Spices: For Flavor, Not Forever
Spices are often accumulated over time, growing as we discover how to season foods to our liking. However, if you were jamming out to a Sony Walkman the last time you went through your spices, it might be time to give the ole’ collection a refresh. Even if your spices are relatively new, everyone picks up a spice container and wonders, “Does this expire?”
Shelf Life of Spices
Instead of spoiling, spices past their prime lose flavor and potency. They can even contribute to musky or odd flavors that can ruin your favorite dishes. That’s what we call a Bummer with a capital B. To avoid this, remember that:
- Ground spices and blends (nutmeg, cinnamon, and turmeric) last 4-8 months
- Herbs (basil, oregano, and parsley) last 1-2 years
- Whole spices (cloves, peppercorns, cinnamon sticks) last 4 years
- Seeds last 4 years (except for poppy and sesame seeds that have a shelf life of 2 years)
- Extracts last 4 years (except vanilla, which lasts forever)
The Test of Thyme
Not sure when you bought the spice? Can’t find the expiration label, AKA, the King of hide and seek? Don’t panic! Instead, use your senses.
- The Smell Test: Sprinkle the spice or herb in your hand. Is the aroma weak? Flavor seemingly on vacation? Then it is time to salute the spices for a job well done and officially retire them to the trash.
- The Color Test: Is the color of your herb or spice vibrant? If the color has faded, the flavor has most likely also faded.
As a rule of thumb, spices and blends with strong aroma, vibrant color, and proper storage in an air-tight container void of heat, moisture, and sunlight will carry the maximum flavor. By knowing when to replace your spices, you can continue enjoying your favorite deeply flavorful foods and discover new ones.