Assortment of spices in wooden spoons and box, on wooden background

How To Keep Spices From Clumping

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Clumped-up spices are unfortunately a common annoyance that plagues many home chefs, but why does it happen and what can you do to stop it?

How to keep spices from clumping? The best way to keep your spices from clumping is to keep them away from moisture. As moisture accumulates, it will slowly solidify the spices by binding them. We also recommend that you swap out the shaker cap with an airtight lid for a better experience.

Read below to learn more about how you can get rid of this problem once and for all!

How Do Spices Clump?

The “how” of this question is more important than the “why.” Once you understand how spices clump, you can apply the same strategy to any powdered food!

If you could blame clumping on just one factor, it would be moisture.

Even when you can see it, moisture is all around us and it can take a heavy toll on fine powders like spices and seasoning blends. 

If you put a seasoning under a microscope, you will see small, crystal-like particles cascading over each other with very small gaps in between. These gaps are what keep the powder free-flowing.

But as soon as you expose the powder to moisture, like when you shake the container over a steaming pot, the water molecules fill up these gaps and cause dissolution, which bonds the particles. 

With lighter exposures, you might only see isolated clumps at different parts of the spice (mostly around the surface). But over time, as more and more water molecules fill the gap, the spices will eventually firm up and solidify. 

Different spices clump at different rates, but this comes down to the type of ingredient.

For example, garlic and onion powders are notorious for clumping, while other seasonings like red chili powder will clump up at a slower rate.

The Role Of Anti-Caking Agents

You might have read or heard this term when discussing commercial ingredients. Anti-caking agents are ingredients that absorb excess moisture or chemicals that coat the ingredients to make them more water-resistant.

Initially, complaints about clumped-up spices were very common — so much so that it eventually hurt the perception of powdered products. 

People started to deem brands that clumped up to be of inferior quality — but this wasn’t a quality problem, but rather a storage issue!

When powders are improperly stored, moisture always finds a way to creep inside and bind with the powder. 

Even if the spices are kept in an airtight jar, not following a few basic best practices will lead to clumping, especially if you live in a humid environment.

To address this issue, manufacturers started to add anti-caking agents to their spices. 

There are over 18 different types of anti-caking agents, but not all of them are used for foods. Some of them are also used for cosmetics and other industrial products.

In the context of food, sodium aluminosilicate is the go-to choice for many food-based powders, including spices.

But here’s the thing: anti-caking agents are chemicals that your body doesn’t need. In other words, you should try to avoid them when possible!

Sure, most food-grade agents are approved by numerous health agencies, but in a growing health-conscious world, you should be able to choose what you put in your body!

So, what can you do with homemade spice blends to keep them from clumping? Enter: best practices!

Best Practice For Storage 

Follow these best practices to reduce and/or eliminate clumps in any type of spice blend! 

1. Replacing The Cap

First of all, just get rid of the perforated cap that comes with most spice containers — you don’t need it!

The shaker cap may look like a convenient way to sprinkle spices over food, but it’s only going to ruin the quality of the spices!

When you shake the spices over a steaming pot, you invite moisture by literally forcing it inside as your shake the bottle. Do this a couple of times and you will seize up the entire bottle in a matter of days!

This is why we recommend that you replace the perforated cap with one that keeps the spices protected from the environment. 

Remember: moisture is everywhere, and most spices usually have a shelf life of about 1–2 years. So, even if you keep them in a separate cabinet, chances are that they will still accumulate moisture and clump up because of the perforated cap.

You will literally be just one rainy and humid day away from ruining all your spices! 

If you like to use your own containers, then we encourage you to ditch the plastic containers that most seasonings come in and use airtight glass containers to increase shelf life and quality.

2. Quick Usage 

A common mistake that many people make is that they tend to leave the cap of the container open until the food has been cooked!

We get it: in the heat of the moment, everything is a mess in the kitchen — but just tightening the cap and keeping the spices away from the heat will take you very far in the overall quality of your spices.

The best way to use the spices is to first take out a bit of it in the cap or measuring spoon and then reseal the container — then you can use the measured spices as you normally would. 

Never expose the container to steam! Leaving the cap open while the food cooks will not only invite moisture, but may also cause unwanted spills — even worse, stray water drops spewing out of a boiling pot might end up inside the container! 

3. Ventilate Your Kitchen 

A final tip on how to avoid clumps is to properly ventilate your kitchen. This is a simple tip, but it’s just as important as any of the other best practices that we have discussed above. 

When you fire up the stove and pots, the moisture levels in your kitchen will drastically change — maybe even enough to affect improperly stored spices. 

Open up a window or turn on the exhaust to keep the moisture from building up when you’re cooking!

Also, if you keep the spices in a cabinet that is near the stove, then we highly recommend that you shift all the powdered spices to a cabinet that remains cool and dark. 

Related Questions 

Now that you know how to keep spices from clumping, here are some related questions we thought you might have.

Can you grind clumped-up spices?

If the seasoning does not have a lot of lumps, then you may break them down using a food processor.

Simply grind the clumped-up seasoning for 10–15 seconds and check for lumps, then shift the spices into an airtight jar.

Are clumped spices a sign of spoilage?

A change in texture in any type of spice may not just be caused by exposure to moisture. Sometimes, when spices go bad, they can clump up and even form web-like clumps. This can also be a sign of infestation!

Either way, you should always discard spices that show drastic changes. 

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