Does Black Pepper Go Bad?

Black pepper is one of the most popular spices, second only to salt. Most of us use it daily, so if we see a good deal, it’s easy to go overboard. And then, a couple of months later, we ask ourselves: does pepper ever go bad?

I don’t know about you, but my spice organizer is always overflowing. Furthermore, many of the packages sit there for months or years on end. And sooner or later, one starts to think if they ever spoil, or will they sit there until I use the whole thing.

The good news is that most spices, especially those that are ground and dried, don’t ever spoil in a way dairy does. But they will lose some of their taste over time, and definitely won’t last forever (MC).

In this short article, we talk about storage, shelf life, and going bad of pepper. That includes both ground pepper and whole peppercorns of all varieties including black, white, pink, or green.

Let’s begin with storage.

Ground pepper on mortar and pestle
(credit: Sonja Punz)

How To Store Pepper

Pepper, like salt and pretty much all other spices, keeps best in a place where it’s away from heat, moisture, and direct sunlight. And that holds true for both ground and whole pepper, and all of its varieties.

Staying away from heat means it shouldn’t be anywhere near the stove (MC). Same thing when it comes to moisture and the sink.

When it comes to sunlight, a dark cabinet or a spice drawer is optimal for retaining the quality of the pepper for longer.

Pepper in potato salad
Pepper in potato salad

Many people find having their favorite spices handy on a spice rack really useful, and that’s an option too. Just make sure the stand doesn’t sit in direct sunlight, and you should be okay. Especially if having the pepper readily available means you will use it more often.

Last but not least, use tightly capped containers for your pepper, so the spice doesn’t have access to fresh air. If you’re buying whole peppercorns, consider using a capped pepper mill, especially if you don’t go through pepper rapidly. I’m pretty sure you know that freshly cracked pepper is superb in taste, so spending a couple of bucks on a quality grinder makes perfect sense.

How Long Does Pepper Last?

As I already mentioned, neither whole peppercorns nor ground pepper lasts forever. Both usually come with a best-by date on the label, and that date is a pretty good indicator of how long the spice will retain peak freshness. Of course, the way you store it after opening the package matters too, but pepper definitely won’t keep its sharp taste forever.

That being said, it’s not like you have to discard the spice once it’s past its date. It will be perfectly safe to use and retain some of its taste for quite a long time past that point. So you can use it pretty much for as long as it does its job.


When using old pepper, often you simply need to add a bit more than usual to get the desired effect.

If there’s no date on the package or only a packaging date, you should know that whole peppercorns keep quality for about 3 to 4 years, and ground pepper is best for maybe two years (MC).

Whole peppercorns (black, white, pink, green)3 – 4 years or Best-by date
Ground pepper1 – 2 years or Best-by date

Please note that the periods above are for optimal quality. Pepper won’t spoil if you store it properly.

Salt and pepper grinders
(credit: Jonathan Borba)

How To Tell If Pepper Is Bad

There are a couple of situations where you should discard pepper. Here are some of them:

  • Pepper is moldy, wet, or seems off. If water gets into the package, it pretty much renders it useless. If that’s the case, throw out the whole thing. Same thing if anything about the contents of the bag or jar is off, including visual changes and smell.
  • Pepper lost all its heat. If you have a truly ancient pack of pepper, it probably doesn’t give much if anything in terms of taste. It’s okay to let it go and buy a new package. You’re doing a disservice to yourself and those you cook for if you continue using that decade-old black pepper.

If your pepper is losing its heat, you can try reviving it. Toast it in a skillet (no fat needed) on medium-low until it gets more fragrant (MC). Stir it constantly, so it doesn’t burn. Put it back into the jar once it has cooled off.


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