Do Spices Ever Go Bad? Shelf Life and When To Toss Them

Found an old jar of cinnamon or turmeric, and not sure if it’s still any good? Or your dried basil or rosemary is past its date. Do spices ever go bad?

If you have a huge collection of various dried herbs and spices in your spice drawer, there are surely ones that sit there for at least a couple of years.

Are these still okay to use, or should you toss them?

If you’re not sure, this article is here to help. In it, we dive into the basics of dried spices and herbs.

After reading it, you should know what to do with your “expired” spices, no matter what you have on hand.

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Cinnamon sticks
Two cinnamon sticks

How Long Do Spices Last?

Whole spices (think peppercorns) retain quality for 3 to 4 years, while ground spices for 2 to 3 years.

Dried herbs (think basil or rosemary) keep for 1 to 3 years, while fresh herbs for only a week or two in the fridge.

That’s the gist of it.

The mentioned periods are pretty vague because of a few reasons, such as:

  • some people store their spices in more optimal conditions than others
  • what’s acceptable quality-wise for me might not be good enough for you, and vice versa
  • some spices and herbs keep their potency a bit longer, while others (e.g., bay leaves) not so much
Tip

Most dried herbs and spices should retain quality for at least 6 to 12 months after the date on the label.

Fresh rosemary leaves
Fresh rosemary leaves

Besides that, there a couple of exceptions, like salt and vanilla extract, which basically stay fine indefinitely.

Below, I included a table with rough storage periods for various spices so that you know what you might expect from what you have on hand.

But I don’t think memorizing or saving such a list is a good solution.

Instead, I suggest you learn how to tell if your spices are still worth using. This way, you don’t worry about the dates and just give your old spices a quick check before using them.

FreshDried and/or Ground
Bay Leaves1 year
Chili Powder2 – 3 years
Chives1 – 2 weeks2 – 3 years
Cinnamon, ground2 – 3 years
Cinnamon, sticks3 – 4 years
Garlic4 – 6 months2 – 3 years
Garlic powder
Ginger1 – 2 weeks2 – 3 years
Nutmeg, ground2 – 3 years
Nutmeg, whole4 years
Pepper2 – 3 years
Peppercorns4 years
Rosemaryup to 2 weeks2 – 3 years
Saffron2 – 3 years
Saltindefinitely
Thymeup to 2 weeks2 – 3 years
Vanilla Extractindefinitely
Please note the periods in this table are only rough estimates.
Pepper in potato salad
Pepper in potato salad

Do Spices Go Bad? When To Toss Your Old Spices?

Spices don’t go bad or expire the way other food products do, but almost all of them lose their potency over time.

That means your dishes won’t be as aromatic and flavorful as they used to if you use old spices instead of fresh ones.

Fortunately, you don’t need to cook your whole dinner to learn if your old rosemary or sage are any good.

Here’s what to do instead:

  1. If the spice is whole (e.g., a whole peppercorn), grab a grinder and prep a small amount.
  2. Rub a pinch of the spice between your fingers, then smell and taste them.
Rosemary sprigs
Rosemary sprigs

Now it’s time to assess the quality of that dried herb or spice. It’s as simple as it gets:

  • if the flavor and aroma are there, it’s fine
  • if both are weak, but you’re still able to distinguish them, you can either toss it or add a bit more of the spice to your dishes to get the job done
  • if you can hardly feel and smell anything, it’s time to buy a new container

That’s it. The whole “process” should take less than a minute, and the results are much better than relying on the “best-by” date on the label or the storage periods in the table.

Tip

If your old ground spices have only a bit of flavor left, try giving them a gentle toast and see if that helps. Grab a non-stick skillet, pour the contents into a dry pan, and stir them on medium-low until they get more fragrant ([MC]).

Thyme closeup
Thyme closeup

How To Store Spices

Dried spices retain their quality best in a cool, dry, and dark spot, tightly sealed. A small jar or an airtight container in the pantry is a great option.

Of course, the pantry is the ideal spot, but most of us keep spices on hand somewhere in the kitchen, be it in a spice drawer or a spice rack on the counter.

Note

Many spices, especially dried herbs (like bay leaves), retain their quality even better in the freezer, but I don’t know anyone who would bother with freezing them. Feel free to try it, though.

No matter where your spices sit, make sure they’re not in direct sunlight or near the stove or sink.

Other than that, feel free to keep them within arm’s reach. That’s the easiest way to make sure you actually use them. And that they don’t just sit around until they lose their potency.

Plate of creamy carrot soup
Creamy carrot soup, topped with frozen fresh parsley leaves

Freezing Spices

Most dried or ground spices last for years, but you can’t say the same about fresh spices or herbs. In most cases, all you have is a week or two.

If you need more than that, freezing is often an easy way out. Here’s what we covered so far when it comes to freezing spices:

Frozen chives in a freezer bag
Frozen chives in a freezer bag

Sources