Do Spices Expire? Shelf Life and When to Toss Them
This is the story of when I was an amateur chef and was trying my culinary skills in my mom’s kitchen. I was well prepared with all ingredients and had a written recipe. I was so confident that the recipe will be the same or better than my mom’s version of it. But apparently, I was wrong and even after following my mom’s recipe step by step, the taste was not that much great! When master-chef mom entered the kitchen, she immediately identified the culprit, and that was the outdated spices! I asked my mom with shock; I know medicines have expiry dates, do spices expire as well? She said, yes! That was the day from which I regularly check the expiry date of spices before use and believe me, this small trick has been a secret of my fresh, delicious, and aromatic recipes that are applauded by my guests and friends!
What is the Shelf Life of Common Spices?
Spices are any dried part of a plant, except leaves, and are used in the seasoning and flavouring process while making a recipe, whereas herbs are the dried aromatic leaves of certain plants which are used for the same purpose. Spices are usually used in three forms:
Every spice has a different shelf life, and it depends on its form. When we buy packets of spices from the supermarket, we can find the date of expiry clearly mentioned. This is the date that doesn’t tell expiry but is more about quality. The sell-by dates are connected to the packing dates of spices and are not related to harvest dates. Here are some general guidelines for all forms of spices and herbs related to their shelf life:
1. Dried Spices
Dried spices tend to last for a longer period than dried herbs. More the whole and less processed, the longer the shelf life. Depending on the type, level of processing, and storage, dried spices and herbs can last 1-4 years. Examples of dried herbs are – oregano, mint, sage, parsley, rosemary, thyme, basil, etc.
2. Powdered Spices
Ground or powdered spices are convenient and pre-milled versions of whole spices. They are the most widely used form and are best within three months after being bottled. But they can remain in the peak form at least for 1-2 years if stored well. With a larger surface area, they get exposed to moisture quickly so they oxidise faster than their whole-spice counterparts. Common examples of powdered spices are ginger powder, chilli powder, garlic powder, crushed red pepper flakes, etc. One can test the freshness by giving them a whiff- if they smell like nothing, get them off from your shelves.
3. Whole Spices
Whole spices have the longest shelf life as less surface is exposed to air and moisture, which allows for retaining their authentic aroma and flavour. Whole spices can last up to 4 years if stored well. One can toast them in a dry skillet and grind them before using them to have a more pronounced aroma. If they look faded, it’s time to say goodbye to them. Spices like coriander, cumin seeds, cloves, fennel seeds, cinnamon sticks, and mustard seeds are used in their whole form.
What Causes Spices to Expire?
1. Natural cause of Degradation
Spice production and bringing them to your pantry is a very lengthy process. Many spices take years to get from the farm, so it is obvious to have a somewhat faded quality of spices. Similar to this natural cause, some human-made limitations lead spices to expire.
2. Human-made Causes
The limitations of a business ecosystem like poor logistics, slow supply chain, and processing of spices already add their own contribution to the fading process of spices. Spices that are in the form of dried ground and whole react to air, every time they opened. Each time they are degraded and oxidized, which weakens aroma and colours.
How to Extend the Shelf life of Spices?
Although it is inevitable that spices fade their charm with time, you can extend this time period with certain tricks. As they are costlier, it is not affordable to throw them away every time. If you learn how to handle them so that you can get the maximum shelf life of your favourite spices, you can have the best taste as well as a heavier pocket!
Storing spices in the right way is one of the basic and important tricks for getting maximum shelf life. Always store spices in tightly-sealed, non-porous containers. Spices are best preserved in glass or ceramic containers as they are easy to clean and can keep moisture and air at bay!
Plastic containers may look attractive and easy to handle but they are not that air-tight and can absorb colours and odours of different spices.
Steel containers are good but with heat conductive property of steel makes it more important to keep them away from gas and oven.
Less you expose the spices to air, heat, and moisture, the longer you will have the shelf life of spices.
Even if keeping the regular spices near your stove is convenient, it is not recommended, as spices can lose their aroma and taste with the closeness of heat.
One must keep all spices in a cool, dark, and dry area like a pantry, or a cupboard away from the gas stove and oven.
Always keep a spoon in the spice container and use it to add spices rather than drizzling them straight from the container.
Refrigeration is not required for spices, but some spices like paprika and cayenne pepper can retain the pigmentation if refrigerated.
Herbs and spices are add-ons to the recipes that make them unique, aromatic, and lip-smacking with in-built features. Even their small addition takes the regular recipes to the next level. To sustain this richness, it is recommended that one should check the shelf life of spices before infusing them. But you don’t have to worry now if you choose us as a spice vendor. Get connected with us to have fresh, intact aroma spices that will surely give a round of clause for your mouth-watering recipe.