Do Spices Expire? Here’s What You Need to Know
It's hard to part with our beloved herbs, spices and blends—they help make our meals delicious. But do spices expire? Read on to find out when it's OK to hold on, and when it's time to let go.
Do spices expire? No. But should you self-impose a lifespan on them? Yes. Even that DIY pumpkin spice you made last fall is not immune to the test of time.
The good news is that your spices won’t go bad and make you sick. The possibly pricey truth is that they will lose flavor over time (just like cocoa powder), and, of course, that defeats the purpose of using them.
How Long Do Spices Last?
Ground spices tend to lose their flavor more quickly than whole spices. And seasoning blends are even more ephemeral. Not surprisingly, the briefest lifespan belongs to fresh herbs. Here are some ballpark guidelines for freshness:
- Whole spices: These last for 4 years, and include spices like cloves, whole peppercorns, mustard seeds, caraway seeds, cumin seeds and cinnamon sticks. They have the longest lifespan, primarily because they have less surface area exposed to air, moisture and light. This helps them retain their flavor compounds and aromatic oils.
- Ground spices: These last for 2-3 years, and include staples like garlic powder, ground paprika, ground cinnamon and crushed red pepper flakes. Some might consider salt in this category, too—but salt is unique in the regard that it can be used indefinitely.
- Dried herbs: These last for 1-3 years, and include favorites like basil, thyme, oregano, rosemary, bay leaves, dill, parsley and mint.
- Spice blends: These could last from 1-3 years depending on the ground spices and dried herbs used. You can count taco seasoning, Italian seasoning and curry seasoning among these spice blends.
- Fresh herbs and spices: These are spices and herbs in their purest form, and will usually last no more than a week. Unlike the rest, they’ll most likely have to be kept in the fridge. Here’s the best way to store fresh herbs.
Can You Use Expired Spices?
Most spices don’t really have an expiration date. Barring fresh spices and herbs, which can go moldy, the use-by date on most spices and herbs is more of a suggestion rather than an instruction.
Expired spices and herbs won’t make you sick—the best-by date simply lets you know when they’re likely to start losing flavor and color. Once you hit that mark, they’re safe to use, but they might not give your dishes the kick you’re looking for.
When Should You Throw Away Spices?
Spices are definitely one of the pantry items we keep for too long, so you might need to do a check a couple of times a year to see what you need to discard. There are some easy ways to figure out if your spices are past their prime. When you open a spice jar, you should notice a pungent smell from the flavors inside. Also, check for bright colors; if you’re seeing faded greens, reds or yellows, those spices might be past their prime.
If you prefer to get hands-on, try rubbing or crushing some of the spice in your hands. If the smell or taste is uninspiring, time to toss your spices and go shopping. Still not sure? You can always go by the best-by date on the jar.
Can I Revive My Spices?
Those spices were expensive, so of course, you might find yourself asking if there’s a way to avoid replacing them entirely. You can possibly bring your spices back to life by toasting them—though there’s no guarantee it’ll work every time and for every spice. All you have to do is toss your spices in a skillet over medium heat and toast them for one to three minutes while shaking the pan or stirring to make sure it’s even. The spices are done when they’re releasing a strong fragrance!
To get the best results from this method, keep a few things in mind: first, only toast as much as you need. A whole bottle is unlikely to work out as well. Make sure you also keep a close eye on your spices so they don’t burn—that burnt smell is impossible to get rid of, so you’ll have to start over if you keep them on the heat too long.
How to Make Spices Last
Buy in small quantities
We get it. It’s hard to resist those deliciously aromatic jars. But the more spices you have to choose from, the less likely they are to get used up during their prime.
Try to buy spices in smaller containers unless you know you’ll go through a lot of one spice, and maybe even make your own spice blends at home.
Here’s how you can save money on spices.
To max out the life of your beloved spices, store them in tightly closed glass or heavy-duty plastic containers in a cool, dry place. Bonus points if the container is dark. Avoid storing them in direct sunlight, over the stove or near other heat sources. Moisture is also not their friend, so no more shaking the container over a bubbling pot on the stove. Instead, measure the spices away from the pot, then add using your measuring spoon.
Need to know which spices to get? Our round-up of essential spices will complete your kitchen!