HOME > Chowhound > General Topics >


Ancient Spice Rack - Which spices get weak the fastest?

I'm sure some of my spices are years old. I bet some of them are 5 years old.

Which of them are must-buys every 6 months or so? Heck maybe 6 months is even too long..

Probably things like paprika and cayenne would need replacing faster than say dried herbs.. I'm guessing onion powder and garlic powder probably last a long time too, though honestly I rarely if ever use them anyways..

What about the indian spices? turmeric, cumin, curry powder, masala etc

  1. Click to Upload a photo (10 MB limit)
  1. It's a false economy to keep old, stale, "off" spices since most are relatively cheap. Keeping them in air-tight jars or ziplocs in the fridge considerably extends their life/ potency. The old school spice rack is slow death for most spices or aromatics. They're not rarities or expensive, so buy smaller quantities and top 'em up with fresh regularly.

    1. If you buy from a bulk store, none of these spices are especially pricey so why don't you just go right ahead and replace all of them. Five years is too long for lots of things. Whole spices - mustard seeds, cumin seeds, coriander seeds, peppercorns, that kind of thing - will survive the longest since they are still more or less intact. Ground spices get stale/flavourless sooner than whole. And dried herbs, in my experience, go very quickly - so if you have some dried oregano or thyme from 5 years ago it will be totally gone. I find that the more aromatic spices - like the Indian ones - will lose quality over time. The aroma goes first, then the flavour. Treat yourself to a new batch - and cook something fabulous.

      1. Test the seeds or pods by toasting and grinding. If they don't respond well, toss them.
        if you can't grow herbs through the winter, or dry enough in the summer, buy dried cello packs of herb stalks. Highland Farms has Greek oregano and sage, to get me through the winter.

        1. I could be off, but in my experience the sweeter spices like tarragon, sage and basil tend to degenerate most quickly. Dill and oregano do better, and the more piquant, i.e. currys, and pepper varietals like paprika and chipotle, hold up a long time. Nevertheless, there comes a time to purge the pantry.

          1. I have found that the dried leafy herbs such as oregano, marjoram, tarragon and dill go quickest. I keep a permanent marker on my spice rack now and put the month and year I buy the spices on the bottle. That way I know exactly how old it is.

            I've thought about trying these pre-measured packs the next time I need spices.


            2 Replies
            1. re: Axalady

              That is very clever! I'm sure I have some ancient ones, though I don't really use them much, hence their age. Sometimes I used use more than called for if I'm using something I know to be old. Rubbing dried herbs between your hands also helps to release more flavor.

              1. re: Axalady

                That's a great idea, but holy cow are you paying out the nose for convenience! Five bucks for twelve teaspoons (1/4 cup) of basil by the teaspoon? You can get twice as much from Penzeys for under $3.

              2. I'm not sure I like the TSP spices because they don't store in my regular spice rack (a SpiceStack). I like the little half-size bottles of ground spices from the grocery store because you go through them quicker. By general rule:

                Ground/Dried Spices 6 mo-1 year
                Whole Spices 1-2 years

                Take the spice out and rub some in your palm. If you can't smell it, its probably done! You may also notice discoloration and lack of flavor.

                Spices are my secret ingredient to fine cooking, so I wouldn't mess with really old bottles. I disagree with people when they say spices are cheap, but if you purchase in smaller quantities you can avoid having to toss them a year later.

                1. I've always heard that cardamom isn't worth buying pre-ground because it loses flavor so fast. I buy the seeds whole (not the pods, just the seeds inside) and grind them as I need it and that seems to work very well.

                  I buy cumin seeds whole and toast (in an iron skillet) and grind them as needed, too. I figure it has to be better that way because the seeds smell SOOO good toasting!

                  1. Coriander seed really isn't worth buying unless you use it right away or freeze it. Turmeric is another that surprised me by how .... dirty.... it tasted when it got old.

                    1. I've always heard to not buy ground nutmeg, that it loses potency immediately.

                      1 Reply
                      1. re: laliz

                        True, and the whole ones keep seemingly forever. I bought a small jar of whole nutmeg along with a little spice-drawer-sized grater about 20 years ago and have yet to get halfway through it, but every time I grate some it's as pungent as ever.

                      2. Every six months is too frequent. Most herbs and spices are only harvested once each year, so you end up getting more of the same harvest if you buy twice a year. Buy small amounts, put a little label on the bottom of it with a date a year from now, and toss it when it hits the date. In general, herbs go fastest, followed by ground spices, and whole spices last the longest.

                        1. I'd give them the heave and start over fresh. I try to but mostly whole, not ground, spices, they keep better.

                          1. I keep my spices in small 8oz mason jars which I vacuum seal with the jar attachment for my Food Saver. They seem to stay fresh much longer this way. And no matter how you keep them, it is important that they be stored away from direct light or heat.