Anytime we’re reaching deep into the recesses of our spice cupboards the question is likely to come up, “Are my Spices & Herbs still good?” So whether it’s a holiday and you’re reaching for that poultry seasoning you just *know* is there or today’s environment when many are home and cooking, the answer is: It depends! Let’s find out.
There are a lot of myths out there, many perpetuated by celebrity Chefs, magazines, online and of course, all the people who mean well, and follow their advice and parrot them. It’s a shame really. The one little gem that I hear repeated over and over is advice to toss out spices, usually after six months, and sometimes after a year.
Do NOT toss your herbs & spices out after six months!
Do NOT toss them out after a year!
That just be cray cray!
Why? Most herbs and spices, although there are exceptions are picked and processed annually. While some herbs and spices are prone to losing flavor faster, the majority of them will be just fine for longer periods of time. And some older spices that aren’t used often may stay fresher and stronger than spices used frequently. They may have been sitting closed, seldom opened in the back of the cupboard!
Are My Dried Spices & Herbs Still Good? Evaluate Them!
Use your senses to determine how much flavor and life there may or may not be in that little jar. The essential oils in herbs and spices will fade over time, enough to start noticing in many in a year while others last much longer. The question is how much and what to do about it.
- Visual: First of all, if it’s in a can, it’s probably over 25 years old. It’s a good bet it can be a) tossed or b) sold as an antique! If not proceed. Open the jar. Has the color changed looking faded? That’s a clue. You’re likely to notice this in spices and herbs that are vibrant to begin with, cayenne pepper for instance. Some herbs and spices are always dull looking so go on to the nose test.
- Aroma: If upon opening the jar, there’s no detectable odor, it’s probably a no go for that spice. If you smell some aroma but it’s not the level you’d expect (this is a judgment call and comes easier with experience) it might be possible to take a look at some of the hints below to wake up those flavors. Of course, use care in sniffing any spices, especially hot ones.
- Taste: Yes, you can taste spices. If there really isn’t any discernable flavor, it’s a good bet it’s not going to flavor anything. Keep in mind, some spices, like turmeric, aren’t super flavorful to begin with.
Are My Dried Spices & Herbs Still Good? Wake Up Old Spices:
So you may not be always able to run to the store to replace a jar of your herbs or spice at the drop of a hat. Maybe the store’s closed, maybe you’re in the middle of a recipe. Here are a few things you might be able to do.
- Add More: Increase the Amount: Use more of the spice or herb called for in a recipe.
- Crush Them: Crush them in your palm or rub between your fingers before adding them to a recipe.
- Add Early: Instead of adding your herbs and spices to a recipe as it simmers, if you are doing any sauteing in oil, butter or another fat, add them after any aromatics (onions, peppers, bell peppers, celery and/or garlic) are finished. Stir and be careful not to burn.
- Toast Them: Warm the spices or herbs up in a dry skillet before adding to a recipe. Again, be careful not to burn. Use a good amount of caution when toasting ground spices.
- Add Oil: Letting your herbs or spices sit in a little oil prior to making a recipe may help. Let sit long enough for the oil to penetrate.
Are My Dried Spices & Herbs Still Good? Common Culprits:
There are some herbs and spices that just don’t keep well at all in a dried form. I find that in particular, these three common herbs fade in both color and flavor.
- Parsley: Dried parsley may be found in some boxed or bagged products but seems to do little as far as flavor in most homemade recipes. Taste and decide.
- Cilantro: The leaves of the plant fade quickly and the flavor of even newly opened jars doesn’t compare to fresh. Use your judgment.
- Chives: Another herb that loses flavor very quickly. Check flavor before using. Consider using fresh or substituting finely sliced green onion (the tops) instead.
- All Spices and Herbs: Any spice improperly stored and opened often is subject to premature death! A solution is to store larger amounts of herbs and spices safely away and using smaller working jars, refilling as needed.
- Check out my post, Basic IngredientsL Herbs and Spices for more information and links to all of my other spice pages!
So My Herbs & Spices Are Too Old, What Now:
If you’re not cooking a lot or cooking sporadically it is likely that some of the herbs and spices just aren’t up to snuff. Check them and replace them as needed.
It’s likely that you’re going to be much better off from a financial standpoint if you pick them up as needed and/or start with the basic ones you want to use first rather than buying a standard set or pack of “basics.” See my post on Essential Herbs & Spices for more information.
If you’d like some creative ideas for what to do with your old spices, check this article from, of all places, Popular Science, titled appropriately, What to do with your Old Spices.
I hope you enjoyed this post containing common sense and science-based information about the herbs and spices you may have lurking in your cupboards and pantry. Please explore more and if you liked this, pinning and sharing on your social media is always appreciated!
Stay in if you can and stay safe!
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