Learning to cook for yourself is one of the most rewarding things you can do in your adult life. You get to indulge in your favorite recipes, enhance your cooking skills, and save a ton of money from eating out. Experimenting with herbs and spices is a fun part of it, but you may have tried a new recipe and found that the spices were lacking.
You may look back at your spice rack and realize some have been sitting there for months. So, that begs the question: how long do spices stay fresh?
This article covers everything you need to know about your spices and how to keep their flavor. Read on to find out more!
Can Spices Go Bad?
How long do seasonings stay fresh, and can they go rancid? The answer is yes, but not in the way you might think. Spices don't expire the same way milk and meat do.
Spices are a shelf-stable product, and you won't find an expiration date. You won't feel sick after eating "expired" paprika or cajun spice. However, they do lose their flavor the longer they sit in your kitchen cabinets.
The closest thing to an expiration date you have is the "best by" date. If you're still using spices that have gone past their peak freshness, you'll notice the difference in your dishes.
Understanding the Shelf Life of Spices
Spices undergo a long journey before reaching store shelves. During that time, the flavor will already have begun to fade. While shelf-stable, spices will oxidize and degrade when exposed to open air.
The only exception is salt, which can retain its peak flavor forever. Different types of spices have varying shelf lives. Look at your spice rack and see which ones may be due for a replacement.
Ground spices are the most convenient for home chefs. This type of spice is the one most commonly found in grocery stores.
These spices are best within their first three months of being bottled. Unfortunately, they oxidize faster because of their large surface area. However, if kept well, they will retain most of their flavor for up to three years.
Whole spices include nutmeg, cinnamon sticks, peppercorns, and whole dried chili peppers. These spices last longer than ground seasonings and stay fresh for up to four years.
Using whole spices also gives you the pleasure of grinding them yourself. This gives you more control over your dishes and allows you to produce more vibrant flavors.
Whole seeds like poppy and sesame can actually expire because of the oils in the seeds. Moist seeds like raw sesame will last up to a year in your spice rack.
On the other hand, hardy dry seeds like cumin and mustard can last up to three years. A great way to keep whole seeds fresh is to chill them. This won't affect their taste or texture.
Cultivating an herb garden is a great way to get unlimited access to herbs like basil and thyme. If freshly picked, these green herbs will last up to a week in your refrigerator.
However, you can also buy whole dried herbs. As long as you keep them away from sunlight, these herbs will last up to three years.
How to Tell if Your Spices Are Still Good
The easiest way to tell if a spice is still fresh is by smelling it. Rub some of your desired seasonings on your hand and take a whiff. If it has a weak aroma, it's past its peak potency.
Its color will also fade over time. The flavor will not be as potent if it looks duller than when you first bought it. If you're still not sure, taste it!
How to Revive Old Spices
It can be hard to throw away old spices, especially when there's so much left. Fortunately, there are a few things you can do to revive or repurpose those old spices.
If your seasoning is well past its prime, empty it into a dry skillet and toast it. Place your stove on medium-low heat, and remember to keep stirring. This will help you prevent burning your seasoning.
Toasting old seasoning can help improve some of that lost aroma and flavor. Once the fragrance becomes more potent, put the toasted seasoning aside to cool. You can put it back into its old bottle after.
You can also make a spice potpourri if you're partial to aromatherapy. Some spices, like paprika and turmeric, can protect your garden from pests.
How to Keep Spices Fresh
Spices don't come cheap, and even more expensive to replace them every few months. Many home cooks keep a wide variety of spices and seasoning but don't make nearly enough food to exhaust their whole collection.
No sustainable or budget-conscious cook wants to throw away unused ingredients. Here are some things you can do to increase the longevity of your spices.
Consider Buying Whole Spices
Whole spices stay fresh much longer than ground spices. This can give you much more peace of mind when it comes to storing your spices. Grind what you need before you use them and store the rest without worrying about them deteriorating.
Buy Only What You Need
Look at your diet and your usual meal plans. Identify which spices you use the most and how much you usually use, and only purchase that much. Buying in bulk might be cheaper, but it may not be as cost-effective as you think if you don't even use them.
Use Airtight Containers
Store your spices in airtight containers to retain their potency for longer. These containers protect your seasonings from moisture and deterioration from the air. We also recommend keeping your spices in a dark, cool, and dry environment.
How to Help Spices Stay Fresh
Spices stay fresh as long as you store them properly. If cooking is your passion, don't let bland seasoning get in the way of your art. Spices allow you to add more character and depth to a dish, so use these tips to keep them fresh.
Are you looking to experiment with some spice blends? Check out our organic seasoning blends and get inspired.
DID WE "INSPIRE" YOU?
When was the last time you refreshed your spice rack?
When you buy new seasonings do you compare freshness?
Is it "Fresh" ( 😉 ) of us to ask?
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