Spices come in various forms: whole and freshly harvested, dried, ground (wet or dry). Regardless of whatever form you prefer your spices, the most important thing is that it adds desired flavor and scent to your dishes.
Without these particular qualities, the spice becomes useless but many are ignorant of such changes in their spice ensemble because of the common misconception that dried spices, which is the most popular variant, can last forever!
Although a spice that has overrun its shelf lives won't cause food poisoning, it will have lost its quality and become a less potent seasoning for your meals.
According to the official McCormick Spices guidelines, here are some common spices and when they should be discarded:
- Ground spices (nutmeg, cinnamon, turmeric): 2 to 3 years
- Herbs (basil, oregano, parsley): 1 to 3 years
- Seasoning blends: 1 to 2 years
- Whole spices (cloves, peppercorns, cinnamon sticks): 4 years
- Seeds: 4 years (except for poppy and sesame seeds, which should be discarded after 2 years)
- Extracts: 4 years (except for pure vanilla extract, which lasts a lifetime)
The McCormick chart gives you an overview of just how long you should expect your spices to last. However, here are some other important methods you can employ to ascertain the quality of your spices:
1. Using The "Best By" Dates
The "best by" date is another effortless way to keep track of the lifespan of how long your spices have been around. However, not all spice companies add a "best by" date so you may have to label dates of purchase on each bottle of spice individually so as to roughly monitor their shelf life.
SIDE NOTE: The McCormick company reports that, if a certain bottle of spice originates from Baltimore, it's at least 15 years old, and if you have Schilling brand spices, they're at least seven years old.
2. Examining Physical Properties Of The Spices
This simply refers to doing a cross-examination of your spices using their physical characteristics i.e. smell and appearance. All you have to do is pour out some of the spice and simply observe; if the spice has lost its fragrance or vibrant color then it's highly likely that it has lost its flavor too. You may choose to discard the spice depending on your perception of its potency after this examination.
Proper Storage Of Spices
The importance of exploiting the appropriate storage methods for your spices can never be overemphasized. Proper storage will not merely keep things organized, it will help the spices stay potent for as long as possible. The ideal spice storage is a cool, dry place that is situated far away from your stove with tightly closed lids that prevents exposure to damaging factors like heat.
Lastly, consider buying your favorite spices in bulk to save money and limit wastage!