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Your Opinion about Spice Longevity

There was a couple other threads about the duration to keep spices, so I like to take this a bit further. How long will you keep your dried ground spices before you decide to toss them and get new ones? 1 year? 3 years? 10 years? I suppose this can be different for different spices.

In addition, I believe whole spices (unground) can last much longer. Most of my spices are whole spices, and they to be fine for 3 years without any noticeable change in favor/fragrant. What do you think think?

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  1. I go by something I probably read here :) When I open the container (jar or bag) and I don't get a strong whiff of the spice/herb, then I know it's time to replace.

    9 Replies
    1. re: c oliver

      Yep. That is definitely the method for sure. I find my whole spices still have strong aroma, and the aroma is ever stronger when they are ground up. I think the lesser surface area really help preserve the whole spices.

      1. re: c oliver

        They have to pass the sniff test, and I think it's really important to keep them stored away from light and heat. I never understand those pull out spice cabinets right next to the stove, What real cook would store oils and spices next to the oven?

        1. re: mcf

          I've never understood it either. Or putting them on the back of the stove itself.

          1. re: mcf

            Another vote for the sniff test and conserving your herbs and spices away from heat. I think most everyone keeps them in the little cabinet over the range for convenience, and because mom did it. Not good. The constant fluctuations of heat from the stove really destroy the aromatics and make oils rancid. Starting 12 years ago, I adopted the freezer philosophy and, with a couple of plastic storage boxes from the Dollar Store, arranged my herbs (leaf of a plant) and spices (any other part of a plant) into respective categories marking the lids for easy i.d. It works!
            CP

            1. re: Chefpaulo

              Great advice. Yes, in a cabinet, far away from the stove. The other thing is that some spices lose their aroma a lot faster than others, so the sniff test is best. If the aroma is not bright and stellar, then purchase newer product.

              1. re: Tripeler

                The sniff test makes a lot of sense -- if your sniffer works well. I've found, though, as I've gotten older, that my sense of smell has deteriorated badly. Now I tend to just go by the age of the spice. Of course, I generally forget to date my spices when I buy them, so "age" is more a matter of "I don't remember the last time I used this spice," so into the garbage bin it goes. If I remember using it recently, it stays.

                1. re: Tripeler

                  I wonder if the opposite is true -- storing spice in refrigerators will make them last longer?

                  1. re: Chemicalkinetics

                    Yes. There are a few spices that I use very rarely, maybe 2 or 3 times a year. I keep them in the fridge and am able to use them for a lot longer than I used to. I should also note that I live in a climate that is hot and humid all the time. If I had a nice cool kitchen year round it might not make as much of a difference.

                    1. re: Chemicalkinetics

                      That's certainly true for me.

                      I've had things like red chilli pepper flakes, still in the sealed packaging, stored in the cupboard, go moldy in less than a month. That absolutely *must* be stored in the fridge from the moment it comes home from the shop.

                      I live in a tropical country, though, so YMMV.

            2. I have no idea how long I keep spices as I don't put a date on the bottles. Definitely more than a year. after all, the bottles are not left open. My problem is those that get lost in the back of the cabinet, spice hell!

              1. I only use about four spices. I buy as small an amount (like a table spoon from the bulk store) as I can and use them up. I threw away those dozens of little bottles I'd carrying around for years a long time ago.

                1 Reply
                1. re: Puffin3

                  I refill those little bottles. Curious what the four spices are :)

                2. I have some quite elderly spices in my cabinet. The ones I use frequently are used up within a year, usually much less. I'm sure the old ones have lost some potency but chances are I'll sniff and use, barring something really off. Star anise, for example. I just used some old stuff, whole pieces, in a recipe. I doubled the amount because I figured it was past its prime.

                  1 Reply
                  1. re: tcamp

                    <Star anise, for example. I just used some old stuff, whole pieces,>

                    Yeah, I think large whole spices like star anise can last for a long long time.

                  2. I pretty much agree with these opinions. Whole spices, a couple of years. Ground, a year an a half or so, and if I'm planning a special recipe and I'm unsure about the spice, I just give it a sniff. If it hits my brain's happy buttons, all is good. If not, replace.

