Do Spices Go Bad? How Long Do They Last?

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In the kitchen, the word “spice” refers to a variety of products. Dried herbs in leaf form, ground spices, seeds and whole peppercorns all fall under the umbrella of spices.

Each product has its own “best used by” date. How long are spices good for? It depends on their format.

Do Spices Expire?

Some general advice when reviewing the condition of your stored spices:

  1. Spices of all forms fade with time. That fading includes loss of aroma, taste, and color.
  2. All spices in the green color spectrum should be stored in airtight containers. Keep them in a space that is cool and dry. Heat from the stove reduces flavor over time, and dampness from the dishwasher causes clumping.
  3. All spices in the red color spectrum (chili powder and paprika) should be refrigerated, particularly in hot climates.
  4. Seeds such as sesame or poppy seeds can be frozen for long term storage and should be refrigerated to reduce the risk of the oil in the seeds going rancid.
  5. Whole spices are the longest lasting spices available. Because of their hard outer shell, spices such as whole peppercorns have their own individual spice storage container.

Spice Storage Of Different Types Of Spices​

spice storage chart

How Long Are Spices Good For?

If you’ve got space for an herb garden and want to try drying your own basil, sage, and dill, Tabitha Alterman with Mother Earth Living offers some great ideas for drying and preserving.

For long term spice storage, she recommends storing the whole leaves rather than crumbling to maintain the essential oils and the flavor.​

Home dried herbs and spices need to be monitored more carefully than commercially produced seasonings because of the risk of moisture, mold and bacterial growth.

When handling home-dried herbs, the best response to a question of how to store spices is to keep an eye on them and use them quickly. This will reduce waste and give you maximum flavor.

When you take your home dried herbs out to add them to food, grind them with a mortar and pestle just before adding them to whatever you’re cooking for a full burst of essential oils.

Improve Your Health By Expanding Your Spice Rack

Spicing up your diet can boost your health.

Per nutrition expert Tina Benitez-Eves with Men’s Fitness including a wide variety of fresh and dried herbs to your diet can boost your antioxidant intake.

If sodium is a concern, fresh spices can reduce the need for plain old salt.​

A Spice So Popular It Served As Currency

Per the flavor experts at Sir Spice, black pepper was the spice that Christopher Columbus hoped to find when he headed for India and found the Americas instead. Prior to that, pepper was one of the major products shipped along the Silk Road.​

When the Dutch ran the pepper trade, peppercorns were treated as currency. Employees in the pepper warehouses were issued work clothes without pockets to reduce the risk of theft, because peppercorns could be traded individually as currency.

All peppercorns come from one type of tree. Commercially, they are available in black, white, green and red. Peppercorns are commonly hand-picked and deposited into bags worn by the pickers.

Some peppercorns are sun-dried, but the highest grade of black peppercorns are boiled to activate the enzyme that gives black pepper its zing and color.

Spices are still pretty valuable if you want flavorful food. When possible, use fresh herbs for the best flavors in savory foods.

For sweets such as cinnamon, store them in an airtight container and protect them from heat. Keep seeds like sesame cold or frozen.

How long do spices last? That really depends on the spice, the care you take in storing it, and the speed at which you use it up.

If you can’t remember when you bought it, sniff it. If it’s a faded gray color and doesn’t smell like much, replace it.

Will it make you sick? Probably not. Will it add flavor and pizzazz to what you’re cooking? It may not detract, but it won’t add much.

Written By Tara Williams

Tara is a food writer that has been editing and authoring articles for KitchenSanity since its founding. Her writing offers personal experience from experimentation with food and recipe creation. If you’re looking for simple tips, she will make your journey in the kitchen straightforward with a dash of fun.