect the flavor.
Step 3: Where to store them
Though it’s best to keep spices in a dry cabinet, you can store larger backup supplies in the fridge or freezer. Whole spices can be stored in the freezer for up to three years and ground spices up to six months. Do not store small amounts of spices in the fridge or freezer, as this will trap humidity once it’s opened. It is always best to purchase smaller amounts of spices instead of buying in bulk.
Step 4: Know when to throw them out
Even though storing spices properly helps maintain freshness and flavor, everything does expire eventually and it’s important to know when to throw old spices out. A good rule of thumb is once a year; an easy way to remember when you need fresh spices is to throw them out every Thanksgiving or every New Year. Or you can write the purchase date on top of each spice so you can track it. If the spice begins smelling musky or has no odor, or changes color, you’ll want to replace it. The spice will have degraded and won’t be able to flavor the food as it should.
More on spices
7 Super spices for super health
Herbs and spices: Their health benefits
Spice up — and save — your life