The Shelf Life of Spices

Spices are an important part of good cooking.  Most households have a rack full of spices, some that are seldom used.  Spices do expire and lose their flavor over time, and it’s important to know how long they last.  While using expired spices probably won’t make you sick, they will make your dishes have less pop. 

Any spice where the color has faded and doesn’t have a strong smell is probably good for the garbage. Taste a small amount of it. If it doesn’t have much flavor, once it’s cooked it won’t have good flavor either. Throw it out.

Spices should be bought in small quantities.  While that giant jar of garlic powder seems like a good buy, chances are, it will lose it flavor well before you can use it all.  Go for small jars that you use frequently. If you rarely use saffron, don’t buy it until you need it and buy the smallest jar you can find.

Where spices are stored can have an effect on how long they last.  While spice bottles look cute above the stove, this can make them expire faster. Same goes for ones lining the window and in direct sunlight. According to McCormick.com, above the dishwasher is not a good place either. Pick a cool, dark cabinet to store your spices in. 

Another great tip from McCorkmick.com is, “Try not to sprinkle spices and herbs directly from the bottle into a steaming pot. Repeated exposure to heat and moisture will hasten flavor loss and could result in caking.” They recommend measuring it away from over the pot, into a cup and then, adding to your dish.

Whole spices, such as cinnamon sticks and whole peppercorns can last between one and two years.  If kept in the freezer, they can last between two and three years. 

Ground spices, such as nutmeg, paprika, cinnamon, garlic powder and pepper can last about  six to twelve months in the pantry and stored in the freezer they’ll last about a year or two.

Blended spices, think chili powder and seasoned salt will last for about a year.  Fresh herbs, like basil and Rosemary will last for about a week. 

It’s a good idea to check your spices every six months or so and do away with whatever seems to have lost its kick. Spices that haven’t expired can make all the difference in your cooking.