Learn the best way to store dry herbs and spices for best flavor and how to know when it’s time to replace them.
For other recommended food storage options see the best way to store fresh fruits and vegetables.
Top Tips for Storing Herbs & Spices
The right herbs and spices make or break a recipe—so much so that it seems pointless to cook without them.
And what a waste to cook a favorite dish only to discover the seasonings didn’t deliver as promised.
This can happen when the seasonings are too old or have not been stored properly. Instead of flavorful, the food is bland.
These tips share how to properly store your seasonings to retain flavor and aroma as long as possible and how to tell when it’s time to replace them.
- About Herbs & Spices
- Herb & Spice Storage Times
- The Best Way to Store Herbs & Spices
- Buying, Cooking & Organization Tips
- Frequently-Asked Questions
- How Can I Tell if My Seasonings Are No Longer Good?
- Should I Store Dried Herbs and Spices in the Fridge or Freezer?
- What Can I Do With Old Herbs & Spices?
About Herbs & Spices
If you’re wondering whether your herbs and spices may be spoiled or rancid, no worries.
Herbs and spices don’t’ go “bad.” Instead, they gradually lose their potency (flavor and aroma) over time. So, they don’t really go bad, they just become less good.
Using herbs or spices that are many years old will probably not cause any harm, but neither will they provide any significant seasoning to your cooking.
You’ve probably already experienced this at some point. You make a soup with all your favorite, fresh ingredients and, despite all that goodness, it’s seriously lacking in flavor. Those old, outdated seasonings that have been sitting in your kitchen for years may be to blame. We may try to revive it with added salt, but that deliciousness that the right seasonings bring is just not there.
That’s where a good storage system can help avoid this waste and ensure you have fresh seasonings on hand as needed.
What’s the Difference Between Herbs & Spices?
Herbs come from the leafy part of a plant.
Spices come from other parts of trees and plants including bark, stems, roots, and seeds.
Here are a few examples:
- Berry – pepper
- Buds – cloves, saffron
- Bark – cinnamon
- Fruit – allspice
- Pit – nutmeg
- Root – ginger
- Seeds – cumin, mustard, poppy, sesame, vanilla (beans)
When it comes to cooking, we tend to use the words herb, spice, and/or seasoning interchangeably.
Herb & Spice Storage Times
How Long Do Dried Herbs & Spices Last?
The shelf life depends on:
- How fresh they were when purchased.
- What it is: spices last longer than herbs.
- Whether the spice is whole, crushed, or ground. Generally, the less processed, the better the natural, flavor-producing oils are maintained.
I checked multiple sources including brands that manufacture and distribute culinary seasonings including McCormick and the storage guidelines vary—but they are all within a year or so of each other.
If you have not had good luck with herbs keeping their freshness, besides following the best practices for storage (listed below), stick to the low end of the times listed and you should be fine.
Dry Herbs | 1 to 3 Years
- Bay leaves
- Caraway leaves
- Celery leaves
Herb and Spice Blends | 1 to 2 Years
- Seasoning blends (various)
- Garam masala
Ground Spices | 2 to 4 Years
- Allspice (ground)
- Caraway (seeds)
- Cardamom (ground)
- Chili powder
- Cinnamon (ground)
- Garlic powder
- Ginger (powdered)
- Paprika (ground)
- Red pepper flakes (crushed)
Whole Spices (not ground) | 4 Years
- Caraway seeds
- Chili peppers (whole, dried)
- Cinnamon sticks
- Cumin seeds
- Fennel seeds
- Mustard seeds
- Nutmeg (whole)
- Peppercorns (whole)
Seeds | 2 Years
Items With Indefinite Shelf Life
- Pure vanilla extract
The Best Way to Store Herbs & Spices
Dried herbs and spices do best with:
- Air-tight containers.
- Away from heat and humidity.
- Cool, dark cupboard (not the fridge).
- Minimal exposure to light, moisture (humidity), and air.
You know those cute little racks filled with glass spice bottles that sit nicely on the back of your range (stove)?
The heat and steam from cooking will age your herbs and spices and the humidity will bloat them.
It’s the same problem with the drawer next to the range.
Find some other cool, dark, dry location instead. Avoid locations near any heat or steam-generating appliances including the dishwasher, coffee maker, or rice cooker.
Choose airtight containers. Opaque is preferable so no light gets in but clear jar are okay too if the storage spot is completely dark.
At time of purchase, check for a best by date. If you don’t see one, use the chart (above) to note your own.
Buying, Cooking, & Organization Tips
Buy fewer seasonings more frequently and share the bounty.
Shop at bulk food stores if you just need a specific amount. Double check that the prices are reasonable (compared to grocery stores) if buying larger quantities.
It’s hard to argue with alphabetical order to keep your spices organized and easy to find.
Alternately, you can group the containers by recipe if there are certain combinations you always use together. Cinnamon and nutmeg are one such duo.
To save time, premix your own frequently-used special blends like taco mix, rib rub, soup or curries mixes so they are ready to go.
Avoid the urge to fill all your seasoning containers just for the sake of doing it. They will likely do better in their original airtight containers until it’s time to use them.
Using Herbs & Spices
When cooking, measure your seasonings away from heat and steam sources.
Use clean, dry measuring spoons to avoid contamination.
Measure into a secondary dish before adding seasonings to your cooking pot. This will avoid accidental spills. Ever spill a huge amount in to the pot and then try to retrieve it? Yup, me too.
How do you know which seasonings can be substituted? This comes with experience as a cook where you learn what influence herbs and spices have, which flavors work together and in what proportions. Do lots of taste tests and you’ll improve quickly.
If you need a substitution in any recipe, try searching the recipe online and reading the comments. Readers often come up with their own variations including alternate seasonings.
In general, dried herbs last 1-3 years and spices 1-4 years and do not go “bad” but instead lose their flavor and aroma over time.
Besides noting the age, use your taste and smell to see if they still have something to offer.
There are mixed opinions on this but the general consensus is no. Many manufacturers say the shelf lie is not extended with chilling. Plus, fridges and freezers may introduce condensation into the containers.
Some frugal cooks still use them, adding higher volumes to try and compensate for the loss of flavor and aroma or simmer them in oil to create flavored cooking oils.
Alternately, items like cinnamon and nutmeg can be used for a potpourri or other non-edible scented items. Ultimately, if they are all-organic, outdated seasonings can be added to your compost bin.
Dried herbs and spices last 1–4 years, depending on the type, level of processing, and storage.
While dried herbs and spices used for cooking do not go bad, they do lose their color, flavor, and aroma over time.
Give your seasonings the longest life possible by using airtight containers in a cool, dark location away from heat and moisture.
~Melissa the Empress of Dirt ♛