The Ultimate Shelf Life Guide to Spices

Updated on September 28th, 2020
shelf life of spices

If you’re wondering why your pepper doesn’t taste as great as you remember, it might be the expired pepper powder. You might not have noticed it, but spices can lose their flavor and freshness over time. That’s why it’s essential to check them periodically to see if they’re still good. What better period to do so than now? 

Spices are some of the essential ingredients when it comes to flavoring food. Just imagine an Indian curry without curry powder or an apple pie without cinnamon. Those recipes would not be the same without those spices.

It’s easy to take spices for granted when you use them frequently, but they require some attention, particularly when storing them.

Do Spices Go Bad?

In the great debate between ground vs. whole spices and fresh vs. dried herbs, one aspect that many people forget about is its shelf life. Is that 5-year-old bottle of paprika still good in your cabinet, or is it time to replace it? In this write-up, we’ll address the question of spice expiration dates and when it may be time to toss them off.

Do Spices Expire?

No and Yes. Spices do not fade away in a way that would make you ill to take them; however, they lose their potency in the sense that they lose their power and flavor as they pass their prime freshness. Spices are regarded to be a shelf-stable product and do not have an actual toss off date [1].

Rather, you will typically find a best-before date on the packaging of grocery-bought spices you can use to reference their replacement. This is essential to remember as you prepare for your health check-up as a health investigator may dock points from your place if your spices are past their prime their best-before date.

If you flavor your dishes with spices that are many years old, you may not achieve the seasoning you were looking for. This flavor transition is because once a spice is exposed to oxygen, it begins to degrade and oxidize.

The natural essential oils escape, which weakens the aroma, flavor strength, and color over a period. Ground spices will oxidize more rapidly than whole spices due to their increased surface area [2].

Shelf Life of Spices

An assortment of spices on the table

Every spice type has a different shelf life, which can be impacted by how they are stored and whole or ground.

Here are some basic rules about the shelf life of spices:

  • Ground spices are at their best within the initial three months of being bottled.
  • Whole spices are at their best within the initial ten months of being bottled.
  • Ground spices retain most of their freshness for two to three years.
  • Whole spices retain most of their freshness for 3-4 years.
  • Spice blends retain most of their freshness for two years.
  • Dried leafy herbs retain most of their freshness for 1-3 years.
  • Seeds retain most of their flavor for four years.
  • Fresh spices retain most of their freshness for one week.
  • Salt is the only seasoning to preserve its peak freshness indefinitely.

How Long Do Spices Last?

Various spices within a vast culinary spice library will deteriorate at multiple rates due to their natural composition. Here we have a shelf life list of some of the more general seasonings you may find in your spice cabinet.

How to Make Your Spices Last

You can take some techniques to ensure your spices’ longevity, from purchase to usage and storage.

Buying Spices Correctly

Herbs and spices in measuring spoons 

To maintain a cabinet of potent and fresh spices, it is recommended to purchase the herbs you need in moderate quantities that correctly correlate to your recipes and spice usage. Buying a pre-made kit of spices may seem like an excellent way to stock up rapidly, but this can end up in seasonings sitting in your kitchen unused and lacking in flavor.

Moreover, it is advised to shop for your seasonings and spices at well-run stores. This means that the location has a quicker shelf turnover rate, providing you with the best spices. Whenever possible, opt whole spices and grind them yourself, rather than buying pre-ground spices that will degrade more rapidly.

[Also Read: Surprising Benefits of Spices]

Practicing Proper Spice Storage

Storing your spices correctly can help ensure a more robust flavor throughout their life span. These are some techniques to help you in the best way to store spices:

  • Store spices in airtight jars/containers
  • Label the spice jar with the time /date that you purchased it by using labeling or tape stickers
  • Fully seal your spice canisters after every use
  • Store the spices in a dry and away from sunlight environment
  • Seasoning should be stored in a place with a consistent and cool  temperature
  • Red pepper spices like paprika, chili powder, and red pepper flakes can be stored in the fridge (don’t store in the freezer); all other condiments should be stored in the kitchen
  • Fresh herbs can be cleaned, chopped, and placed in an ice cube tray with broth or water to be frozen and used at a later time
  • Since heat, air, and moisture all impact spice shelf life, seasonings should be stored away from the oven. Never keep your seasonings on the ledge above the cooktop.

[Also Read: Spices for Weight Loss]

Using Spices Properly

To achieve the most powerful flavor from your spices, purchase whole spices when possible, and only grind them right before using them. When it comes to buying exotic spices that may be more expensive and rare, only by as much as you require instead of buying in bulk, keeps moisture from getting into your spice jars by measuring them out into a measuring cup or spoon away from the oven.

It is a general practice to shake ground spices directly into a pan or pot of cooking food. Moreover, this can lead to steam getting into the openings of your spice bottle and clumps form. The moisture, in turn, will fade away the flavor of your spice.

Bottom Line

Herbs and spices play essential roles in preserving and flavoring food. Dried spices and herbs have relatively long shelf lives ranging from one to four years, although the exact length of time differs depending on the kind of spice and how it’s stored and processed.

Generally, past their prime spices aren’t harmful to take, but they will lose their flavor potency and aroma. Always store your spices away from light, heat, air, and moisture to further reduce waste, prolong shelf life, and stretch your food budget further.

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