How do you know when kitchen herbs and spices are no longer good to use? Learn how to test for freshness, and grab these tips to ensure your dry herbs and spices used for cooking last as long as possible.
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What You Need to Know
We’re talking about the dried herbs and spices used for cooking.
The top questions people ask are:
- How long do herbs and spices last?
- How can I tell when they have gone bad?
- What is the best way to store herbs and spices so last as long as possible?
Here’s the good news/bad news:
- Dry herbs and spices do not actually go bad—they just gradually lose their strength/flavour and aroma over time.
So, while using herbs and spices that are many years old will probably not cause any harm, neither will they provide any significant seasoning to your cooking.
How long a dry herb or spice lasts will depend on:
- How fresh they were when purchased and what it is: spices last longer than herbs.
- Whether the item is whole, crushed, or ground. Generally, the less processed, the more the natural, flavour-providing oils are maintained.
I checked numerous sources including companies that manufacture and distribute culinary herbs and spices and their advice does vary quite a bit.
Very generally speaking, with proper storage (more on this, below):
- Dry herbs: 1-3 years.
- Ground spices: 2-4 years.
- Whole spices (not ground): 4 years.
- Blends or mixes of herbs and spices: 1-2 years
- Seeds: 4 years
- Poppy and sesame seeds: 2 years
Random trivia point: pure vanilla extract does not go bad and has an indefinite shelf life.
What’s the Difference Between Herbs and Spices?
Herbs come from the leafy part of the plant.
- Celery leaves
Spices come from other parts of plants and trees, including roots and seeds.
Here are some examples:
- Berry – pepper
- Buds – cloves, saffron
- Bark – cinnamon
- Fruit – allspice
- Pit – nutmeg
- Root – ginger
- Seeds – cumin, mustard, poppy, sesame, vanilla (beans)
You want to minimize exposure to light, moisture, and air.
- Those cute little racks filled with glass spice bottles that sit near your cooking stove? Not good! The heat is going to age your herbs and spices and the humidity is going to bloat them. If you have room, find a cool, dry location instead. Also, avoid storing them near other heat and steam-generating appliances including the dishwasher, coffee pot, and rice cooker.
Choose airtight containers, preferably ones that do not allow light in.
- Years ago, I bought these stainless-steel canisters (about 3” tall) and printed clear labels on my computer. These have worked very well because the lids fit snugly, to keep out air, light, and moisture.
- Measure your herbs and spices away from heat and steam sources to avoid introducing these things into the storage containers. You’ll also avoid measuring mistakes if you measure into a secondary dish before adding them to your cooking pot.
- Be certain your measuring spoon is clean and dry before use.
From what I’ve read, no, it is not recommended for two reasons.
- Many manufacturers say the life of dry herbs and spices is not extended with freezing.
- Fridges and freezers are likely to introduce condensation into the bags or containers which will actually shorten their lifespan.
As mentioned, with proper storage, dried herbs and spices will not go bad or rancid, but they will lose their colour, flavour, and aroma, which makes them useless in cooking.
The best thing you can do is get to know them.
- Always write the purchase date on the packet or bottom of the storage container.
- Have a look at the colour and texture. Smell the aroma. Taste a small amount to learn what it contributes to your cooking.
This not only helps to make you a better cook, but, also makes it much easier to recognize a seasoning that is no longer vibrant enough to use.
- To ensure freshness, buy more frequently and share the purchase with a friend.
- If there are certain combinations you use frequently, premix them so they are ready to go. This is helpful for things like taco mix, rib rub, soup seasonings, curries, and more.
While dried herbs and spices used for cooking do not go bad, they do lose their colour, flavour, and aroma over time. With proper storage in airtight containers in a cool, dark location, away from heat and moisture, you can get the longest life out of them. Also, get familiar with the tastes and smells so you know how they contribute to your cooking and the characteristics of freshness.
~Melissa the Empress of Dirt ♛
- How to store fruits and vegetables to extend freshness | Free Printable Checklist