You have a bag of old “expired” nuts, and you’re wondering if they are any good. How long do nuts last, exactly?
Or maybe yours smell off or taste somewhat bitter, and you’re unsure if you should toss them or are they stiff safe to eat.
Sounds familiar? If so, this short guide to storage, shelf life, and going bad of nuts is what you’re looking for. Read on.
Most of the info below is relevant to almost all types of nuts (e.g., walnuts, pistachios, almonds, cashews, and a few more), including peanuts (which technically aren’t nuts). Besides that, I included links to many articles that cover certain nuts in particular, in case you need more info.
Looking for specific info in particular? Here are some handy links:
Do Nuts Go Bad? How To Tell If Nuts Are Bad?
Nuts don’t go bad soon after the date on the label (if you buy them pre-packaged). That date, usually labeled as “best-by date” isn’t an expiration date, and it only informs you of how long the seller expects the nuts to retain their best quality. It’s just a very rough guideline, in other words.
Most nuts, maybe except pine nuts, stay in pretty good shape for months, even if you store them in the pantry.
That doesn’t mean that nuts last forever, of course.
If you have an old forgotten bag of nuts and are not sure if they are any good, give them a quick check. Here’s what to do:
- Check for pantry bugs. If there are any pantry pests in the bag or container, discard its contents.
- Shell them if needed. If the nuts are in-shell, and there’s mold or they give off a harsh taste, they’re done for. If they look a-okay, shell them.
- Visual check. If there’s any mold, fuzz, or net forming on the nut, let it go. If it’s shriveled and dried out, or the skin is wrinkled, you can most likely eat it, but I’d suggest discarding it for quality reasons. Anything else looks off? Toss it.
- The sniff test. Give the kernels a whiff. If the odor reminds you of old paint or some chemicals, or is harsh and bitter, those nuts are rancid. While rancid nuts aren’t necessarily unsafe to eat, they sure aren’t healthy ([HL]). I suggest throwing them out. If the smell is off in any other way, discard them.
- Flavor test. Finally, it’s time to eat a nut or two and assess the taste. If it’s bitter, the nuts are rancid. If it’s good enough, feel free to use them. Otherwise, get rid of them.
Here’s how old nuts look like:
If you have a whole bunch of unshelled nuts, and the shells look alright, you need to go through every kernel one by one, and check each one if it’s okay to eat or not.
If, after cracking open like ten nuts (or so), most of them were bad, feel free to discard the rest without shelling them. Chances are most of them will be useless anyway.
How Long Do Nuts Last?
Most shelled nuts retain quality for about 4 to 6 months at room temperature. In-shell nuts keep for a couple of extra months longer, around 6 to 9 months. If you decide to refrigerate your nuts, you extend that period by 50 to 100 percent. Freeze your nuts if you need even more time.
Those general rules work for almost all nuts, except pine nuts, which retain quality for only 2 to 3 months.
One important thing to know is that there’s no consensus regarding the shelf life of various nuts.
Some sources give you longer periods, while others go with much shorter ones, all for the same nut. Don’t be surprised if the label suggests eating yours within three months, while the table below says half a year.
The recommendations in the table below are on the higher end, but remember that those are still only rough suggestions, not cut and dried numbers.
If you have a bag of some old nuts in storage, it’s better to check their quality using the process outlined in the section about spoilage than to rely on the recommended storage periods.
|Almonds||4 months||12 months|
|Brazil nuts||6 – 9 months||12 months|
|Cashews||6 months||12 months|
|Hazelnuts, in-shell||6 months||12 months|
|Hazelnuts, shelled||3 – 4 months||12 months|
|Macadamia nuts||5 – 6 months||12 months|
|Peanuts, in-shell||6 months||12 months|
|Peanuts, shelled||4 months||12 months|
|Pecans, in-shell||3 months||10 months|
|Pecans, shelled||4 months||18 months|
|Pine nuts||2 – 3 months||6 months|
|Pistachios, in-shell||6 months||12 months|
|Pistachios, shelled||5 months||12 months|
|Walnuts, in-shell||6 months||12 months|
|Walnuts, shelled||3 months||6 months|
Once again, treat these periods as suggestions only.
I had a bag of almonds that were three years past their best-by date, and they still tasted okay. And a container of 2-year-old unshelled walnuts from my family orchard that were perfectly fine to eat in 9 out of 10 cases.
How To Store Nuts
Store your nuts in a cool and dry place, away from moisture and sources of heat. A pantry or a kitchen cupboard works well for that. To retain quality for longer, you can refrigerate or even freeze the nuts in a freezer bag or airtight container.
Nuts contain fatty acids (fat), and fat can go rancid if stored for too long or in poor conditions. To keep nuts from rancidification, we keep them cool, dry, and possibly safe from fresh air (e.g., in a freezer bag).
To slow that process even further, refrigerating or freezing the nuts is a great idea. This way, you get a couple of extra months, depending on the variety ([UCANR]). Of course, if you have access to an unheated basement or garage, those work well too.
Finally, the shelled versus unshelled issue.
From a storage and quality standpoint, store your nuts unshelled. The shell gives the kernel natural protection from the elements, and that’s why in-shell nuts keep quality much longer.
On the other hand, we have ease of use. If you’re unlikely to eat your nuts if they sit in the far corner of a shelf and in-shell, you can crack them open (or buy them shelled) and keep them handy.
If you struggle to eat your nuts and they tend to sit in storage for months, consider keeping a small container in a drawer or shelf that you frequently open. Or even on the counter. Less-than-optimal storage conditions are okay if that means you eat the nuts instead of letting them sit for months (or years).