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Aug 13, 2008 02:17 PM

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

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  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.