                    5 Replies
                    1. re: alliegator

                      <If it hits my brain's happy buttons>

                      Hmm, you need to remove your avatar, because I first read "if it hits my brain's PUPPY buttons". :)

                      1. re: Chemicalkinetics

                        Maybe you just need recalibration ;)

                        I am the same way ... the smell test does the trick. Spices can turn to flavorless or off-flavor dust, but it takes a while. I typically buy small quantitles of probably 20-25 spices and blends, and typically this doesn't happen in my spice cabinet. I remember it happening only once.

                        1. re: foiegras

                          Sniff test is good. Occasionally sight test also viz. some paprika I had that turned rather browner than bricky. Since I can't really detect smell in most (non-smoked) paprika, I figured a colour change signaled time to turf.

                          1. re: grayelf

                            Good call on the sight test option: tomato-based products, like catsups, sauces and salsas packed in jars, can turn a dull maroon if left too long. Generally not good once that happens.

                        2. re: Chemicalkinetics

                          Sometimes I give the real live version of that puppy a sniff of some spices, too. Just for my own selfish amusement :)

                      2. The source and quality of the spices also can make a big difference. Some markets will have those spices in storage/on the shelf for a very long time before you even buy them!
                        I have been faithful to penzey's for years and find their ground spices are much fresher and more potent than mc cormicks etc brands

                        3 Replies
                        1. re: Ttrockwood

                          <Some markets will have those spices in storage/on the shelf for a very long time before you even buy them! >

                          This is an excellent point. It may be a lesser problem for whole spices, but this is a big factor for ground up spices which can lose their favor relatively quick. Like you said, I don't like McCornick's for this reason. Thanks for sharing.

                          1. re: Ttrockwood

                            Too true.

                            I had that problem in Canada - spices with not much flavour or scent. In Sri Lanka, it wasn't a problem at all - the date of manufacture were on the spice bags and were usually dated a few weeks before we bought them at the store. Although, to be fair, that's for spices that are WIDELY used in Sri Lanka, like turmeric, pepper, chilli powder, and so on. A Sri Lankan household of four people probably goes through 250 grams (1/2 pound) of chilli powder in a month. Or less.

                            Although, in Sri Lanka, you can still go to mills to get your own spices ground, as in from your own chillis that you grew and dried yourself.

                            1. re: Ttrockwood

                              I follow Penzeys' advice and store herbs and spices in the freezer.

                            2. I cook with a lot of spices, but I usually cook for one, so even the smallest containers will take me over a year to finish. I have noticed that some of my most important spices like cumin, coriander, allspice and cinnamon tend to taste dull after 6 months so I either try to stay on top of that or just adjust my spice blends accordingly. Admittedly there is no cool space in my kitchen to store spices so they may deteriorate more rapidly because of my set up.

                              I have whole black cardamom, green cardamom and cloves in my spice cabinet that are probably a couple years old and still going strong. I recently refilled my peppercorns (after about a year) and was shocked at how vibrant the new batch was compared to the old. I'll try to replace those more regularly.

                              4 Replies
                              1. re: JungMann

                                Oh, yes, peppercorns are a good example! I go through them like mad so it's never really an issue but once I took a packet to work (must have fresh pepper on hand!) and it got hidden behind something. When I found it and tried it, had to toss as they had gone "blah" after a couple months.

                                1. re: grayelf

                                  You can get small pepper mills that will fit in your purse or a desk drawer, but seal them in a ziplock bag first!

                                2. re: JungMann

                                  I can get a lot of spices and herbs in bulk meaning as small a quantity as I want. I can do that at my local coop and at a grocery store called Sprouts. (West Los Angeles area) Maybe there is something like that in your area.

                                  1. re: Weetje

                                    Sprouts IS a great place, for both spices and fresh produce, as well as fish and meats. SO much better value than TJ's, not to mention Whole Paycheck. Love 'em down here in SDiego, too! The Gonzalez Northgate Markets also do a good job of offering a wide range of spices, especially those used in Spanish-American cooking, and fresh produce, in great variety at great prices. Buen comida!

