How Old Are Your Spices?

It took me a while, but I finally buckled down and got rid of my old spices.

The tipping point was the other day when we were making pasta sauce. Greg sprinkled some Italian spice blend. I noticed it didn't have an aroma so I tasted it. It tasted woody and stale. When I checked the expiration date, I discovered it was 8 years old! There was no choice but to take a hard look at my inventory.

We had old spices, duplicate spices, and one-time use spices. It was time to break off our relationship.

The hardest ones for me to throw away were the one-time spices that I bought for some special recipe. In the back of my mind, I kept hoping I'd have a reason to use them again. Reality has finally sunk in.

Then there are the spices I only used once a year like allspice and nutmeg. This goes on year after year. I use them for the occasional pumpkin pie and then that's it until next year.

In cases like this I either need to find a really small bottle or switch to an alternative spice that will make do.

At least not all my spices had gone stale. There are a few I buy in the large containers because I use a lot of it. Our most used spices/herbs are garlic powder, cumin, black pepper, crushed red pepper, oregano, and salt (of course).

The not-so-frequently used spices are nutmeg, allspice, cloves, sage, curry, and ground mustard.

According to most experts, ground spices are only good for 2-3 years. Whole spices are 3-4 years. I am too embarrassed to tell you what the oldest spice in my spice rack was. Suffice it to say, the label on the bottle said 99 cents. When I replaced it the other day, I paid 5.99 for a bottle with slightly less product.

I did save the bottles though. I find them handy for seed storage and other tiny things.

One thing to note is that granulated sugar, salt, and honey have no expiration date. I buy them in quantity and divvy them up into smaller containers.

How about you? Are you good about checking your spices for freshness? What do you use most? What spice do you use least?


B.E. Sanderson said…
Umm... Let's not get into all that, shall we? I know there's at least one spice in my spice rack that I've had since I bought the spice rack in 2003. I'm working on getting rid of everything old, though, and updating my spice rack with stuff I actually use and relabeling the containers. I'm thinking about dumping the old stuff in my gardens for critter repellent. Can't hurt, eh?

My most used are: oregano, basil, tarragon, cinnamon, garlic or onion powder, black pepper, dill weed, and thyme. I need to ditch the cumin, since I never use it. I'm occasional with the paprika, rosemary, and ground cloves.
Stacy McKitrick said…
Oh man, now you tell me! I could have saved myself some work and just thrown them all out when we moved! Hahahahaha!
This is one of those projects I really need to get to. Not only do I need to go through the spices, but I also need to organize them better. I'm thinking about putting them in a drawer instead of in a cabinet....

Red pepper flakes never get a chance to go stale in our house. :)
Angela L Brown said…
I may need to do a spice inventory - _-
lynnviehl said…
I use a lot of herbs and spices. We clean out the pantry twice a year to get rid of expired/old bottles. If I need one for just a single recipe, I'll buy a small envelope rather than a bottle. Badia generally offers the smallest quantities that way. Sometimes I'll buy fresh instead of dried, like mint, which I also use in only one recipe.

I keep a rack by the stove with the ones I use every week to save footsteps. Adobe, basil, bay leaf, chili pepper flakes, chives, cilantro, garlic, oregano, peppercorns, rosemary, sazon completa (wonderful on steamed broccoli with a little olive oil) and thyme I tend to buy in bulk bottles because I use them so much.

I never use anise, fennel or tarragon, but I don't like black licorice, which is what they all taste like to me.
Maria Zannini said…
BE: I cringed when I saw the date on my oldest one. It was just one of those spices I used once and then forgot. It got pushed further and further back.
Maria Zannini said…
Stacy: Moving is the perfect excuse to start with a clean slate. :)
marlenedotterer said…
Oh man, where do I start? I have a huge variety of spices. I use most of them, but it's true that there are some in there that haven't seen the light of day in more than a decade. Like... *runs over to look*... mostly blends, as it turns out. Things like "poultry seasoning," or "Chinese Five Spices." I guess that's because recipes tend to call for individual spices. I know a lot of recipes call for "curry powder" but many also make up the curry flavor using cinnamon, turmeric, cumin, etc. I use my curry powder often enough, but poultry seasoning? What the heck is that anyway?

