Can Spices go Bad?
All of us use spices in the kitchen. If you cook a lot, you probably have a lot of spices. And if you’re like me, you may have so many spices that you forget what’s in your spice cupboard and how long it has been there. Spices appear to have a long shelf life, but do they ever go bad? Here’s what I’ve learned…
As a general rule of thumb, most ground spices have a shelf life of about 4 years. Some of the dried, leafy spices are best used within 1-3 years. Although spices won’t spoil, they will lose their potency and flavor over time. It is important to cook with fresh spices if you want your food to taste right.
One way to test the potency of your spices is by looking at them. Typically the brighter they are in color, the more fresh they are. Keep in mind that some spices are naturally more brightly colored than others, but overall bright color is a good sign. Red spices like paprika or cayenne pepper will turn browner in color over time.
Smelling spices is, of course, the best way to check the freshness of your spice. If they have little or no smell, they have been there too long and won’t add much flavor to your food. (You may need to crush some spices in your hand to release a rich aroma). You could also try smelling a new spice recently bought at the store and then comparing that smell to the smell of the same spice that has been in your cupboard for a while. If they smell similar, then the cupboard spice is probably still good. If there is a noticeable difference in the aroma, the cupboard spice has likely lost its potency.
The best way to keep your spices fresh is to store them correctly. Spices should be stored in airtight containers in cool, dark places. You never want moisture to get mixed in with your spices. For this reason, it is not a good idea to freeze spices or keep them in the refrigerator. If you buy your spices whole and grind them yourself, the whole spices will keep longer than ground spices. For example, peppercorns and cinnamon sticks with last longer than ground black pepper and ground cinnamon. Because spices don’t stay potent forever, it is best to buy them in small quantities so you can use them up while they are still fresh.
Now it’s time to clean out your spice cupboard! Did you find any long lost spices? Happy smelling!
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