How Long Do Spices Really Last?

It's hard to part with our beloved herbs, spices, and blends—they help make our meals delicious. But is it true? Do spices expire? Read on to find out when it's OK to hold on, and when it's time to let go.

Do spices expire? No. But should you self-impose a lifespan on them? Yes. Even that DIY pumpkin spice you made last fall is not immune to the test of time. The good news is that your spices won’t go bad and make you sick. The (possibly pricey) truth is that they will lose flavor over time, and, of course, that defeats the purpose of using them. Here are some foods you never have to worry about expiring.

How long do spices last?

Ground spices tend to lose their flavor more quickly than whole spices. And seasoning blends are even more ephemeral. Not surprisingly, the briefest lifespan belongs to fresh herbs. Here are some ballpark guidelines for freshness:

Whole spices: 4 years
Ground spices: 3 years
Dried herbs: 3 years
Spice blends: 2 years
Fresh spices: 1 week

Smart tips for getting the most out of your spices

If you want to have the most flavorful spice cabinet in the West (or anywhere, really), keep these easy tips in mind. Also, learn about these food storage guidelines you probably didn’t know about.

Give ‘em the sniff test

When you open a spice jar, you should notice a pungent smell from the flavors inside. Also, check for bright colors; if you’re seeing faded greens, reds or yellows, those spices might be past their prime. If you prefer to get hands-on, try rubbing or crushing some of the spice in your hands. If the smell or taste is uninspiring, time to go shopping. Still not sure? You can always go by the “Best Used By” date on the jar.

Buy in small quantities

We get it. It’s hard to resist those deliciously aromatic jars. But the more spices you have to choose from, the less likely they are to get used up during their prime. Try to buy spices in smaller containers unless you know you’ll go through a lot of one spice.

Store properly

To max out the life of your beloved spices, store them in a tightly closed glass or heavy-duty plastic containers in a cool, dry place. Bonus points if the container is dark. Avoid storing them in direct sunlight, over the stove or near other heat sources. Moisture is also not their friend, so no more shaking the container over a bubbling pot on the stove. Instead, measure the spices away from the pot, then add using your measuring spoon.

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Kristin Sutter
A big fan of homegrown cooking, Kristin has been a writer and editor for nearly 20 years. She has mastered the art of learning from her inexpert riffs on other people's truly good recipes.