I use my spices a LOT. I buy large bulk amounts of cinnamon, turmeric, and ginger, because I make a tea nearly every day using one teaspoon of each. Supposed to be anti-inflammatory, but who knows if it really does anything. My husband puts about a teaspoon of cinnamon on his oatmeal. And if I put cinnamon in something, like waffle mix, I put in two or three times what a recipe will call for. Maybe I burned out my cinnamon taste buds sometime.

I also use the Italian herbs quickly. If it's not Indian or Asian food, it probably has basil, oregano, and thyme in it. Herbs de Provence brightens the flavor of anything you put it in. That's one blend I DO use quickly. Since I always make salad dressings, a sprinkle of one herb or another can go in to charge up the salad.

The spices we traditionally associate with autumn - nutmeg, allspice, cardamom (and cinnamon of course) - I use all winter long. I love nutmeg - it's a super comfort aroma for me. When I add it to pancakes or sauces it makes me feel like a cozy child sitting in front of the fireplace, wrapped in a blanket. I don't think I ever had that experience as a child, but that's how it makes me feel. I've been known to add it to my oatmeal even in the summer. Oh, and sage. I love sage! Another great comfort herb.

A good many of my spices go into rubs or sausage mixes. I use the rubs on meat, fish, and even potatoes. I also make vegan sausages on a regular basis. Fennel seeds is something that goes in that.

Nevertheless, there are spices I could throw out. I love the idea of putting them into the garden - can't believe I didn't think of that!
Maria Zannini said…
Madeline:In a house a long, long time ago, I was short of space. Greg put in one of those under cabinet spice racks that fold down from the bottom of an upper cabinet. I used that for years. It was super handy and it was nice to fold it up and out of sight.
Maria Zannini said…
Angela: It was surprisingly cathartic. :)
Maria Zannini said…
Lynn: Rosemary, thyme, parsley, cilantro, basil, and oregano I can clip fresh if I want, but I like to have some in storage on those days when it's raining outside or I don't feel like walking out to the garden.

Good idea on buying seasoning by the bag. I'll do that next time with the ones I use rarely. It's got to be cheaper than buying a whole bottle.
Maria Zannini said…
Marlene: You are a culinary master! I've never tried Herbs de Provence. I'm going to have to look for that the next time I go shopping. I'm not a nutmeg person, but I do remember my mother cooking with cinnamon and nutmeg often. I can still smell her kitchen like that.

You have me intrigued on your sausage mixes. I have yet to do my own. The pork is waiting to be ground up and seasoned too. I'm just scared I'll mess it up.

Another use for old spices would be as potpourri too.
You always share such great information. So the only spice I have in the cupboard is cinnamon. Seriously that's it! Mostly because I do the fresh herb thing for all my cooking.

Sometimes I dry them for winter use because i just get lazy when it comes to going outside in the cold to harvest.

I've been simplifying my kitchen to say the least... I know big surprise. LOL

I had to chuckle when you said .99 cents and then when you replaced it 5.99. Crazy isn't it?

So glad you shared this because many don't realize the spice shelf life. Hope you have a great week!
Maria Zannini said…
Carole: I get lazy too when I'm cooking after dark or it's raining. I don't want to go outside and hunt for herbs. LOL!

Greg loves cinnamon which might explain why I had so many jars.
Betty said…
I have to say we cleared out the old spices several moves ago but some we had moved for at least 10 years if not more and those were the ones like you mentioned, the ones we bought for a specific recipe and then maybe didn't use them again. I think hubby's favorites that he uses a lot are garlic powder, basil, oregano, black pepper, parsley, and dill to name a few.

Michael Keyton said…
I have a spice cupboard which never fails to surprise me
Maria Zannini said…
Betty: I guess we don't move enough. :D
Maria Zannini said…
Mike: A professional cook should know better. :D
Michael Keyton said…
A lazy cook on the other hand . . . :)