Do Spices Ever Go Bad or Expire? How Long Can They Last?

You surely don’t want to run out of some sweet sprinkles of your favorite spices in the middle of cooking, right?

And a lot of us can agree that it looks satisfying to have a rack full of them in the kitchen. However, we all know that we only use some of them if there are some occasions.

Looking at your spice collection right now makes you wonder if they expire or if you need to replace the years-old ones. the big question now is: “Do spices go bad?”

Yes and No. Spices do not necessarily go bad to the point that they might make you sick. The fact, spices lose their flavor as time goes by. Their potency quickly declines when kept in the wrong storage condition.

In this post, these are the main points that we are going to tackle about spices:

  • What is the shelf life of spices?
  • Do spices go bad? How long does it last?
  • How to tell if spices have gone bad?
  • How to store spices properly?
  • How to organize your spices in storage?
  • … And other frequently asked questions about Salt!

So, keep reading…

What Are Spices?

Spices are seasonings derived from dried parts of a plant, except for its leaves.

They are used to give flavor or color to a dish, but they’re not considered the main ingredients. Moreover, these aromatic vegetable substances also work as a preservative. ( *)

These aromatic kitchen ingredients come in different market forms: whole, ground, or broken. (*) Examples of spices are:

  • Allspice
  • Anise
  • Black Cumin
  • Black Pepper
  • Caraway Seed
  • Cardamom
  • Carom (Ajwain)
  • Cassia Bark
  • Cayenne
  • Celery Seed
  • Chili Pepper
  • Cinnamon
  • Clove
  • Coriander Seed
  • Crushed Red Pepper
  • Cumin
  • Curry Powder
  • Fennel
  • Fenugreek
  • Galangal Root Powder
  • Garlic
  • Ginger
  • Mace
  • Mustard Seeds
  • Nutmeg
  • Onion Powder
  • Paprika
  • Poppy Seeds
  • Pumpkin Spice
  • Saffron
  • Star Anise
  • Sumac
  • Turmeric

Did you know? India is now the world’s biggest consumer, producer, and exporter when it comes to spices. (*)

Note: Don't confuse spices with dried herbs. Both are entirely different. The leafy part of the dried plant falls under herbs.

What Is the Shelf Life of Spices?

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The shelf life of spices will depend on several factors, such as their type, processing, and storage condition. Note that dried whole spices can last longer than ground or powdered. Let’s talk about the shelf life of these forms.

Whole spices

Unground or whole spices hold the most extended shelf life compared to other forms. They can last up to four years as long as they’re in the proper storage condition. The great thing about whole spices is that they can hold their natural oils and flavor compound better than their powdered and grounded counterparts. Examples of whole spices are:

  • Caraway seeds
  • Cinnamon sticks
  • Cloves
  • Coriander
  • Cumin seeds
  • Fennel seeds
  • Lemongrass
  • Mustard seeds
  • Whole dried chili peppers
  • Whole nutmeg
  • Whole peppercorns

Powdered and ground spices

Generally, powdered and ground spices can last six months to three years in storage. Examples of common powdered and ground spices are:

  • Chili powder
  • Crushed red pepper flakes
  • Garlic powder
  • Ground allspice
  • Ground cardamom
  • Ground cinnamon
  • Ground paprika
  • Ground turmeric
  • Powdered ginger
  • Spice blends
Note: Whole spices have a longer shelf life than ground or powdered types. As long as you have stored them properly, the maximum shelf life of powdered whole spices can reach up to three years while four years for whole spices.

How To Tell If Spices Have Gone Bad?

Apparently, spices can lose their freshness and flavor over time. That is why you will need to check them periodically to find out if you can still use them in your recipes. They indeed need some extra attention in terms of storage. Whatever type of spice you have, here’s what you need to do to find out if they have gone bad:

1. Check the printed date.

Store-bought spices usually have an expiration date or best-by date on their label. These printed dates will tell you how long they can retain their prime in terms of flavor and quality. (*)

If you have a spice that has passed the date, it does not mean that they are already spoiled. It only tells you that it does not have the same potency as before. Typically, it is safe to use spices that have reached the date as long as they look, smell, and taste okay. However, if you have doubts about expired spices or foods in general, no one will fight you for throwing them away anyway.

