While rummaging through my spice shelf the other day (let’s pretend it was the bhg spice shelf shown above) to replenish my DIY Taco Seasoning Mix, I found an old note listing the recommended shelf life of spices, seasonings, and extracts. I’d forgotten I had it and I’d forgotten the information on it. In the event you’re as forgetful as I am, I’ll share the info here.
Spices don’t actually have expiration dates; however, they do lose their flavor over time as the oils that give them their punch begin to break down. Generally speaking, the recommended shelf life is as follows:
Most spices have a Best Used By date on the bottom of the container. If you buy McCormick Spices, you’ll see a code instead. You can check the code at their website, where they note that if it was packaged in Baltimore, or if it’s in a tin, it’s at least 15 years old. Except black pepper. They still sell that in the tin.
If you’re like me and purchase spices from the bulk container at Whole Foods, or if you’ve transferred your spices to a set of matchy-matchy containers, you don’t have a date to check! In that case, simply smell the container’s contents (you’ll want to crush or break a whole spice). If the scent is strong, use it. If not, toss it.
To prolong the life of your spices, store them properly. For the first 25 years of my adult life, I stored my spices in the small cabinet above the stove. That’s where my mother and my grandmother stored their spices, and that was good enough for me!
Wrong. Spices should be stored in a cool, dry place, away from direct sunlight. Heatt, air, and moisture are spice kryptonite.
Here’s another thing I’ve been doing wrong. According to Spice Islands, you should never shake a spice container over a boiling pot:
Moisture from steam may diminish the potency of spices or herbs remaining in the jar. Pour a small amount into your hand or a ramekin, then add to dishes.
If I had a nickel for every time I’d done that…well, I’d have enough for a new container of chili seasoning. That’s the spice I’m most likely to shaken into a boiling pot. Ah well, now I know better.
I hope you found something useful in this information. Herbs and spices are pricey these days, and any extra life we can squeeze from them can only help!