Do Peppercorns Go Bad? Shelf Life and Tips on Storage

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Peppercorns are a crucial seasoning that most of us probably have in our cupboards at home.

But have you ever been cleaning your cupboard out, found a bag of peppercorns, and needed to answer the question: do peppercorns go bad?

Short Answer: 

If not marked on the box, your peppercorns should last 3-4 years. If stored correctly, however, this shelf life can be extended.

It may seem that some ingredients, like peppercorns, never seem to go off. However, it is important to keep on top of expiry dates, so you don’t eat anything that has gone bad.

In this article, we will be looking at peppercorns in detail, figuring out if they ever go bad, and giving you some tips on how best to store them.

It’s time to get spicy!

What are Peppercorns?

Peppercorns are tiny fruits that are grown on a vine.[*] They are native to India and Vietnam.

The berries are then cooked and dried to form the peppercorns you find in your pepper grinder.

The peppercorns may be ground down to form powdered pepper, but they have a shorter shelf life in this form.

Pepper is an everyday spice that adds a little extra kick to a dish. It is best when freshly ground.

Types of Peppercorns:

There are many different kinds of peppercorns that may or may not be linked together:

  • Black peppercorns- These are the most common peppercorns. They are essentially green peppercorns that have been cooked and dried out.
  • Pink peppercorns- Contrary to the name, pink peppercorns are not true peppercorns. They are actually a kind of Brazilian berry that is used in a very similar way.
  • Green peppercorns- This is the unripe version of black pepper. These berries are bright and soft and can’t be used in the same way as dried-out black peppercorns.
  • White peppercorns- These are merely black peppercorns with the skin removed. They are often ground to form white pepper. This form is less spicy than black pepper.

Learn more: Does black pepper go bad?

Do Peppercorns Go Bad?

If stored correctly, whole peppercorns can have an indefinite shelf life. The expiry date indicates optical freshness rather than a spoiling date.

It may be hard to figure out if your peppercorns have gone bad, so let’s look at what fresh peppercorns look like.

Fresh peppercorns will be:

1. Crunchy and Hard

It may sound backward, but if pepper is hard and crunchy, it means it’s at its freshest.

It should grind easily in the pepper grinder and won’t form any clumps in the grinder.

2. Spicy and Fragrant

The most obvious way to tell if peppercorns are fresh is to taste them, once you’ve freshly ground them, of course.

The pepper should be spicy and smell really peppery as its ground.

How Do You Know If Your Peppercorns Have Gone Bad?

Even though pepper has a very long shelf life, incorrect storage could cause it to go bad.

If your peppercorns have gone bad, they will be:

1. Mold Might Be Present

This is the first sign that your pepper has been stored incorrectly and must be disposed of.

This will happen if you store it near a stove or if your climate is particularly humid and you have not stored it correctly.

The mold will be stringy and white and cause the peppercorns to clump together.

2. Soft

This is another issue that happens if the peppercorns are exposed to moisture.

The peppercorns will turn soft and bouncy, which will make it hard to grind and could cause the pepper grinder to get blocked.

3. Less Hot and Flavorful

The final way to tell that you’ve kept your peppercorns for too long is by flavor.

While peppercorns past their best won’t taste bad, they will be less fragrant and flavorful. You may need to use more if you don’t have time to get fresh pepper from the shops.

How Long Until Peppercorns Go Bad?

If stored correctly, peppercorns can last for over four years.

Ground peppercorns will go bad much faster than whole peppercorns. This is because there is a larger surface area for the air to come in contact with.

If you follow our instructions below, your peppercorns will last as long as you need them to.

What is the Best Way to Store Peppercorns?

As we said earlier, peppercorns can happily live in your cupboard for years if stored correctly.

Follow these simple instructions to keep your peppercorns fresher for longer.

1. Keep away from heat and moisture.

This is the number one way to ensure that your peppercorns stay fresh.

We suggest storing them in a dark cupboard away from the stove or sink areas to keep them cool and dry.

If you are using a spice rack for organizing your spices, make sure to place it away from the stove and out of the path of direct sunlight.

2. Transfer to an airtight container

If you have bought a refill of peppercorns, we recommend transferring them from the bag or box into a sealable jar or container.

This will help keep them fresh for refilling your pepper grinder.

3. Close the cap tightly.

Exposure to air is another thing that will make your peppercorns go bad more quickly.

To remedy this, always close the lid tightly after each use and use a peppermill with a cap.

FAQ

Can I use expired black pepper?

The peppercorns’ expiry date indicates freshness rather than the pepper going bad and growing bacteria.

If you eat expired pepper, it will not make you sick.

However, I may have less flavor and spice, so you may need to use more than usual.

Can peppercorns go moldy?

As we mentioned previously, peppercorns should be kept away from moisture.

If moisture gets into the container, it could cause bacteria growth and mold. If you spot any condensation or mold in the bottle, we recommend discarding it immediately.

Can you freeze peppercorns?

While it is possible to freeze peppercorns, it is not necessary.

They have such a long shelf life that they store just fine out of the freezer. If you follow our storage tips, the peppercorns will last you for years.

Conclusion

After having an exploration into the world of peppercorns, what have we found out?

  • If stored correctly, peppercorns can last indefinitely.
  • Expired peppercorns will lose their spice.
  • Ground pepper does not last as long as whole peppercorns.

Peppercorns are an ingredient that is present in everyone’s cupboard, and now you know exactly how to store them to keep them fresh for longer.

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