Spices bring foods to life. They’re the reason that you prepare your favorite dishes or buy a certain brand of food at the store—you like how it tastes. When you run a commercial kitchen, transport spices or manage a food processing facility, preserving the flavor of spices is essential to the business’ brand and image, as well as ensuring consumer safety. With the proper humidity control for spices, you’ll make certain that you provide the highest quality, safest and most flavorful ingredients.
How Spices Lose their Flavor
Light, oxygen and humidity are spices’ biggest threats. As herbs and spices age, they naturally lose the essential oils that they contain, which leads to flavor losses. Light damages herbs and spices because they are photosensitive. Light exposure causes the ingredients—particularly pigmented spices and leafy herbs—to break down and oxidize. Exposure to oxygen, particularly at high temperatures (like a hot kitchen) also causes essential oils in spices to oxidize. Oxidation tends to be more pronounced in ground spices because they have a greater surface area exposed to the elements.
Spices are hygroscopic, so they interact with the moisture in the air. This is simple to see with salt, as it tends to clump in humid environments. Spices naturally absorb moisture in the air, leading to flavor and weight changes. This becomes particularly noticeable when you find yourself using a greater quality of spices to flavor a dish or when spices become lumpy.
When exposed to humidity, flavor losses and lumpiness are the least troubling concerns in spices. Humid air, particularly when it’s warm (like in a kitchen), promotes mold growth. Furthermore, as humidity levels in spices rise, the risk of self-heating increases. Mold not only spoils spices, it may also produce mycotoxins that are genotoxic, carcinogenic or lead to food-borne illnesses.
Humidity Control for Spices
When storing spices, it is important to remember that herbs and spices have differing water contents and relative humidity levels. In addition, some spices naturally release water vapor, such as black pepper, so you should not store them with spices that are more moisture-sensitive.
Certain spices are so hygroscopic that special packaging, like jute bags, may not suffice. The best storage conditions are those that are cool, dark and dry. Airtight, dark-colored glass containers are best for preventing oxidation and degradation. Depending on the spices in question, you may need to store some in separate environmentally controlled areas so those that are naturally moister do not affect spices that require conditions that are more arid. To ensure the health and safety of stored spices, it is wise to conduct regular sampling and analysis to monitor their microorganism levels and water activity.
Spices have a significant role in the history of food, trade and civilizations. Because it isn’t always possible to create the ideal environment for spices and other moisture-sensitive foods using HVAC systems or refrigeration units, companies look to Polygon’s custom solutions for their food storage, processing and preparation needs. Not only do custom humidity control solutions ensure the safety and flavor of spices, they increase productivity, save energy and prevent financial losses. Contact Polygon today to learn how creating the ideal conditions for your spices will benefit the bottom line.
[Photo from Maxpax via CC License 2.0]