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I have seen in a lot of places that spices and dried herbs need to be kept in an airtight container.

I have several container that are virtually airtight, but they have couple small holes that if filled with liquid and put upside down it would drip slowly.

Is there any harm in storing spices in this condition? Is it safe to store spices like that?

Can this very small amount of air be detrimental?

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The flavor and aroma of spices deteriorates over time, particularly when exposed to air and light. How much time? ...hard to say...but buying whole spices and grinding them yourself when needed lengthens shelf life...as does storing them in airtight containers and in a dark, cool place. Health and safety is not a concern here. Flavor and aroma is. We are talking shelf life in terms of months, not years. So, your containers (clearly not airtight) will be fine, but the quicker you cycle through your spice inventory, the better.

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  • quicker you cycle through your spice inventory, the better : nice one. – bonCodigo Oct 1 '14 at 3:58
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Moscafj's answer is technically true, but I don't think that you will have any problems with your containers.

Exposing your spices to drafts, convection and change in humidity is a bad idea, it will make them lose their aroma quicker. This is why they say "airtight container" - so you don't keep them in an open jar.

But if you have pinhole-sized holes in your spice containers, the rules of physics say that there will be very little to no air exchanged through them. They are just too small to allow for any noticeable convection, all you get is a tiny bit of diffusion. In other words, a screwed-on cap is OK, you don't need to put an o-ring beneath it :)

If you keep the container perfectly airtight, the volatiles which escape the herbs and spices will stay captured in the air around the spice. This will certainly smell better when you open the container. Also, they will lose less volatiles according to Nernst's law, because they are not surrounded by pure air, but by air in which their aromas are already dissolved. But, as I said, the air loss through not-hermetically-tight containers is so small, the difference is so small that you won't notice it. Maybe you'll need half a pinch more dried oregano to achieve the same taste intensity in a batch of sauce after some months of storage in closed vs. hermetically closed container. And the more frequently you use the spice, the less pronounced the effect, because you lose the satiated air whenever you open the container.

As far as safety is concerned: spices are shelf-stable, it doesn't matter if the container is closed or open, they are always safe to be held at room temperature.

So, as a practical matter: standard spice "shakers" are good enough, no need to caulk them shut or buy new ones.

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Every edible ingredient we use in cooking has an expiry date! It is an inevitable nature which is good and important for healthy, safety and taste. So we will encourage ourselves to store for a short period of time and eat fresh food.

As @moscafj pointed out,

"quicker cycling through spice inventory"

is a better choice. Following are what you need to be concerned when storing dry spices.

  • Air
  • Light
  • Heat
  • Humidity (moisture causes them to deteriorate and often mold, now that's a health concern)

If you are buying spices in bottles, off the shelf, those do have an expiry date. Usually those bottles are airtight. However there's a difference between commercialized, labeled spices compared to those you may make on your own or buy from a farm/a country side plantation. Due to the preservatives added into those commercialized ones (during drying process) make them last long.

We do our own spices for our own use within and outside of the country. e.g. Black Pepper, Dry Chilli, Coriander, Parsley, Fennel etc. You could do the same. You may buy dry whole seeds (if you don't grow them) and grind. As a matter of health and safety, we always use glass containers and make sure to prepare spices moderately for 6 months periods. Personally I like to use fresh spices as first choice, however certain other recipes are better cooked with dry spices (depends on the cuisine). Further, for those who do not have the access for raw ingredients, storing dry can be the only avenue.

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if u think , your spices are getting moist and losing aroma or getting spoilt, u can slightly roast them for a minute on low flame and put them back into dry containers. This way spices will last long. and regarding Herbs I am clueless.

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