2. Smell it.

Smelling your spices is the best way to tell its freshness. First, rub a small amount of the spice in question on the palm of your hand, then give it a whiff. If it smells like nothing, then it’s time for you to throw it away.

3. Check the appearance.

If you notice that the color of your spice has faded, that means goodbye. It happens when it has been significantly exposed to direct sunlight. On the other hand, excessive moisture can quickly destroy the flavor and texture of your spices. Over time, molds can potentially grow on them. Discard the spice immediately for any signs of mold growth

Note: When we say that a spice bottle has already gone bad, it implies that it has already lost most of its potency, flavor, and color. It does not mean it can make you sick. 

How To Store Spices Properly?

When it comes to storing spices, all you have to make sure of is that you should keep them away from air, heat, light, and moisture exposure so that you can maximize their shelf life. Aside from that, storing them properly can also help you save a lot of money and minimize waste. Here are the general guidelines on how to keep your spices properly:

1. Keep them in a cool and dark environment.

Our dark cupboard, drawer, or pantry is the best place to store your spices. It may look aesthetically pleasing to the eyes if you put them on an open spice rack or somewhere near your stove. However, these kinds of places will increase the likeliness for your spices to lose their potency as they become more prone to daylight exposure.

2. Close the bottle correctly after every use.

See that you close your spice’s bottle properly to prevent moisture and oxygen from ruining the potency.

3. Put them in airtight containers.

Some spices are packed in plastic bags. You will need to transfer them in non-porous containers to keep their freshness well.

Let’s discuss different types of containers to store your spices and find out which ones are the best.

Glass and ceramic containers:

The best container for your spices is made from Glass and ceramic. Why these containers? Glass and ceramic materials are easy to clean! And, as long as you seal the bottle tightly, they can prevent moisture and air from getting into your spice.

Airtight plastic containers:

Airtight plastic containers are indeed a popular choice. However, plastic containers tend to absorb the odors and colors of spices they contained before. Thus, cleaning to remove the stains and odor from the previously held spices can be pretty tricky.

Stainless steel or tin containers:

You can use stainless steel or tin containers. However, these metallic materials are heat-conductive, which can affect the quality of your spices. If this is the only type of container you have for your spices, make sure to keep them away from sources of heat such as the stovetop.

Place them in the fridge if they require refrigeration.

Note that not all spices love the coolness of your fridge. You can only do this to red spices like cayenne pepper and paprika powders to help maintain their pigment for a longer time. Aside from the red spices, you can put oil-containing seasonings such as poppy seeds and sesame seeds in the fridge as well. Refrigerating them can help prevent rancidity.

Note: Spices can last the longest they can reach as long as you have stored away from heat, air, light, and moisture.

How to Organize Your Spices the Better Way?

Besides knowing the best ways to store your spices properly, let us tell you more about how to organize them!  The kitchen can have more than 30 spices in store, but things can get disorganized and messy if you have to flip and check every label to make sure you grab the right spice for your dish. Let’s make it easy for you!

1. Figure out how to make it easy for you to find them.

It will be up to you on whichever method conveniently works for you. Here are a few suggestions on how to arrange them:

  • Alphabetically
  • By group
  • By use

2. Explore different types of spice organizers.

You can find them in different shapes and sizes in the market! Find out which design will suit your kitchen. Some spice organizers are wall-mounted, swivel, magnetic racks, sliding racks, and more!

3. Use clear spice jars.

If you’re looking for a more aesthetically pleasing arrangement, purchasing clear spice jars of the same shape and spices can give a satisfying impression.

4. Label your spices.

Labeling your spices can help you find and identify them quickly. You can write the label on the container or use stickers. Make sure you place the label where it is easy to spot them.

Frequently Asked Questions

Conclusion

Spices give life to our dishes. We may only need a few amounts of spices in our recipes, but they also deserve equal attention you give to all the other ingredients in your kitchen. Remember that whole spices have a longer shelf life than the ground or powdered ones.

You may use spices that have passed the date as long as you ensure the quality is still good. However, your spices may not hold the same level of potency and flavor once they have passed their expiration date.

Lastly, heat, light, air, and moisture are the enemies of your spices.

You have to prevent these factors from affecting the quality of your spices to maximize their shelf life.

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