The Freshman Cook: The Shelf Life of Spices

    Every year I get rid of my spices. I do this religiously, as this is what I was taught. I always write with black marker on my bottles when I buy them. I put the month and the year. This makes it easy for me to remember when I bought it, and believe me, I need help remembering that kind of stuff!!  

I was always told that the flavor will diminish, therefore not giving my baked goods or sauces the intensity they deserve. But is that right? Am I wasting money by throwing my spices away too early? I decided to check out what other sites on the web were saying about the shelf life of spices, and I was surprised! that you should keep your spices as long as you think they have flavor. Well that’s great!! But how will you know? I want to know before I spend time making my favorite biscotti that my cinnamon has lost it’s umph!! there are a couple ways to know. If your spice doesn’t have the strong aroma that it should, then it’s time to replace it. You can test your dried spices by putting a few pieces in your hand and crushing them. Then smell. Anything? If there is no smell, or it is barely smellable (if it’s not a word, it should be!) then your spice needs to be replaced.  also gives us the following spice chart: 4 years shelf life for whole spices 2-3 years shelf life for ground spices 1-2 years shelf life for leafy herbs They also state that all spices should be stored in a cool, dry place. I like this chart!! For sure, I have never kept my spices for more than 2 years, so I think my biscotti is safe!!!

I decided to check out another site. Not that I don’t believe everything I read, but, oh well, just for the heck of it. I went to They for sure know a lot about spice. They have a great shelf life chart. Click on spices 101. It is really informative. Their spice chart says this:

2-3 years for ground spices 3-4 years for whole spices 1-3 years for herbs 1-2 years for seasoning blends 4 years for extracts ( except for vanilla-It lasts indefinitely)

So, it looks as if I can change my ways of tossing my spices after a year. says that the storage of spices is very important, and can help add time to the shelf life. Check out the site. There is a Fresh Tester you can use to check your spices, and there are some humorous tidbits on the Share Your Spice Stories page. Have fun cleaning out your spices!!!

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