Spices are something we use often, but without putting much thought into just how long those spices have been sitting in the cupboard for, they could be years old without you even realising. While old spices won’t pose a health hazard, they won’t taste anywhere near as good as they should, which means your cooking will be lacking in flavour.
When spices start to get old they begin to lose their flavour, but how do you know if spices have gone stale? It’s not worth keeping old spices, even if it feels as though you are being wasteful throwing them away. The purpose of adding spices to food is to add flavour to the end meal, so there is little point using spices that have lost their flavour and fragrance. You will end up with a dish that tastes much the same as it would have if you didn’t add the spices.
Whole spices, including cinnamon sticks, peppercorns, cloves, cumin, cardamom and nutmeg will stay fresh for 5 years if they are kept in an airtight container. These are the types of spices you grind as you need them, and they offer the best value for money given they have a longer lifespan than the pre-ground varieties. Dried herbs can keep for 3 years in a dry, airtight container.Â Â Ground spices on the other hand will last up to 4 years provided they have been stored properly.
Don’t be tempted to keep herbs and spices in the freezer as a way to keep them fresh for longer. The condensation will spoil them quickly, no matter how quickly you remove them and return them to the freezer after every use. Even steam from the oven or stovetop can cause condensation to form in the container, so definitely don’t store your herbs and spices near the stove. Also, rather than shaking the container directly over your cooking to add spices, use a spoon. This will prevent steam entering the container.
Another way to tell if spices have gone stale is to take a look at the colour and texture of the spices. Vibrant colour generally means that the spices still taste good. Likewise, if the colour is bland then it’s likely the spices will taste bland also. Spices that started out green will usually turn yellow or brown as they go stale, and spices the began as a bright red will turn maroon as they age.
Regularly organising your spice rack will help to make sure you always have still fresh herbs and spices ready to go at all times. All packets should have a best before date on them, but these can fade of plastic containers and glass jars easily. When you bring spices home, take a permanent texta and write either that date or the date you purchased the spices (no matter how long they will sit unopened) on the packaging. That way you can easily see at a glance just how old the spices are.
Because herbs and spices don’t have an indefinite shelf life, there is not much point buying a gigantic bulk packet if there is no way you could possible use that much even over the next few years. Stick to packaging sizes that suit your usage patterns and cooking style. It might seem cheaper in unit pricing terms to buy the large pack, but it’s going to cost you more in the long run if you only use a quarter of the packet.
So next time you are cleaning out your pantry do a spice check as well, that way you can be sure when ever you add them to a dish they will add the flavour they are suppose to.
Do you check your spices often? What would be the number one spice you use the most of?