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 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.
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 flowers||1-2 years|
|Seeds and barks||2-3 years|
|Ground spices and herb leaves||1 year|
|Ground roots||2 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:
I buy spices from a big box store or ethnic store.
Clean and prepare a variety of Mason jars and lids.
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.
I use the FoodSaver canning jar attachment. You can find it on Amazon here.
It fits any size jar, even the little bitty ones
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.
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.
I also mix my own blends like garlic salt and Italian seasoning so I often just write the recipe right on the top.
So here's my parsley. The little jar I use all the time and my storage vacuum packed jar.
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.