Don’t bug out, keep your spices pest and moisture free this monsoon.
The monsoon. The double-edged sword of Indian weather conditions. For every relief and blessing it brings, there’s an annoyance that goes hand-in-hand. For four or five months of the year, we’re forced to adjust to the reign of the eternally damp and though modern conveniences make that a fairly bearable task, there are some small aspects that can really be quite a nuisance.
One room of the house that doesn’t fare well in high humidity is the kitchen. Perishables and fresh produce accumulate mould at the slightest provocation and then all your store cupboard staples start to develop their own ecosystems. The spice rack is a particularly hard blow as your carefully curated collection gloms itself together into a solid mass.
But clumping isn’t even the worst-case scenario for spices. Oh no, a much more horrifying fate could be in the cards. There’s nothing quite as stomach-churningly horrifying as opening up your chilli powder for a sprinkle and realised that it’s moving – and yes, this is, unfortunately, an opinion born of first-hand experience.
While we're all for bugs being the protein of the future, we'd would rather not have them invading our food without invitation. The small brown bugs and their accompanying larvae are the product of a platoon of Cigarette Beetles. Named after the tobacco in which they were first found, this curious bug has evolved to derive nutrition from food sources that don’t usually offer nutrition – such as tobacco and spices.
The good (or perhaps bad) news is that this usually has nothing to do with the cleanliness of your kitchen. In fact there is evidence to suggest that these bugs make it into spice packets during the processing period and come home with you from there. But there are a few tips and tricks to keeping your spices fresh, bug-free and clump-less through the monsoon and hopefully for the rest of the year too.
Keep your eyes peeled
Inspect the product before bringing it home if you can and avoid choosing items with damaged or dusty packaging.
Freeze ‘em out
Before transferring spices to the kitchen cupboard, keep them in the freezer for 3-4 days to ensure any bugs or larvae die quietly.
Less is more
Try to buy small portions of spices to ensure maximum freshness. But if you do buy in bulk, keep them in sealed containers in the freezer until you’re ready to use them.
Stay clean, queen!
This one’s a bit of an obvious one, but keeping your kitchen clean and mopping up any spills as fast as possible reduces the chance of attracting bugs.
Keep them secret, keep them safe
Store spices away from any heat sources, light and direct moisture.
Give them company
Add some dried beans or rice to the spice container to absorb any extra moisture in the jars.
Use them wisely
Shaking the spice containers directly over hot food encouraged moisture and bacterial growth within the container, so try and use a spoon to measure out your spice requirement.