Spice Rack Fact vs. Fiction: Do Spices Go Bad?

Herbs and spices are the essential ingredients that add flavor, life and personality to every dish you cook. In order to make the most of your spices, they must be fresh.

When you have a fully stocked spice rack and a variety of spices that you use only in small amounts for certain dishes, it’s unlikely that you’ll run out of a spice. This means that most kitchens contain fully stocked spice racks with the majority of spices sitting untouched for months or even years.

While most people believe spices last forever and never go bad, that’s not quite true. By following a few simple guidelines, you can ensure that every dish you cook is made with fresh, flavorful herbs and spices.

Do Spices Go Bad?

Salt is the one spice that has a limitless shelf life. Most popular spice brands include a “best used by” date on the label that you can use as a guideline. If your herbs or spices don’t come with this freshness date included, you can use the guidelines in our next section to add a label of your own to help you keep the ingredients on your spice rack fresh.

Spices don’t necessarily “go bad”, but they do lose freshness over time. In other words, spices that have aged beyond their prime won’t become rancid or cause health risks if consumed. Instead, they lose their potency and the flavor becomes very weak. In short, spices do and don’t go bad.

Dishes you cook will taste better and will be seasoned more precisely when you pay attention to recommended “use by” dates, but even old spices don’t become unusable.

How Long Do Herbs and Spices Last?

General guidelines for the shelf life of herbs, spices and seeds are as follows:

  • Iodized salt: 5 years
  • Ground spices: 3-4 years
  • Whole spices: 4 years
  • Fresh spices (other than garlic): 1 week
  • Fresh garlic: 4-6 months
  • Herbs: 1-3 years
  • Bottled seasoning blends: 1-2 years
  • Seeds (other than poppy and sesame): 4 years
  • Poppy and sesame seeds: 2 years

How to Tell If Your Spices Are Fresh

Fresh spices have a strong aroma, so a simple sniff test can typically tell you whether or not it’s time to toss out your old spices. To test whole spices, simply break them to release the scent. If that strong aroma isn’t there, it’s time for a fresh replacement.

Leafy herbs fade in color and red spices like chili powder, paprika and cayenne pepper tend to turn brown as they age. By judging both the color and aroma of your herbs and spices, you can easily determine whether or not they’re still fresh.

Storing Your Spices

Air, heat, light and moisture are the factors that affect the freshness of spices. Keeping moisture out of your spices is particularly important.

To keep your herbs and spices fresh for as long as possible, proper storage is vital. Spices should be stored in airtight containers in a dry, dark environment. The ideal spice storage environment should have a temperature that’s not only cool but consistent, as fluctuations in temperature can create condensation inside the containers.

Chili powder, paprika and other red pepper family spices can stay fresh and maintain their vibrant color for a longer period of time when stored in a refrigerator. Other spices, however, should not be refrigerated as fridges tend to have a high level of humidity.

Spices shouldn’t be frozen, either. However, you can extend the life of fresh herbs by keeping them in the freezer.

For a particularly effective storage solution, amber glass jars with airtight lids are a great storage solution for your spices. Infinity jars are also an excellent choice, as they keep UV light and moisture from getting to your spices.

Spices can certainly be used for many years, but they do lose flavor and you’ll end up with dishes that fall flat if you don’t keep track of the freshness of your herbs and spices. With proper storage and by keeping track of the age of the ingredients on your spice rack, you can enjoy the freshest and most flavorful ingredients in every dish you cook!