Most of the flavour and aroma of spices comes from oils and these are quite volatile—so keeping your spices fresh is all about keeping these oils locked in.
1. Buy small quantities at a time (even if you use some spices, like turmeric, all the time). Large budget packs seem cheaper, but it’s a false economy if you end up with stale ingredients.
2. Spices don’t have to be kept in the dark, but do avoid direct sunlight and store in a cool, dry part of the kitchen. Heat and light break down all-important oils, affect the flavour and also degrade the antioxidants.
3. Ignore the best-before dates; the easiest way to tell if a spice is still potent is to have a sniff. If it’s pleasant and pungent, it’s OK to use. Don’t do this with chilli though!
4. It’s best to store your spices in alphabetical order. When a cupboard is full of jars and packets, it’s difficult to see what you’ve got. This will help you avoid buying duplicate packets. (One spice BH editors say deserves a constant spot in your spice rack? Cardamom!)
5. The best way to buy spices is to get them whole, then grind them as needed—the flavour and aroma of whole spices tend to be more stable. You can use a mortar and pestle or a spice/coffee grinder for this.
Next, read about why you should add herbs and spices to your diet with reckless abandon.