How Long Should I Keep Those Spices?

Spring presents us with many holiday and celebratory occasions for having dinner guests in our homes. Whether Easter, Passover, graduation, shower or wedding cooking plans are on your upcoming to-do list, there is one thing we all have in our kitchens, often times in abundance and disarray, spices!

Since the spice trade in 2000 B.C., humans have found many uses for various dried seeds, roots and bark. Today we can conveniently buy pretty little containers full of wonderful aroma and flavor at our local supermarkets, and the varieties seem endless. 

Often times a recipe will call for one teaspoon of some exotic spice you will never use again, and then, it sits for years in the bottom of a drawer or spinning around on a Lazy Susan. Perhaps you will use it again, but surely it will age and the best buy date will pass along with the memory of when you last used it.

So when exactly do spices go bad and what is the best way to organize them in our kitchens?

McCormick & Company has been using best by dates on their spices since 2004. Chances are if you don’t see a best buy date on your spice container, it is ready to be tossed. Here are some basic guidelines McCormick lists on their website for spice shelf life:

* Ground Spices – 3 to 4 years
* Whole Spices – 4 years
* Leafy Herbs – 1 to 3 years
* Bottled Seasoning Blends – 1 to 2 years
* Extracts (Except Pure Vanilla) & Food Colors – 4 years
* Pure Vanilla – indefinitely
* Recipe Mixes (gravy, taco, etc.) – 2 years
* Marinades and Sauces – 12 to 24 months
* Seafood Box Mixes – 18 to 24 months

Using a permanent marker and placing the year of purchase on the underside of your spice container when you bring it home will provide a great visual reminder as to how old your spices are and when they should be replaced.

And do spices need to be organized from A-Z?  Not necessarily. Many cooks find it easier to organize their spices by function (say cooking vs. baking). And like all things we store in our kitchen, spices should be kept where they are most convenient for your use. You may find it easier to place your spices in different locations so they are easier to find when you need them. Spices for cooking are easier to find when stored in a cabinet near the stove and those for baking where you store your mixing bowls or bakeware.

Jenny PowerAbsolutely Organized, LLC

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