Cinnamon, nutmeg, and ginger: just the thought of these spices brings up memories of a kitchen filled with delicious aromas from freshly-baked pies, cakes, or holiday breads. We rely on spices to give our favorite dishes memorable flavor and delicate aroma. It is the blend of spices that we fold into the recipes that have been passed down through generations that make them unique and tell our family story. How can you pick out Mom’s chili or apple pie from all of the others on the buffet table, by the aroma from the spices in her recipe.
However, spices can turn on you. Even though it seems like they should last forever in the spice cabinet, they do actually expire. Spices that are past their freshness date have a weaker flavor and aroma.
Leavening agents, such as baking powder, baking soda, and yeast that are out-of-date will cause your recipe to fall flat, literally. When you prepare a recipe and something tastes wrong or seems a bit off, if all of your other ingredients are okay, your spices are probably out of date. Keep reading to learn the basics about keeping your spices fresh and how to know when they have gone bad.
Correctly storing your spices will give them the longest shelf life. The best way to store your spices is in an airtight container, out of the sunlight and away from moisture. Try not to keep your spices in a cabinet next to the stove, beside the microwave, near the toaster, or above the dishwasher as the temperature and moisture from these appliances will alter the flavor of your spices and cause them to expire faster.
Keep your spices in their original container or label them properly in an airtight container of your choice. Be sure to include the expiration date listed on the original container on your homemade label. If you bought from the bulk bin, list the date you purchased the spice on your label. Do not yield to the temptation to buy extra spices on sale and then store them in the freezer. The condensation from freezing and thawing the spices will give you a soggy mess.
The Average Shelf Life
In general, whole spices will last longer than ground. The label on your spice container should indicate when they expire, but here are a few general guidelines:
- 4 years: Extracts, Seeds, and Whole Spices
- 2 years: Ground Spices
- 1 year: Spice Blends and Herbs
When to Throw Spices Out
If your spices have gotten wet you should always throw them out. Spices that are past their expiration date should also be tossed. Otherwise, use your senses of sight, smell, and taste to tell if your spices are still good.
- Fresh spices should have a bright, vibrant color. Once spices have become faded or colorless they need to go.
- You should be able to smell a strong aroma from fresh spices. If the scent has become weak or nonexistent, the spices are no longer good.
- If you prepare a recipe and the spices taste weak or flavorless, it is time to replace them.
Buying in Bulk
Buying your spices from the bulk bin can be a real money-saver if you want to try a spice and don’t want to commit to a whole jar, or if you need a lot of one spice that you cook with frequently or need for seasonal baking.
However, be cautious about bulk-bin spices. There is no way to know how long they have been in the bin and how fresh they are. Do not be tempted to bring home bulk-bin spices that are lacking a vibrant color and fragrant aroma.
Now that you know your spices are fresh are ready to use, try them in some of these flavorful recipes: