Reader Tip: How to Keep Spices from Clumping

This simple tip will keep the spices on your boat from clumping.

clumping spices

Carolyn Shearlock

Got clumping spices? Actually, maybe I shouldn’t call them “clumping” — some of mine seem to have turned into concrete. Onion powder is always one of the worst!

But over the past year, combining some other tips I’ve had on storing and using spices, I’ve finally figured out how to keep my spices from clumping. This works with everything I’ve previously had problems with — salt, onion and garlic powder, Mrs. Dash, Montreal Steak Seasoning and the bulk containers of taco seasoning (not the foil packets).

Basically, they’re clumping because of moisture, and some things attract moisture more than others. So, it seemed, the trick was to prevent moisture from getting in the containers and absorb any that did.

First, a note — I didn't change the containers that I was storing my spices in. Most are in the McCormick or Great Value bottles and otherwise out in the open. I do keep my large container of salt inside a Ziploc bag and use a lidded shaker (see the ones I like) for the portion that's "out."

Okay, so here's what I did. I started by putting a few dried beans into the containers. This helps absorb any moisture that gets into the container. Rice is the traditional thing to use in salt shakers, but the problem with using it in spice containers is that rice is too small — if it's a a typical shaker container, the rice goes right through the shaker holes and into whatever I'm making. And if I was using a measuring spoon to scoop some of the spice out, I'd always get a few grains of rice as well. The beans, being larger, are much easier to deal with. Thanks to Candy Williams for that tip (she left it in the comments on Adding Flavor to Meats; another reader — LaDonna — says she uses unpopped popcorn).

And second, I've really trained myself not to shake spices over pans of hot food. The heat and steam from the cooking just really does a number on the flavor of the spice (see my article on this). But just as importantly, I've learned that the steam just instantly will clump any spice that has any sort of a tendency to have a problem.

The other day, I found this old jar of onion powder in the back of my spice area. A relic of a by-gone era, when I had clumpy spices. I obviously pushed it to the back when it got too hard to easily use the contents and I’d just forgotten about it. My current spices don’t have a problem and I’m not wasting money by throwing out bottles before they’re empty!

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