                                3. I think you're right. In fact, I know you're right, depending on which spice (NOT herbs!) you're talking about. Buying whole spices and grinding them yourself ensures freshness. Not only that, "stale" whole spices can be revitalized by tossing/stirring them in a warm skillet to reinvigorate their flavor. I use one of those "non-burr" coffee pulverizers to grind my spices. If it's a spice I know I will use up quickly, such as cumin, I have been known buy it from a trusted supplier in the pre-ground form.

                                  In a pinch (pun intended), sometimes even ground spices can be revived enough to use them until you can get to the store with a little judicious heat. Depending on what you're making, incorporating the spice with a fat that is heated before adding to the recipe works great!

                                  Some spices and herbs I keep in the freezer. For example, I lucked onto a buy for 14 GRAMS of premium grade Spanish saffron for a price that was so ridiculous it cried out for a robber's mask and gun! I could not resist! So I bought it, brought it home and opened it, took enough out to refill the measly little 1 gram plastic container I had paid damned near as much for, then closed the jar tight, put it in a sous vide sleeve, vacuumed out all of the air I could, and stored it in the freezer. I refill the little see through plastic 1 gram box as needed. And I keep the box wrapped tightly in light-banning aluminum foil on the shelf. I just opened the foil because I couldn't remember how much the little box held when I bought it, and as the foil wrapper came open, the smell of fresh, pungent saffron filled the kitchen! Life is good! '-)

                                  Oh, and I can now make a paella to serve ten thousand! Anyone want to supply the rice and we'll have a Chowhound Cook Out...!!! Can someone else please supply the beach in Spain, airfares prepaid???? Party Time!

                                  6 Replies
                                  1. re: Caroline1

                                    Hi, Caroline 1:

                                    What's a sous vide sleeve?

                                    1. re: gfr1111

                                      Plastic heat seal vacuum bag.

                                    2. re: Caroline1

                                      Good story, C. Would you mind telling us how much you paid for that saffron, so the rest of us can be on the lookout for similar deals? I know it's pricey; I'd like to know what a good deal on it is.

                                      One of my main strategies, not just for spices, but for all foods, is checking the grocers' markdown bins whenever I go shopping. Combined with coupons, you can get some amazing deals that way, and the items places there are rarely near being beyond their "sell by" dates. I've never had a problem w/ any spices I've bought there or any other foods, for that matter.

                                      1. re: mginsd

                                        Wow! Glad you asked! I couldn't remember exactly how much I paid for it so I had to go to my account on amazon.com and look it up. In May of 2012 I bought 14 grams of premium Spanish saffron for $65.46, or approximately $4.68 per gram, This is it:
                                        http://www.amazon.com/gp/product/B004...

                                        The price has now climbed its way up to $146.08! That's more than ten bucks a gram! If anyone has time travel down pat and is looking for cheap saffron, I recommend buying this in May of 2012!

                                        And I'm going to try very hard not to get stingy with it when I cook.... <sigh>

                                        1. re: Caroline1

                                          Not to take this OT but you really ought to check out this vendor: http://saffron.com/ . There are other threads here that confirm their quality and great prices. In addition, their Mexican vanilla is out of this world and they have some outrageous natural flavor extracts. If you call to place your order, the owner will try to work out the most economic shipping option. I love spreading the word about them because I want them to thrive.

                                          1. re: MacGuffin

                                            Yup, saffron.com is great for saffron, vanilla, and they have tons of extracts.

                                    3. I purchase most of my spices from Penzey's, and they are great quality. I fill small tins that I keep in my cupboard and keep the surplus in my freezer,dated, and fill the small tins as needed. Most of them are unground spices, and they keep for at least 3 years. Except for ground sage, for some reason. I always feel that Thanksgiving turkey dressing requires absolutely fresh sage, so I replace that every year regardless.

                                      1. when they're gone, that's when I replace them. Seriously.

                                        1. I buy ground spices except for nutmeg, I keep them as long as they "work" (tasting while cooking to correct the seasoning), and get new when needed.

                                          1. There is one thing I like to add, and possibly get a new sub-topic started. Many spices are very complex in their aroma. It isn't a straight pure one single compound/element. It isn't sample like salt is salty.

                                            What I am trying to get at is that when a spice starts to degrade over time, it does not simply becoming less powerful. It often changes its entire aroma profile, and possibly acquire new favors to it. Therefore simply add more of the same degrade spice may not resolve the problem.

