Storing dried chili peppers – whether chipotle, ancho, or another – is usually only necessary if you have far more than you can use in a few months. The drying process does extend the life of peppers considerably — they won’t spoil as quickly — but they can lose their flavor even after you dry them if you fail to store them correctly. If you do store them with the right methods and in the right environment, they can last indefinitely. Here are some of the ways you can keep your peppers usable and flavorful for as long as possible.
Store in an airtight container
You will often see it recommended that dry herbs and spices be stored in airtight containers. This is as true for dried peppers as it is for cumin or basil. The reason is that an airtight container keeps the herb or spice from losing the compounds responsible for its flavor. If you were to store dried chili peppers in a porous container where air could circulate freely, it would be less hot and less flavorful by the time you got around to using it. The longer it is stored like that, the more flavor it will lose.
Along with helping to keep your peppers flavorful, an airtight container will also help the texture. For a dried pepper to be usable, it needs to retain some amount of softness — you want it to be leathery, not hard. It should soften completely when rehydrated. Hot peppers stored in the open air or porous containers can become so hard and brittle that they are virtually impossible to hydrate. These peppers will remain hard even after lengthy soaking.
An airtight container will also keep your dried chilies away from moisture. Moisture will get absorbed by the pepper so that it becomes partially rehydrated. Even partial rehydration can eliminate the advantages of drying the peppers in the first place. Partially rehydrated peppers can develop mold and eventually spoil just like fresh peppers.
Some of your best options for airtight containers include mason jars and resealable plastic bags, but you will have to keep light-exposure in mind.
Keep dried chilies away from light
Airtight containers are not enough since dried chilies also degrade quickly in the light. Brightly colored chilies will fade to a dull gray if you store them in a well-lit environment such as in a clear container on a countertop. Make sure that your airtight container is either opaque or that you store the container itself in a dark place.
Store in cool temperatures
Like circulating air, heat will evaporate the compounds responsible for dried peppers’ flavor. Keep your peppers away from the stove until you are ready to cook them. Your spice cabinet should not be located above the stove or in any other part of your kitchen where it will be subject to high temperatures.
Freezing your dried peppers provides the right environment for maximizing their shelf life. Your freezer will provide low temperatures, darkness and absence of circulating air as long as you use a freezer bag. The freezer also protects your chilies from pests and fungi.
Rehydrate and then refrigerate
With whole dried chilies, many traditional applications require you to rehydrate them by soaking before use. You may want to do this when making an enchilada sauce or a hot sauce. The rehydration process can take 30 minutes or longer. If you want to speed things up, simply rehydrate the whole pepper ahead of time and store it in your refrigerator until needed.