If you look in my kitchen and pantry you will find LOTS of spices and spice blends. Not only am I a big fan of them, The Hubby is as well. He has some secret recipes that he uses when he smokes meat and when he cooks steaks on the grill.
That being said, one of the most important things about using spices is to know when they are at their best and when it’s time to pitch them. As far as I know, you won’t die from any kind of poisoning by using old ones. But, to get the most from your pinches and dashes, you’ll want to use them before they lose their power.
We’re going to cover four types in this article. We can talk about other pantry basics later.
Fresh Herbs – These vary quite a bit. One to three weeks is the general rule depending on if they are “tender” or “hardy”. Tender herbs include cilantro, dill, mint, parsley and tarragon. Chives, Rosemary, Sage and Thyme are considered hardy. Basil is in between there somewhere. I’ll talk about how to best keep your fresh herbs actually fresh later.
Ground Spices – These are typically good for about 2 years. If you find a REALLY good sale on them (and it’s not because they are about to expire) you can put a few jars in the freezer. Make sure you mark the date you take them out of the freezer and keep them no longer than one year after that.
Whole Spices – These are typically good for 3-4 years provided you keep them whole and don’t grind them yourself. Cloves, cinnamon sticks and any kind of peppercorn are examples of whole spices.
Spice Blends – Blends are usually at their best if they are kept no longer than one to two years. If you make your own (like I do a lot of the time) make sure you mark on the container when you made them. I generally do not keep these over a year. Because I make them, I can easily make smaller amounts.
One of the things that I’ve found most helpful over the years is to remember that air and sunlight are the biggest enemies to bottled spices and seasonings. Always make sure you put the cap back on properly. And, keep your jars in a drawer/cabinet or transfer them to colored bottles. Old prescription bottles work great after you have washed and dried them thoroughly. Or, if you are crafty, chalkboard paint or milk bottle paint would work great and would make storing them a cute part of your kitchen decor.
I’ll bet you have something in your pantry that is WAY overdue for being thrown out. A good way to help with keeping things up-to-date is to always put the newest jar of something in the back and move the older to the front. Using a colored pen, highlighter, or Sharpie to mark things makes it easier too.