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Dried herbs / spices... how long do they last?

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Anyone know the answer? I have curry powder from 2001... ground cloves from 98... they are well sealed in glass jars and stored in a cupboard.

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  1. Only thing you can do is open the jar, grab a pinch and rub it between your fingers...still smell like you would want it in your food? General rule of thumb is 6 months for spices, 3 for herbs, I think - or maybe that is just me. I do the sniff...if it doesn't smell like it is fresh and flavourful, out it goes. I buy small quantities in the bulk aisle, so I don't have much problem. Anything that has been stored in glass and exposed to light will deteriorate faster. In a cupboard should be okay. But sniff away, see what you think.

    4 Replies
    1. re: Cyndy

      The more customary rule of thumb is a half year to a year for herbs (it varies, depending on how whole they are) and double that for spices (likewise).

      There will still be plenty of flavor for a long time after that; it's just that the flavors reduces in complexity and fullness, et cet. A lot of people don't really notice the degradation, so if you don't, continue to use it happily.

      Always buy the smallest quantity container unless you tend to use a lot of something; herbs and spices are one thing where volume pricing is really not as cost-effective as it seems.

      1. re: Karl S.

        Yeah, they hate me at the bulk place with my unweighable bags of stuff...not enough in them to make the scale tick. They see me coming and just agree to charge me 25 cents for each bag :-) That way I never have a lot hanging around.

        1. re: Cyndy
          p
          pecan pie wife

          Sort of off topic, but I had this happen to me when buying fresh apricots at a produce store. (The kind of place where everyone else is buying 20 lbs of plaintains and 5 lbs of collards.) I was only buying two apricots, and they wouldn't register on the scale. The check-out girl shrugged and threw them in the bag for free. :)

      2. re: Cyndy

        I just wanted to point out that unless they become insect ridden or get moldy, they'll never go "bad" in terms of being unhealthy, they just fade into nothingness.

      3. My understanding is that if you buy whole spices (cloves, peppercorns, nutmeg, etc.) the flavor is locked in and they will last for years. If you buy powders, that's when the flavors degrade, as the previous poster said, into nothingness.

        As for curry powder, a rule of thumb is... never use it :-) But the whole cumin seed. Buy the whole coriander seed, etc. and grind what you need, as you need it. In Indian cooking, curries are adjusted for the flavor of the food-- if you use one "curry powder", it makes everything taste the same.

        Mr. Taster

        2 Replies
        1. re: Mr. Taster

          Thank you all so much for thew great info!

          BTW... I only use curry powder on curried popcorn, Mr.T. It would be far too precious of me to grind some up just for popcorn, no?!

          1. re: Shiro Miso

            Actually, I'd do it just for fun (but then I'd probably go back to the powder!) Curry powder definitely has good snack food applications.

            Mr. Taster