Every so often you might decide to clean your kitchen out, removing all the different foods, spices, and condiments that are well past their expiration dates. However, when you get to the area of your kitchen where you keep all the spices, you might begin to wonder whether or not they expire. Some people might not think that spices expire at all, and that they are similar to honey in that sense. Unfortunately, spices do expire. The amount of time that spices can last depends on many factors. Typically, fresh spices are going to expire more quickly than extracts, and dried spices are going to expire more quickly than whole spices. Thankfully, there are many places that will guide you in figuring out exactly how long your spices will last past their printed dates.
Figuring Out How Long Your Spices Last
While no two spices are the exact same, there is a general rule of thumb on how long your spices will last. Fresh spices expire the quickest, followed by ground spices, dried spices, whole spices, and then extracts. More often than not, you can expect fresh spices to last between five and seven days. There are a few outliers, such as garlic, lemon, oranges, saffron, and wasabi that can all last between one month and six months.
The next category of spices, ground spices, doesn’t really change much in how long it takes to expire. Nearly all ground spices are going to last between two to three years past their expiration dates, with the exceptions of mint, oranges, saffron, and wasabi. These spices last closer to one to two years instead, meaning that you should take care to use them up more quickly if you have them.
From there, you have dried spices. Dried spices tend to last a much longer time, and if you are searching for spices, you should generally opt to purchase the dried ones if you can. It will save you a lot of trouble of having to restock your spice shelf every so often. Most dried spices will last between two and three years, and there are a few exceptions to this as well. Celery seeds, mint, saffron, and wasabi all last between one and two years, meaning that you should make sure to use them up first. On the other hand, rosemary, tarragon, turmeric, and thyme all last between three and five years.
Next, there are the whole spices. There are some spices that this doesn’t really apply to, but if you can find whole spices that you use often, you should purchase them. Whole spices last almost the longest out of all the different variations of spices. With that being said, most whole spices will last between three and five years. There are some, such as cardamom, cayenne pepper, and chili powder, that last for closer to two to three years. There are also some spices, such as black pepper, that last for five to six years. To put things simply, you can expect whole spices to last quite a bit longer than other forms.
Finally, there are the extracts. There isn’t an extract form for most spices, and in some cases, extracts won’t work for your cooking needs. However, if you find that they work well for what you enjoy cooking, you should think about purchasing them. More often than not, extracts last for about four to five years on average, making them one of the longer-lasting forms of spices out there.
How Can You Tell If Spices Are Going Bad?
Unfortunately, people tend to move spices out of their original packaging, or after three years, the date has become hard to read. If you have no clue how long you have had your spices, you might not know if they are safe to eat or not. Thankfully, most spices will begin to deteriorate in one of several ways as they age, indicating that it might be time to throw them out.
Usually, textures and colors are going to change first. This means that vibrantly colored spices, and vibrant tastes, are going to fade over time. If you realize that your spices are fading, you can generally assume that it might be time for them to go. While they might still be safe to eat, it also means that the flavor is fading as well, and nobody enjoys a poorly seasoned dish.
An example of spices changing color is when parsley leaves begin to turn from their vibrant green into yellowish-brown, almost as if the leaves are rotting away. The older the leaves get, the browner they will become, losing their taste entirely. Another example would be when bright red spices turn a deep maroon color. Generally, if your spice doesn’t look like it’s the right color, you probably shouldn’t risk it.
Another way to check if your spices are going bad is their smell. Spices are well known for smelling good, so if there is little to no smell, there’s a good chance that there will also be little to no flavor as well. This is a very quick and easy way to check if most ground or powdered spices have gone bad or not.
Something else that you need to consider is whether or not your spice container has a “Schilling” label on it. These containers of spices are going to be well past their expiration dates, often being a decade old or more. This is because Schilling used to be a huge manufacturer of spices, known as the A. Schilling & Company was founded back in 1881. It was one of the oldest spice companies around, until another company, McCormick & Company specifically, acquired it and began taking care of spices under their brand name instead back in 1946. While spices were still being made with the Schilling label and tin after this, the name began to change to McCormick sometime in the 1990s, with the last Schilling-labeled spice containers produced in the year of 2002. This means that if you have Schilling-labeled spices, you can expect them to be at least a decade and a half old, if not more. There are people out there who collect these spice tins and sell them, but you should absolutely not eat what’s inside.
Extending the Life of Your Spices
If you want to make sure that your spices last as long as possible, there are a few ways to do this. First, it will depend entirely on what type of seasoning you are working with. After all, some people consider lemons and oranges to be spices, but you can’t necessarily store these in an airtight container and hope for the best. With that being said, with many herbs and plants, storing the seasoning in an airtight container, with no access to moisture, is the best thing that you can do to preserve the life of your spices. Some seasonings, such as paprika, are better stored in the fridge. Usually, these seasonings are going to be related to the pepper family.
You can freeze spices, but it is not recommended for anything other than fresh herbs, as it can mess with the appearance, smell, and flavor of certain seasonings. With fresh herbs, you will want to put them into an ice cube tray (cut them first, if needed), pour some water, broth, or coffee (your choice), into the tray, and then freeze them. Once they are cubes, all you have to do is put them into Ziploc bags with a label on them, and place them back into the freezer. By the time you need these herbs again, you can just take a cube out and put it into whatever you are cooking.