Whether you are an amateur cook or a seasoned chef, you know that a well-stocked spice cabinet is key in dialling up the flavour of your dishes. But if you have been collecting your flavouring arsenal for a while, you are probably wondering when they will expire?
As the season changes and we get excited about the warmer months’ foods and flavours, we often start cleaning out our kitchen cupboards. The tricky part arises when we get to our spices and herbs – how long do they last?
“In the culinary world, spices are seasonings made from a plant’s dried roots, bark or stem, whereas herbs are the plant’s dried or fresh leaves,” writes Healthline.
Spices and dried herbs are key ingredients for many dishes, adding flavour and taste and transforming what may be boring and bland into delicious meals.
What you may not realise, is that spices do more than just season your food. They can also help prevent spoilage and add a boost of colour and health-promoting plant compounds to your dishes.
Many common spices and herbs, such as cloves, turmeric, rosemary, sage and cinnamon, have demonstrated potent antioxidant and anti-inflammatory properties.
Let thy nose and eyes be thy guide
The aroma and appearance of a spice or dried herb are what to look for in establishing whether they are still good.
Although technically spices don’t spoil, they do lose their potency over time. We rounded up the estimated shelf life of the most common spices and herbs found in the kitchen:
Oregano, rosemary, bay leaves, basil and other whole leafy herbs retain their strength for about one to three years. In warmer months, herbs are in abundance in food gardens, so summer is a good time to replace any old, dried herbs and spices.
Ground or powdered spices
Turmeric, paprika, chilli pepper flakes, ginger, garlic, cumin, cardamom, cinnamon and spice blends keep for approximately two to four years.
Whole or unground spices
Peppercorns, nutmeg, cinnamon sticks, cloves and those that come in seed form, like fennel, cumin and mustard, will keep for up to four years.
The seasoning that is reported to last indefinitely is salt, unless it is seasoned with an ingredient that may lose its potency.
Make sure that you buy good-quality spices or dry your own. Drying your own fresh herbs is best – especially for herbal teas in winter months.
To maximise the longevity of your spices and dried herbs, storage is important.
Keep them away from direct sunlight (windowsills) or heat (above the stove). Cool and dark places are best.
Store your seasoning in airtight containers, which protect them from moisture. Glass jars are the best as they retain the spices’ and herbs’ essential oil content, which gives flavour. Make sure to label them with the date so that you don’t have to guess how old they are!
If you’re still in doubt, open the jar, pour a bit onto your palm and smell and taste the seasoning. Loss of colour is also telling.
This article was written by Siyabonga Mngoma and first published by Abundance Wholesome Foods.