Does Nutmeg Go Bad?

If your spice drawer is nothing like those beautifully organized ones you’ve seen online, you’re not alone. Mine is a mess too.

And in that mess, it’s easy to lose track of an opened bag of ground nutmeg and begin another one. And after a few months, you find that package that’s already past its date. Does nutmeg go bad?

Or maybe you buy whole nutmeg and grind it yourself. You expect to have it around for quite some time, so you’re looking for the best ways to keep it fresh. And obviously, you need to know for how long it retains flavor and aroma.

If you’d like to learn more about storage, shelf life, and going bad of both whole and ground nutmeg, this article is for you.

Whole and ground nutmeg spice
Whole and ground nutmeg spice

How to Store Nutmeg

Like with other spices, it’s best to keep nutmeg it in a cool and dark place, away from sunlight and sources of heat. The pantry is the best choice, but a spice drawer in the kitchen is a more practical one.

Tip

If you buy nutmeg seeds in bulk, you can transfer them into an airtight container or jar after opening the package. This way, they will retain freshness for longer.

When it comes to ground nutmeg, it often comes in paper packaging. If you expect to store it for over a year, consider pouring it into a small jar or container. Otherwise, do your best to seal it in its original packaging.

All in all, keep in mind that the spice should be away from moisture, sunlight, and high temperatures. Because of the last one, avoid grating it directly over the food you’re cooking on the stovetop. Do it on the counter instead and sprinkle it using your fingers.

Nutmeg seeds
Image used under Creative Commons from Brian Snelson

How Long Does Nutmeg Last

Thanks to the drying process, nutmeg has a long shelf life.

Similarly to cinnamon, whole nutmeg retains quality for longer than its ground counterpart. That’s because grinding exposes more surface area to the air, and that means it loses the flavor faster. With whole nutmeg, only the surface of the seed has access to air, while after grinding, it’s every single bit of the powder on the surface.

While spices usually come with a best-by date, it’s only marginally useful. That’s just an estimate, and in almost all cases the spice will retain flavor and aroma for much longer.

Generally, you can assume that well stored whole nutmeg seeds will keep freshness for about 4 years, while ground nutmeg for about two years. That’s, of course, for the best quality. Provided that water won’t get to the spice, it should last well beyond that period, and in reasonably good shape.

Please note that nutmeg, like other spices, loses potency over time. That means that after a few years of storage, the flavor and aroma won’t be as intensive as it used to be.

 Pantry
Whole nutmeg4 years
Ground nutmeg2 years

The estimates above are for the best quality. Nutmeg will stay safe to consume for much longer.

Nutmeg and mace
Image used under Creative Commons from Quinn Dombrowski

How to Tell if Nutmeg Is Bad?

Let’s start with actual spoilage. If water gets to the package of whole or ground nutmeg, there will be mold or some other organic growth. That’s a sure sign you should get rid of it. Same thing if it smells off.

If water doesn’t get to it, it should be safe to eat. But before you add it to eggnog or some baked goods, you should check its potency. Especially if it already sits in storage for over a year.

To do that, we need ground nutmeg. So if you want to check the quality of whole nutmeg, start by grating a bit. Now rub a small amount between your fingers, and taste and smell it. If the flavor or smell is weak or hardly noticeable, start a new package. Otherwise, it’s good enough to use and flavor your dishes.