Have you started seasonal cleaning? While many use this refreshing time to clean out their pantries, freezer and refrigerators, the spice rack always seems to go untouched. But we've got some news for you if you've ever wondered if spices expire, and that news means you're probably going to need to do a deep clean. (And if you're starting over, here are the spices we think should always have on hand.)
Contrary to popular belief and practice, spices do indeed expire. There are ways to tell specifically when your spices expire, but recently, McCormick Spices in Maryland posted a message to consumers regarding expiration dates.
Do Spices Expire?
The brand states that if you see "Baltimore, MD" printed on your McCormick spice label, that spice is at least 25 years old. Now that's some old spice in your spice cabinet. Current McCormick spices will read "Hunt Valley, MD" because that's where they are currently manufactured. Additionally, McCormick hasn't used rectangular tins for herbs and spices in 25 years, so if you have any of those lying around, go ahead and toss 'em because yes, spices do expire.
When's the last time you took a peek into your spice cabinet? You should see “Hunt Valley, MD” on McCormick labels. If...
Because I'm from Maryland, McCormick Spices exclusively fill my spice rack; it's a nice taste of home even out here in Texas. Founded in 1889 in downtown Baltimore, McCormick has become a company synonymous with the Old Line State.
I could wax poetic about McCormick all day, but considering my favorite spices brought up another question for me: Just how long do spices really last?
General Spice Care
Before we get into the common expiration dates of spices, it's important to note that the best way to store spices to last is in their original container or a similarly sealed airtight container. The shelf life of your spices isn't dependent on whether they're unopened or unopened, but that they're fully sealed after each use. As for seasoning blends, simply follow the two to three years guideline to ensure you take advantage of peak freshness.
It's best to store your spices in a dry environment and in a dark place, like a dark cupboard or pantry. Of course, how you organize your spices depends on your preferences, but I began to group mine by those with a shorter shelf life and those with a longer sell-by date. Spices in the red pepper family, like red pepper flakes and paprika, will store longer in the refrigerator, but the taste may slightly change.
Under Shelf-Stable Food Safety, the USDA defines spices as a shelf-stable product and in the case of spices, they never truly expire. What occurs over time is that the flavor and potency of that flavor wanes. Whole spices will stay fresh for about four years, while ground spices run between three and four years. For dried herbs, many will last from one to three years, but it varies depending on the type.
You can tell a spice is expired if you rub a tiny bit into your palm and take a big ol' whiff. In the sniff test, fresh spices will be very fragrant, and you'll know immediately if your spices are dull and without flavor from sitting around if you can't smell it.
Guidelines on When Spices Expire
Just about every fresh herb or vegetable will stay fresh for about five to seven days, and the ground and/or dried versions will stay fresh for about two to three years. The vibrant color of dried and ground spices and herbs will fade as they lose their fragrance and in the case of fresh leafy herbs, begin to wilt. For example, I knew my pumpkin pie spice was long expired when it was no longer a brighter orange, but instead a sad brown.
A good general rule of thumb is to put a small piece of painter's tape or Scotch tape on the bottom of your spices when you buy them and write down the date. This makes sorting through and cleaning out your spice rack so much easier.
How Long Do Spices Last and Which Spices Go Bad?
For some specific guidance on when spices expire, here is a round-up of spice expiration dates.
Allspice: Ground and dried allspice lasts about two to three years.
Basil: Fresh basil lasts about five to seven days, while ground and dried lasts about two to three years.
Bay leaves: Fresh bay leaves last about five to seven days, while ground and dried bay leaves last about two to three years.
Black pepper: Ground and dried black pepper last for about two to three years, while whole peppercorns last about five to six years.
Cayenne pepper: Fresh cayenne lasts about five to seven days, while ground cayenne pepper lasts about two to three years. Like paprika, cayenne pepper will last longer in the refrigerator, though it's not required.
Chili powder: Ground chili powder lasts about two to three years.
Cilantro: Fresh cilantro lasts about five to seven days, while ground and dried lasts about two to three years.
Cinnamon: Ground and dried cinnamon last about two to three years.
Cloves: Fresh cloves last about five to seven days, while ground and dried cloves last for two to three years. Whole cloves last four to five years.
Coriander: Ground and dried coriander lasts for two to three years.
Cream of Tartar: Ground and dried cream of tartar last about two to three years.
Cumin: Ground cumin lasts about two to three years.
Dill: Fresh dill lasts about five to seven days, while ground dill lasts about two to three years.
Garlic: Fresh garlic lasts for four to six months, while ground and dried garlic each last about two to three years.
Italian Seasoning: Ground and dried Italian Seasoning lasts for about two to three years.
Jalapeños: Fresh jalapeños last for about five to seven days, while ground and dried will last about two to three years.
Mint: Fresh mint lasts about seven to 10 days, while ground and dried mint last for about one to three years.
Mustard: Fresh mustard, not the condiment, lasts for about five to seven days. Ground and dried mustard, on the other hand, lasts for about two to three years.
Nutmeg: Ground and dried nutmeg last for about two to three years.
Onions: Fresh onions last for about five to seven days, while dried and ground onion powder lasts for about two to three years.
Oregano: Fresh oregano lasts about five to seven days, while ground and dried oregano last about two to three years.
Paprika: Dried and ground paprika last about two to three years.
Parsley: Fresh parsley will last about five to seven days, while ground and dried will last about two to three years.
Pumpkin Pie Spice: Ground pumpkin pie spice will last about two to three years.
Rosemary: Fresh rosemary will last about 10 to 14 days in the refrigerator, while dried and ground rosemary will last about one to three years.
Sage: Fresh sage will keep about 10 to 14 days in the refrigerator, while dried sage leaves will last about one to three years. Ground sage will last about three to four years.
Salt: Table salt keeps indefinitely, just like kosher salt and sea salt.
Steak Seasoning: Bottled or bulk steak seasoning will last about one to two years.
Taco Seasoning: Packets of taco seasoning will last about two to three years.
Thyme: Fresh thyme will last about 10 to 14 days in the refrigerator, while ground and dried thyme will last about three to four years.
Turmeric: Ground turmeric will last about three to four years.
This article was originally published on October 21, 2019.