Your spices could be playing host to a variety of pantry pests. Spice bugs are moths (or their larvae) that are found in whole, ground spices, and herbs. They may also infest nearby areas such as cabinets or countertops. It’s not uncommon to find a colony of bugs in any pepper-like spice such as paprika, cayenne pepper, and chili powder. Cloves, allspice, and cinnamon are also very vulnerable. You may be wondering why these little critters would even want to inhabit your pantry in the first place. After all, there’s nothing there for them to eat or drink!
If you find spice bugs munching away in your spice cabinet, don’t worry – they’re not coming for you! They’re actually after the spices themselves. As larvae grow into adulthood, they need more space to spread out their wings. Spices make an ideal hiding spot (and new home) because no one really thinks about checking inside each individual container. Recommended Read: 9 Best Essential Oils that Repel Roaches
Spice bugs are the size of sesame seeds (the most common are cigarette beetles and drugstore beetles) and can fit into tiny spaces within containers. They’re able to survive in extremely small places for months at a time without any food or water. It’s not uncommon to find spice bugs in old spice jars, where others will often lay eggs.
Check out this video on spice bugs by NBC news:
Why do these bugs come for my spices?
There are a few reasons why spices can become home to these pesky bugs. One of the most common is due to too much moisture in the air or near your spice cabinet, which encourages mold and attracts these insects.
But the main reason is that spices are rich in minerals and vitamins. The family of spicy foods we consider hot or spicy seems to contain the basic nutritional requirements necessary for spice bugs to thrive and survive.
A solution is simple.
The best solution is to freeze some of your spices because they become so cold that they “freeze” and are killed instantly. Once you get home, put your new spices in the freezer for four days at 0 degrees Fahrenheit before you place them in your cabinets.
You can also choose to buy spices in small amounts to use in your cooking as soon as you bring them home, or make sure that they are already ground so that the spice bugs at a minimum have their nutrients stripped.
Another strategy is to buy spices in hermetically sealed containers, with a few cracks or openings as possible. Or try inspecting the spice jar at the store—looking for damaged packaging, and checking for larvae and beetles inside. Once you’re home, check them again before using any of the spices.
You can also try leaving your spices in a warm, sunny location for several days to kill any bugs that might be inside or on the outside of the packaging. Simply place your spice containers on an open window sill and leave them there for a few days before putting them in your cabinets. While this method is effective, make sure it doesn’t get too hot—exposure to excessive heat may damage or even ruin your spices overall! And remember to keep checking it as well during and after these few days.
Another solution is to store your spices in the refrigerator where there is a constant temperature of 38 degrees Fahrenheit, which isn’t freezing but lower than room temperature and low enough to kill spice bugs. Or you can wrap them in airtight plastic bags and then place them in a drawer.
You could also have on hand a supply of herbs or ground powder that you will use immediately so it doesn’t sit around in cabinets until it has had time to infest with the little critters living on your spices!
Something more practical than this, which is used often by cooks who own restaurants and places where a lot of food preparation goes on, is using small amounts of essential oil (lemon balm seems to be effective) in vinegar as its smell repels these insects from coming in close contact with the spices.
If none of these ideas work for you, seal up any unused portions of your spices into airtight plastic freezer bags
Last but not least: if you are ever unsure about whether or not something contains bugs or larvae, just throw it out. It’s better to be safe
Spice bugs are pesky and gross to imagine but they are not life-threatening, just think before you read this post you didn’t know they existed.