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Spice Shelf Life

In your opinion, what is the shelf life of varous items you may have on your spice shelf life.
Just moved back into our 2nd house. Have not been here for 8 months....and I'm going to guesstimate our last shopping trip was X months more....

What's your take on spice shelf life - just short of a lesser flavor.
Salt is forever ...
Whole spices - peppercorns, etc sould be okay.

Ground spices...2 years+.

What are immediates that you would chuck.

We don't really keep the fridge on when I'm away for such a long stint.
Not sure but the crushed peppers / paprika smell a bit rancid.....not planning to do a taste test.

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  1. Your nose is a good start.Put a tiny amount in the palm of your hand,rub to warm it up,then sniff.
    The faded too far shouldn't be hard to discern.

    1. I keep ours in the door of the freezer and they seem to stay fresh for much longer.

      1. Did I understand correctly that your ground spices are 2+ years old? If so, they're dust by now. That's why I buy mostly whole spices, but if I have to buy ground, get the smallest quantity available (often from the bulk bin, truly maybe a spoonful at a time) and if it goes flat, I'm not out much dinero.

        1. Let's make a distinction here between spices and herbs.
          If your whole spices are stored in air tight containers (and in a cool, dry, dark place) they can last several years. The palm rub/sniff test already mentioned is a good one. Let your nose guide your decision. The aroma should be strong but not necessarily overpowering. A very weak aroma means it's time to replace. Same test for herbs, but they'll last about half as long (perhaps 2 years) as whole spices. Under ideal conditions, you could push whole spices to four years and herbs to 3 years; again the palm rub/sniff test should be your guide.
          You can expect whole peppercorns, cinnamon sticks, cloves, cumin, cardamon and nutmeg to last longer (I usually figure five years if they're sealed in air tight containers).
          Herbs and spices don't "go bad" but their flavors are a product of the oils they contain.
          I would advise avoiding the freezer for storing herbs and spices because every time you remove them from the freezer some amount of condensation occurs in the container .
          Remember, herbs and spices need to be kept dry. Even steam in the area of the stove can cause condensation inside an open herb/spice container; not a good thing.

          1. I usually stick to the "best before" date on the container (it's usually a couple of years)

            1. I know this is not what you asked chef, but it might be better for the fridge if you kept it on. Is it an energy hog or the power company charging ridiculous rates? This way some of the spices could be kept in the fridge possibly.

              5 Replies
              1. re: givemecarbs

                you are right

                If the frig is older with FREON it really is much better on.Most FREON systems do better on and circulating.

                1. re: lcool

                  Older refrigerators are notorious power hogs. Freon was banned in the mid-90's, so any fridge that uses it it is getting really old. The savings in one's power bill from replacing it will be significant.

                  Where do you get the info that freon-using refrigerators do "better" if left on?

                  1. re: johnb

                    yes freon was banned,and I won't argue the year

                    I will argue how many units are still out there operating with freon and their efficiency.
                    A prime example would be a well sealed 20 year old chest freezer compared to an upright twice it's size circa 2010.

                    advice ,info from an engineer that specialized in compressors and refrigeration and now reclaims freon,don't turn them off
                    compressors,coils etc really need to circulate for best length of life

                    Who's power bill????????? I have two plus 20 year old SubZero units and one walk in,1,30 year old Frigidaire,largest they ever made.My power company fed me the same line.The line just isn't true if you have opted AGAINST the water supply,ice maker crap and,or the freezer isn't an upright.
                    Spare me,I had those sanctimonious jackasses (pepco) put a meter on EVERY UNIT.
                    GUESS WHAT ...the well managed good old unit was only 3-4%behind the three new units.

                    1. re: lcool

                      A chest freezer gets its efficiency compared with an upright from being a chest freezer, not from anything to do with its mechanicals. Invalid comparison.

                      What the engineer said has to do with preserving the freon unit -- it says nothing about the comparative efficiency. More length of life doesn't reduce power consumption. Again, invalid.

                      The power bill of the owner of the unit who pays the power bill. Again, the comparison has to be made between units that are comparable. Clearly if one has all the bells and whistles and the other doesn't, that will affect the power draw. Again, invalid comparison. And it sounds like all your units were/are old. The big power improvements have been made in more recent years, and that's what I was talking about..

                      1. re: johnb

                        I have three large,less than four year old units.1 SubZero & 2 Leibherr,5 old,above
                        With meters on all (8) units,the consumption,usage difference after 90 day was less than 6%,high to low, across the 8,using a cubic foot formula.Now when you do the math, real savings $,will amortize when,balanced against $ for a new unit.

                        Sort of like when you pay the big premium for a PRIUS,how long does it take for the gas savings $ to equal the original premium paid.

                        Also it pays to find out what units modified,added some thing AFTER RECEIVING the units energy star.I know of three (2 big names).Ever put a meter on ? new,empty and compared the watt usage to the watt info on the yellow tag.
                        It's revealing.

              2. In my day....I was taught to replace them all right before Thanksgiving, the theory being that you need to keep them no longer than one year and Thanksgiving is easy to remember because you will be doing a lot of cooking. I was never sure if that was a clever strategy of good old McCormick's or if there was something to it. For me that means throwing out nearly full jars and that drives me nuts so I keep them. Heck, if someone walks into my kitchen, it fools them into thinking I actually cook.