Do Spices Go Bad? Tips For Keeping Your Spices Fresh

Tom Gaffey
by Tom Gaffey
Credit: Shutterstock / pilipphoto

Your home’s spice rack is an always-growing collection of flavors that come from all over the world and eventually make their way into your kitchen. There are spices you reach for almost every day, and those you use only on the rare occasions. You might find yourself reaching for one of these rarely used spices and wonder exactly when you bought it. Moreover, you might wonder how long the spices in your home last until they go bad.

Spices can last anywhere from six months to many years. This timeline depends on whether the spices are ground or whole, their quality, how well they are stored, and the type of spice. To help make your spices last longer, store them in airtight and nonporous containers like glass jars. Purchase quality over quantity, and keep spices at room temperature and out of direct sunlight.

No two spices are exactly the same, and even the same spice can have a different shelf-life depending on how and where it was stored. Keep reading to get a better idea of how long spices last, and how you can store them to help them last longer. The tips below will ensure that you are not cooking with flavorless spices, and instead making the most out of your most flavorful ingredients for months, and even years to come.

How Long Does It Take For Spices To Go Bad?

If you want to know how long your spices will last before they are no longer usable, the answer is — it depends. Generally speaking, ground spices usually last a minimum of six months to a year until they start to lose their potency. Other whole spices last upwards of three to four years before they lose their flavor.

Spices don’t usually turn bad or spoil. Instead, they lose their flavor. So, while most old spices aren’t likely to make you sick, they also won’t help you flavor your food. To get a better idea as to exactly how long a specific spice will last, you should consider the following factors.

Ground Versus Whole Spices: One major variable to consider when it comes to how long your spices will last is whether the spices you have are whole or ground. Spices that are already ground will lose their flavor faster. This is because the flavor is already exposed, whereas whole spices keep their essence until freshly ground.

The Type Of Container: The type of container will also dictate how long your spices will last. Porous containers and those with seals that are not airtight will lose flavor and “go bad” much faster than non-porous airtight containers.

Where The Spices Are Stored: Where you store the spices also dictates how long they will last. Spices stored in sunlight and in warm temperatures will lose flavor and be useless much faster than those kept at room temperature in a dry dark place.

The Type of Spice: Remember that not all spices are the same. Different spices lose flavor quickly, while others hold onto their essence for much longer.

Top Tips For Keeping Your Spices Fresher Longer

1. Check The Expiration Date Before Purchasing

One key to making sure your spices last as long as possible is to buy spices that are meant to last. This means checking the expiration date, or manufacturing date on the container (if available). You want new spices. Keep in mind that often when spices go on a steep discount, it is because they are already old. If you want spices to last, buy spices with an expiration date that is months or years away.

2. Buy Whole Spices Whenever Possible

Another key to keeping your spices fresh and flavorful for longer is to buy whole spices whenever possible. Buying ground spices is convenient, as it cuts down the work you need to do in the kitchen, but ground spices don’t last nearly as long as whole spices.

The ground version is fine if you plan to go through a certain spice frequently. However, if you are purchasing a flavor you will use rarely, then whole is best.

3. Place Your Spice Rack In A Spot With No Direct Sunlight

Direct sunlight is a silent slow killer of many household items, from fabric color to paints, and this is even true for your spices. One great way to ensure your spices are preserved for as long as possible is to store them out of reach of sunlight. A closed cabinet or kitchen cabinet alternative out of the sunlight is ideal. This will keep the sun away, and ensure harmful rays won’t deteriorate your spices faster than normal.

4. Use An Airtight Container

Air, especially free-flowing air, is another spice killer. If you leave your spices in a plastic bag or even a porous plastic container with a flimsy cap, then you are destined to have spices with a short lifespan and lackluster flavor. Make sure you lock in the freshness by using an airtight container. You must always make sure the lids are sealed properly after using your spices.

5. Glass Is Better Than Plastic

If you go down any spice aisle you will notice that spices come in either plastic or glass spice containers most of the time. When possible, you should opt for glass containers. Glass is non-porous, and will not allow air in. It is the ideal material for your spices. It might cost a bit more, but remember, it will also keep your spices tasting great and fresh for longer.

6. Cool, Dry Places Are Better Than Warm And Wet Places

Temperature and humidity also play an important role when it comes to how long your spices last before going bad. Spices don’t like hot and humid temperatures. If you keep them in these conditions, they can go bad and become solid and lumpy due to moisture.

Instead, opt for room temperature conditions in a dry place. Keep the spice rack away from any heat source, including the back of your refrigerator. This is another reason it is important to keep your spices sealed.

7. Some Spices Stay Fresher In The Refrigerator

While most spices are best kept at room temperature to preserve freshness, some peppery spices do best in colder temperatures. Chili powder, cayenne pepper, paprika, and other reddish spices from the pepper family all do best in the fridge. They keep their flavor and even their red color for longer when kept in this cool controlled setting.

8. Choose Quality Over Quantity

It should be no shock that higher-quality spices tend to last longer than generic ones. While some spices are effective no matter the brand, other spices are nuanced, and require some research. Buying quality ingredients ensures you have the flavor you want. Buying from reputable brands also ensures freshness.

9. Buy Your Spices From The Source

Whenever possible it is ideal to buy your spices at the source. If you are able, pick up local spices on vacation. Buy spices fresh from growers, and at farmer’s markets. After all, this cuts out the long process of packaging, shipping, and distribution. This long process can be months before spices even hit the shelves. Buying spices from the source can give you months of extra freshness for your spices.

10. Label Your Spices With Purchase Dates

Lastly, if you buy a spice that you know you won’t use often, consider labeling it. Mark the purchase date, and the date it was opened. This will help you gauge how fresh the spice is likely to be. It is also a friendly reminder to use this ingredient more, especially as this date continues to be further and further in the past.

Sealing Up How To Keep Your Spices Fresher Longer

Spices might not get moldy, or cause you illness when they are old, but they certainly lose flavor and become a ghost of their original selves over time. Spices last anywhere from six months to many years. A spice’s lifespan depends on factors like how it is stored, whether it is ground or whole, and even the type of spice itself. Remember to use airtight and non-porous containers to store spices. Keep spices in cool, dry, and dark places, avoiding humidity and sunlight whenever possible.

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Tom Gaffey
Tom Gaffey

Tom Gaffey is an expert writer who currently resides in Washington D.C. Tom has a passion for real estate and home improvement writing, as well as travel and lifestyle writing. He lived the last twelve years in Hawaii where he worked closely with luxury resorts and event planners, mastering his knowledge of aesthetics and luxury products. This is where he found his passion for home improvement and a keen interest in DIY projects. Currently, Tom resides in Washington D.C, and also working on his debut fiction novel.

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