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Shelf Life of Common Spices & Dried Herbs + How to Tell It’s Time to Toss Them

July 29, 2022

If you’ve been collecting spices and dried herbs in your pantry for some time now, you may wonder if they expire or simply defy time.

In the traditional sense, they don’t really “go bad.” They basically just lose most of their flavor, potency and color.

Most commercial or store-bought spices print best-by dates instead of their expiration to indicate the time frame in which they retain their most potent flavor and quality. This means it’s still generally safe to consume spices and dried herbs that are past their prime, just minus their maximum flavor and aroma.


Shelf life of common spices and dried herbs


In determining the shelf life of dried herbs and spices, it’s important to consider several variables including their type, level of processing and storage.

As a general rule, the more whole and less processed a seasoning is, the longer its shelf life.

Whole spices, for example, stay fresh for about 4 years. This includes:

  • whole peppercorns
  • whole dried chili peppers
  • coriander
  • mustard seeds
  • caraway seeds
  • cumin seeds
  • fennel seeds
  • cinnamon sticks
  • whole nutmeg
  • Cloves

On the other hand, ground or powdered spices typically last 2 to 3 years. Common examples are:

  • ground cinnamon
  • ground turmeric
  • ground allspice
  • ground cardamom
  • ground paprika
  • crushed red pepper flakes
  • chili powder
  • powdered ginger
  • garlic powder

Meanwhile, most dried herbs have a shelf life of 1 to 3 years. Examples include:

  • Rosemary
  • basil
  • oregano
  • thyme
  • bay leaves
  • cilantro
  • Sage
  • parsley

Salt, however, is an exception. Regardless of size and shape, they can be kept and used indefinitely without spoiling or losing flavor.


How to know when to keep it or toss it


Consuming a spice that has “gone bad” is unlikely to make you sick. However, they will no longer flavor your food as intended which will basically defeat the purpose of having them in your recipe.

If you are unsure how long you’ve had your spice in your kitchen, you can test if your spice is still potent enough by crushing and rubbing a small amount in your hand and then tasting and smelling it. If the aroma is weak and the flavor is no longer obvious, the herb and spice should be replaced.

Fresh spices are supposed to have a fragrant smell and should have a kick of taste as they play the important role of flavoring your meal.

To maximize shelf life and save a few extra bucks, always store your spice and dried herb collection away from heat, light, air, and moisture.


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