Sunday, February 3, 2019

How long do spices, herbs, and seasonings last?

I recently did a lot of research into the shelf life of herbs, spices, seasonings, and similar pantry items. This included looking up information on about a dozen websites, as well as several books (both preparedness-type as well as general cookbooks). Based on what I discovered and my own past experiences, I consider the following information to the "the final word" on the subject.

One quick note: Many, if not most, of the sources I found gave shelf-life dates much shorter than the ones I give here, while a few others gave dates much farther out. This confused me until I realized that they are considering self-life differently. The short-date folks gave shelf-life dates based on the fullness of flavor of the spice or herb. Once the flavor starts to fade even a little, they recommended tossing it out. This is fine for a chef at a four-star restaurant or a food gourmet, but I am concerned about long-term food storage, not impressing professional food critics. Most herbs and spices are still safe to eat and nutritious even after the flavor has faded a little. 

When it goes bad, it goes bad.

Regardless of how old or young that bottle of spice or dried herbs is, its perfectly good until it goes bad. By that, I mean there is no magic expiration date where something suddenly goes bad. If it hasn't gone bad, its still safe to eat months or even years past any expiration or best buy date. If it has gone bad, then its not safe to eat, even if it hasn't reached its official expiration date yet. You must use common sense. 


Pay attention to what it looks, smells, and tastes like. Look for bugs or signs of bugs such as webbing or droppings. Look for mold, fungus or mildew. Look for signs of vermin getting in to your food or spices (chew marks, droppings). Notice smells, too. If it smells bad or otherwise doesn't smell like it should, toss it. Same goes for taste. If it tastes bad, toss it. Common sense.

Stored properly, These Should Last Forever:
  • Salt
  • White Sugar
  • Brown Sugar*
  • Vinegar (white or apple-cider)
  • Honey
  • Vanilla Extract (real, not artificial)
*I've always believed brown sugar only lasted a couple of years, but I found several sources that stated otherwise. Brown sugar, same as white, potentially lasts forever if stored properly.

These Will Eventually Go Bad:
  • Other Extracts – Will store up to four years
  • Whole Spices – Will store up to four years
  • Ground Spices – up to three years
  • Dried Herbs – up to three years
  • Poppy & Sesame Seeds – up to two years
  • All other Seeds - up to four years
  • Seasoning blends w/salt as the first ingredient – up to four years
  • Seasoning blends without salt – up to three years
What about Baking Soda?

Preppers love baking soda because it seems to have a thousand and one uses in addition to baking. The good news is that baking soda is incredibly shelf-stable and should last pretty much forever for those 1001 uses. However, baking soda loses it potency for baking after about two years. So, the baking soda you are storing for baking should be rotated every two years or less.    

How to store herbs and spices properly:

Proper storage is simple. Keep your herbs and spices in a dark, dry place stored in air-tight containers. 

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