Wednesday, November 28, 2012

"How Do I Know If My Spices Are Still Good?"

"How do I know if my spices are still good?"

That's a question I hear a lot and my answer is straightforward: "Smell them."

Instead of being beholden to "best by" dates—which, for the majority of foods, are manufacturers' suggestions—use your nose and sniff. If the cinnamon you bought in 2004 still smells like cinnamon, then you (and your cinnamon) are fine and there's no need to waste money on a new bottle, no matter what the expiration date on the old bottle reads.

I have a half-full bottle of whole cloves that—literally—I bought in the mid 1990s and am still using because the cloves are as pungent as they were almost two decades ago. If the spice companies had their way, I'd be on my seventh bottle by now.

To help dried spices stay vibrant, store them in a cool, dark place. (The freezer is best, if feasible.) Keeping them in a cabinet above the stove or in direct sunlight will force their flavor to fade fast, leading to needless repurchasing.


Anonymous said...

I buy my spices from Penzey's Spices. As Bill Penzey said, "Spices don't die, they just fade away." Sure, whole cloves will still smell OK, as will nutmegs and whole pepper. But once ground, while they still smell OK, they have in fact lost the fullness of their flavor. So, I guess you could say I disagree. Sorry!

Chef Rob said...


Thanks for that info; I guess I'll have to do a taste test!

That being said, is, let's say, 70 percent flavor enough to warrant not spending $4 or $5 annually for spices that don't get used much, such as cloves or nutmeg?

Maybe beauty (or flavor) is in the eye (or nose) of the beholder in this case.

Thanks again for the info.

Anonymous said...

Spice-related, but not about the flavor. When our mother moved to a rehab center, we cleaned out her kitchen cupboards and found years-old, no decades-old, spices in metal boxes in the back of the cupboard, some from brands still sold but certainly packaged differently now. We threw them away, but later a friend told me the boxes were collectible and would have brought a better price because they still had spices inside. Since they were gone, we didn't get to test her theory, but didn't lament for too long. My mom had told me about all the things she had thrown away from her mother's kitchen, very old mason jars, pickle crocks, etc. Now, some of those I would like to have had.