                                            You know when red wine or beer start to go bad. You don't just say "Let's just drink some more to make up for it"

                                            The "Adding more" strategy works, but sometime it does not.

                                            2 Replies
                                              1. re: Chemicalkinetics

                                                Agree with this and maybe it might not be all bad. I had some whole nutmeg for probably 5 years and it still tasted good but I decided to get some "new". I compared them and the older nutmeg was mellowed in a good way. Many of my spices and herbs come from the Amish store and come in little tubs for 30-80 cents, so usually I use them up. I do think it varies spice to spice.

                                              2. a few years ago my Mother moved in with us, including her cooking stuff. When I saw a can on Colemans mustard that had a 39 cent price tag on it I almost fainted. I'm sure it was quite valuable "as an antique"!

                                                1. All my spices/herbs are kept in my 'fridge - some i've had for longer than I'd like to admit, but they seem to be just fine.
                                                  salt is kept in the freezer

                                                  3 Replies
                                                  1. re: ksmith51432

                                                    curious as to the salt in the freezer. its the one thing i keep on the shelf. something about 'how can salt loose it's saltiness'? or is it a texture thing with humidity?

                                                    1. re: KaimukiMan

                                                      I was wondering that. Salt does not lose saltines by normal temperature because NaCl is a very stable and basic compounds. Melting point is 800oC. Even after it melts, it will come back and form NaCl again.

                                                      The humidity is definite can play a role in term of absorbing moisture. However, keeping salt in a freezer likely to make the situation worse, because everytimeyou take a salt out, water from the air will condense on the cold surface -- thus accumulate more water.

                                                      Now, special salt may be different because of the extra ingredients. For example, smoked salt.

                                                      1. re: Chemicalkinetics

                                                        I don't keep my salt in the freezer, but I do keep it in an air-locked container. I've been living in tropical countries for the last ten years, and yeah, the salt absorbs a LOT of moisture if not kept airlocked.

                                                        Which might explain why my mother in law uses rock salt dissolved in water to salt her cooking. And, really, not just my mother in law, but a LOT of Sri Lankans.

                                                  2. For those of you who have been around a while......if you have any McCormick spices in the metal cans..........or ones that list it as Baltimore MD, they are at least 15 years old

                                                    1. I actually just went through my spice cabinet the other day. I found several things that "expired" in 2002, 2003, 2004.... :-[

                                                      I have a really hard time throwing away things that are still technically usable. All of those old spices are things that my dad gave me when he moved, and most of them were actually purchased by my mother before they got divorced.... That happened 9 years ago, and who knows when she actually bought them!

                                                      However! As they run out, I am buying spices in 1-oz increments as I need them. For spices like cumin, that is a month's supply or less. For things I use less often, that still shouldn't sit around longer than a year (and if it does, I'll make sure to buy a smaller amount next time.)

                                                      4 Replies
                                                      1. re: Kontxesi

                                                        Use by dates are relative...if you like it, use it. If you follow the logic too closely, you might be tempted to drop your spouse as they reach their 80's

                                                        1. re: FriedClamFanatic

                                                          I'm definitely not a stickler for expiry dates. All of this would have been chucked long ago if I was!

                                                          By the time they're reaching their 80s, what's the point really? You've dealt with them so long you might as well stick it out. ;)

                                                        2. re: Kontxesi

                                                          <For spices like cumin, that is a month's supply or less.>

                                                          You go through cumin fast.

                                                          1. re: Chemicalkinetics

                                                            I do! Between Mexican, Indian, and Middle Eastern dishes, it doesn't last long.

                                                            My boyfriend was commenting the other day that a lot of the things I'd been fixing lately had a very similar background flavor. I said it was probably the cumin. He said, "Yeah, I guess. I think we need a break."

                                                            He normally eats whatever I put in front of him, and plenty of processed things that I don't. I'm really impressed that he was able to pick out a particular spice.

                                                        3. For my spirits consulting business I have a "flavor library" of well over 200 botanicals. (217 at this point and growing) I make sure they are sealed in Mylar ziplock bags that have as much air squeezed out as possible. And they are kept in the dark and at 65-70F. The Mylar keeps oxygen out and the botanicals stay fresh for years. Whole spices should stay that way until just before use to maintain freshness.