One common question Chef McFadden says he frequently gets as the holidays near is, ‘How do I know if my spices from last year are still good?’
Herbs and spices, both whole and ground, do have a shelf life. Spices do not spoil or go bad, but they do lose potency and complex layers of flavor, which means the flavor will go flat or stale. When spices lose their power, it is best to discard them and replace with fresh ones.
Whole spices will keep the longest and can last up to four years in an airtight container, as long as they are kept in a cool, dry area in your pantry or kitchen. Extremely strong spices such as whole cloves, cinnamon, and pepper may last even longer. The trick to determining if whole spices are too old to use is by the smell-Chef McFadden says that when they have lost their aroma, it’s time to say goodbye. Ground spices have a shorter shelf life, usually between two and three years.
When in doubt, give your spice bottle a good shake, and pull the top off-if there’s no smell, it’s time to go spice shopping!