Home cooks are unfortunately plagued by clumps of spices, but why does it happen and what can you do about it? The best way to prevent spices from clumping is to keep them away from moisture. As moisture accumulates, it will bind the spices together slowly and solidify them. For a better experience, we recommend replacing the shaker cap with an airtight lid. Discover how you can get rid of this problem for good below!
How Do Spices Clump?
The “how” is more important than the “why.” Once you understand how spices clump, you can apply this principle to any powdered food. Moisture is the only factor responsible for clumping. The moisture in the air can take a heavy toll on fine powders like spices and seasoning blends, even when they’re visible. A seasoning consists of small, crystal-like particles cascading over each other with very small gaps between them. These gaps are what keep the powder free-flowing.
Powder particles are bonded together when they are exposed to moisture, such as when shaking the container over a steaming pot. You might only see isolated clumps around the spice’s surface with lighter exposures, but as more water molecules fill in, the spice will eventually firm up and solidify.
Depending on the ingredient, different spices clump at different rates. Some seasonings, like garlic and onion powders, clump up more quickly, while others, like red chili powder, take longer.
The Role Of Anti-Caking Agents
When discussing commercial ingredients, you might have heard the term anti-caking agent. Anti-caking agents are ingredients that absorb excess moisture or chemicals that coat ingredients to make them water-resistant. Initially, complaints about clumped spices were very common, hurting powdered products’ reputation. It wasn’t a quality problem, but rather a storage problem that caused brands to clump up – and this was not the fault of the brand, but rather of the storage system!
It is inevitable that moisture will creep inside and bind with powders when they are improperly stored. Keeping your spices in an airtight jar won’t prevent them from clumping, especially if you live in a humid climate. Spice manufacturers began adding anti-caking agents to address this issue.
Some anti-caking agents are also used in cosmetics and other industrial products. There are over 18 types of anti-caking agents. Aluminosilicate sodium is the most common powder in the food industry, including spices.
In other words, you should try to avoid anti-caking agents whenever possible, as they are chemicals that your body doesn’t need. Most food-grade agents are approved by numerous health agencies, but in a growing health-conscious world, you should have the choice! What can you do to prevent homemade spice blends from clumping? Enter: best practices!
Best Practice For Storage
You can reduce or eliminate clumps in any spice blend by following these best practices!
1. Replacing The Cap
The first thing you need to do is get rid of the perforated cap that comes with most spice containers. Spice shaker caps may look convenient, but they will only ruin the quality of spices! As you shake the bottle over a steaming pot, you invite moisture inside. If you do this several times, it will quickly seize up. The perforated cap should be replaced with one that protects the spices from the environment.
There is moisture everywhere, and most spices have a shelf life of about 1–2 years. If you keep them in a separate cabinet, chances are they will still accumulate moisture and clump up, because they are perforated. Your spices are literally just one rainy, humid day away from ruin! Use airtight glass containers instead of plastic containers for most seasonings if you prefer to use your own containers. This will increase shelf life and quality.
2. Quick Usage
The most common mistake people make is to leave the container cap open until the food has been cooked. Getting a hold of the spices and keeping them away from the heat will go a long way in ensuring the quality of the spices.
Taking out a bit of the spices and resealing the container is the best way to use them – then your spices can be used as you normally would. Leaving the cap open during cooking will not only invite moisture, but also cause spills if stray water drops fall from the boiling pot.
3. Ventilate Your Kitchen
To avoid clumps, a simple tip is to ensure that your kitchen is properly ventilated. This is just as important as any of our other best practices. Cooking will drastically change the moisture level in your kitchen – perhaps even enough to affect improperly stored spices.
You can prevent moisture from building up when you cook by opening a window or turning on the exhaust. The powdered spices should also be kept in a cabinet that remains cool and dark, preferably one that isn’t near the stove.
Here are some questions we thought you may have now that you know how to keep spices from clumping.
Can you grind clumped-up spices?
It is possible to break down the seasoning using a food processor if there aren’t too many lumps. Check the spices for lumps after grinding them for 10–15 seconds, then transfer them to an airtight container.
Are clumped spices a sign of spoilage?
Changes in spice texture may not just be the result of moisture exposure. Spices can sometimes clump up and even form web-like clumps if they go bad. This can also indicate an infestation. If you see drastic changes in spices, you should always discard them.