As the season changes and we get excited about the colder months’ foods and flavours, we often start cleaning out our kitchen cupboards. The tricky part arises when we get to our spices and herbs… How long are they really good for?
Spices and dried herbs are crucial ingredients for many dishes, adding flavour and taste and transforming what may be boring and bland to delicious meals. Spices are seasonings made from the dried roots, bark or stem of a plant, while herbs are dried or fresh leaves.
The aroma and appearance of a spice or dried herb are what to look for in establishing whether they are still good. Although technically spices don’t spoil, they do lose their potency over time.
We rounded up the estimated shelf life of the most common spices and herbs found in the kitchen:
Oregano, rosemary, bay leaves, basil and other whole leafy herbs retain their strength for about one to three years. In warmer months herbs are in abundance in food gardens, so summertime would be a good time to replace any old, dried herbs and spices.
Ground or powdered spices
Turmeric, paprika, chilli pepper flakes, ginger, garlic, cumin, cardamom, cinnamon and spice blends keep for approximately two to four years.
Whole or unground spices
Peppercorns, nutmeg, cinnamon sticks, cloves, and those that come in seed form, like fennel, cumin, and mustard, will keep for up to four years.
The seasoning that is reported to last indefinitely is salt, unless it is itself seasoned with an ingredient that may weaken its potency.
Storage can make all the difference
Make sure you buy good quality spices or dry your own. Drying your own fresh herbs is best – especially for herbal teas in winter months.
To maximise the longevity of your spices and dried herbs, storage is important. Keep them away from direct sunlight (avoid windowsills) or heat (no storage above the stove). Cool and dark places are best.
Store your seasoning in airtight containers which protect from moisture. Glass jars are the best as they retain the essential oil content of the spices and herbs that gives flavour. Make sure to label them with the date so that you don’t have to guess how old they are!
If you’re still in doubt, open the jar, pour a bit on your palm and smell and taste the seasoning. Loss of colour is also telling.