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Saturday, September 4, 2021

Herbs and Spices in Your Food Storage Plan

We've all heard the tales of someone somewhere being snowed in a cabin in the mountains and having only a sack of beans to survive on. And then of getting so tired of eating those beans day in and day out that drastic measures were taken to flavor the beans. And the seasonings they used that stuck in my mind were shoe leather and wallpaper paste. My husband has an uncle somewhere along the line that purportedly experienced one of those nothing-but-beans-to-eat-type winters.

It has never sounded like much fun to me.

If I'm eating a lot of beans, and our plan does involve at least a few beans, I've got to have a wide variety of seasonings for them. You can never have too much in the way of herbs and spices, right?

Well, actually, you can. See, there are lots of prepping sites and survival bloggers out there telling you how much to store of whatever, but no one ever offers any suggestions for spices. While preference in spices is definitely going to vary from one family to the next, it still would be nice to be able to get some kind of general idea of how much we want. Most people keep small spice bottles in the kitchen and never pay any attention to how much those containers actually hold or how long they last for their family. I know I didn't.

So when I went to place my first online order for spices and herbs, I bought a lot. When you consider that whole herbs are considered to have a shelf life of 1-2 years and whole spices 3-4 years, I seriously overbought. However, I vacuum-sealed all of them in canning jars, and that saved my keister.

When you buy herbs and spices from Costco and Sam's, you can see exactly how much you're getting and thus visualize how many jars you're going to need for longer-term storage. When you buy online, it's a different matter. Exactly how much, volume-wise, is that half-pound bag of Greek oregano selling for $3.30? Would you have guessed almost three quarts? I sure wouldn't have, or I'd have gotten only one bag.

Where to get bulk spices and herbs online? I've heard very good things about, but have no personal experience. I have placed a few orders with San Francisco Herb Company (; no, I do not receive any kind of recompense or benefit from mentioning them), and I've been pleased with their products and service. And I've had friends order online as well as visit their store in San Francisco, and they've also been happy.

I was planning to share here how many quarts a pound of spice or herb filled, and my best recollection for how fast my family of seven went through it. However, San Francisco Herb now includes the volume in their product descriptions. So even if you choose to order through another company, you can still see how much you're getting, volume-wise. So I'll omit the volume information and just include the weight and how long it lasted us. For what it's worth, we only have chili once or twice a month, we do like Mexican and Italian food, and because we're all wimps, nothing is spicy hot. And I'm sorry if I don't cover your favorite herbs and spices. This is just what we use here.

Basil 8 ounces 3 years
Garlic, powder* 2 ounces 1 year
Garlic, minced, dried* 1 ounce 1 year
Marjoram 8 ounces 5 years
Mustard 8 ounces 2 years
Onion, powder** 2 ounces 1 year
Oregano 8 ounces 2 years
Parsley 4 ounces 3 years
Rosemary 8 ounces 3 years
Sage 16 ounces 7 years
Thyme 8 ounces 4 years

Allspice, whole 16 ounces 9 years
Black pepper, ground 16 ounces 1 year
Black pepper, whole*** 8 ounces ??
Chili powder, 16 ounces 1 year
Cinnamon 16 ounces 1 year
Cloves, whole 16 ounces 9 years
Cumin 16 ounces 1 year
Ginger 16 ounces 3 years
Paprika 16 ounces 3 years

*According to this table, my garlic usage would appear to be very low. However, I became a slave to using the minced garlic that is sold in jars and kept in the refrigerator. I still have dried garlic; I just don't rotate through it well.
**I use onion powder only when I'm in an extreme hurry. I prefer fresh onions. And I also have at least ten #10 cans of dried onions.
*** I have no idea how long whole black pepper will last us. I know I'm really lazy to buy the pre-ground pepper and not rotate whole black pepper. We're all bad about rotating something, right? Right?
****I don't know. I use it every once in a while, but I never buy it. My husband's world will entirely collapse without nutmeg, and if he can't find it in the spice cabinet in 2.5 seconds, it means he needs to buy another bottle. I think we have enough to supply our entire valley for a year.

Because I think I'll be able to grow herbs post-collapse, I'm not concerned about having a huge supply on hand. But most spices do not grow here. I keep thinking about the spice trade of the colonial era. I can't imagine paying the exorbitant prices that people did. Maybe it's the normalcy bias of an abundant supply of cheap food my entire life. Not sure. So I stock up well on spices.

To retain freshness as long as possible, you'll want to vacuum-seal in canning jars or mylar bags. I'm always worried about mice, so I prefer canning jars. And yes, as is noted by vacuum-sealer-using people everywhere, the fine dust of spices can apparently clog up your sealer. While lots of people use coffee filters or cupcake liners to form a barrier between the spices and the sucking part of the sealer, I prefer to use food storage bags. Simple, lightweight food storage bags, not zippered bags. They're like sandwich bags, but bigger. Because I live in earthquake country, I'm always concerned about jars breaking in a disaster. If a jar breaks, the food is wasted. But if the jar has only a minor break and the integrity of the bag isn't compromised, then the food will still be good. So I use the bag and then lightly twist it at the top so that air can still be sucked out. So far, it's worked very well.

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