Do Spices Go Bad?

September 11, 2022

Do Spices Go Bad?

Do Spices Go Bad?

How to Tell and Average Shelf Life

Spices are an incredibly important part of cooking. They can transform dishes of little substance into ones bursting with flavour. These spices play an important role not just in flavouring food but in aiding everyday health and healing the body. The Ayurvedic benefits that are contained within these beautiful spices are a big part of the reason they are used in almost every dish in Indian and Sri Lankan cooking.

Whether you’re an amateur cook or the head of a professional kitchen, you probably have a well-stocked collection of spices you use almost on the daily. But do these dried and fresh spices expire? Do spices go bad? Let’s have a look at the facts!

How to Tell if Your Spices Have Gone Bad

The first point we should make is that while spices do deteriorate in quality, they don’t necessarily spoil like milk or meat. However, spices, even if they are stored with the utmost caution and expertise, will not last forever. These fresh and dried spices go bad after a while, gradually losing their taste, aroma, and medicinal benefits as time goes on.

A couple ways to tell if you’re spices have gone bad include:

Smell: Spices are one of the most aromatic ingredients used in cooking so smell is one of the most obvious ways to determine freshness. As you gain more experience with spices, you’ll be able to tell immediately once something doesn’t smell right but a few tips while starting out:

  • If you are struggling to find the aroma of a spice, whether it be ground or whole, that’s usually a good indication that the spices have lost that freshness.
  • Try shaking the jar of spices before opening the lid and giving it a smell to see if that helps
  • Otherwise, take a small amount of powder or whole spice and place it on you palm. Press it into your palm or crush it between your fingers to bring out more aroma.

Sight: Sight can also be a fairly ease way to test if you’re spices have gone bad. Usually vibrant/colourful spices such as turmeric, cardamom, or cinnamon will lose colour after a certain period of time. The colours will fade or look as if left in the sun when kept too long but this is much more subtle and hard to determine than smell or our next indicator.

Taste: Finally, taste is a great way to tell if your spices have gone bad. We recommend familiarising yourself with how your spices taste when you first buy them. Some may be bitter or sour tasting, but it’s important to understand your ingredients and becomes easier to tell later on whether the spices are done for. After using some of those tips listed under smell, take a small pinch and put it on your tongue. If the flavour isn’t as intense, or has changed slightly, it might be time to purchase more spices.

Shelf Life of Whole Spice vs. Ground Spice

Shelf life depends on a few factors: where the spices are stored, what container used to store them, frequency of disturbance, and so on. But, for the most part, the order that spices go bad is as follows:

  1. Ground spices such as garam masala, ground curry powder, or chilli powder ‘go bad’ the quickest. The reason things go bad is exposure to oxygen, and because of how fine ground spices are, there are more fully exposed to oxygen. This means that ground spices will start to lose their flavour around 3-6 months in and shouldn’t be kept for more than a year.
  2. Dried herbs like curry leaves, bay leaves, or oregano are usually the second to lose their flavour and potency. Either roughly chopped or dried as whole leaves, these dried herbs rely on the fresh flavour that their undried counterparts bring, but preserved as best they could. They will start to lose potency around 8-10 months in and shouldn’t be kept for longer than 1.5 years.
  3. Whole spices such as cloves, cardamom pods, or fenugreek seeds, last the longest by far. Whole spices protect most of their flavour by remaining whole and when ground, release their flavour over a year after purchasing. They will start to lose freshness about 1-1.5 years in and should be replaced at the latest around the 2-year mark for the best flavour.

Wrapping Up

Spices are such an important part of our cooking so it’s important to take care of the ingredients you use. From proper storage to the right spices to use, there’s a lot to consider, but once you get a feel for the spices, you’ll fell much more confident working with them. 

If you are looking for a beautiful selection of spices, stored properly and neatly for maximum freshness and versatility, the Lord and Lion Signature Spice Boxes are perfect for home cooking or as a gift. Otherwise, check out the rest of our blogs for more info about spices, food, and travel!