When decluttering spices you may wonder, "how long do spices last?" Here's practical tips and information to know what to keep and what to toss.
Today's decluttering mission is to get rid of old spices in your kitchen, along with any that you don't use anymore. We're doing this mission while simultaneously going through the Organize Pantry Challenge here on the site.
While on its face getting rid of spice clutter isn't rocket science, I consistently get questions about when spices expire, if they actually do go bad, and how you can tell.
So what follows is a quick crash course in spices that can help you do this mission quickly in your own kitchen.
Typically, with some exceptions (such as mold or mildew on items, or something similar), spices don't go bad. However, they do lose their strength and flavor with time.
That's why many (but not all) spice bottles have expiration dates, or "best by" dates on them, so you can know whether the spice you want to add to your food will actually taste good, or not.
It is hard to generalize about how long various spices last, because it depends on so many factors, including how the spice has been stored, the type of spice or herb it is, and whether it is fresh, frozen, dried whole, or dried and ground.
This article is focused on dried spices, since that is what typically what many of us keep in our pantry or cupboards.
Typically, as listed in the pantry food storage chart, dried ground spices last for 1-2 years, while dried whole spices last for 2-3 years.
Some people shorten or lengthen those time frames somewhat, but the general rule of thumb is ground spices don't last as long as whole spices.
As mentioned before, the simplest way to figure out when your spices are past their prime is to look at the "best by" date on the bottle.
However, if you can't find it, you bought in bulk and never had such a date provided, or you've transferred your spices to new containers, you can use this simple test to determine if you need to toss those spices, or can still use them.
Take a small pinch of the spice and crush it between your fingers and smell it. If it has no scent, or only a very faint scent, it needs to be tossed. It will not have much taste, so it is pretty worthless at this point.
If it has a weaker smell you could still use it, but I would suggest doing so quickly. In addition, if you do use those spices you may need to add more, potentially double, what the recipe calls for, to get the dish to taste like you'd expect since much of the taste from the spice is gone.
I'll also caution for those discounting the fact that spices do lose much of their flavor with time, that I've heard stories about people who thought their spices were fine despite being old, and then when they finally did buy a new bottle of that spice they were astounded at the flavor they'd been missing before.
Those "best by" dates and rules of thumb of how long spices last are there for a reason, for real!
After doing this decluttering mission you may be aggravated with yourself as you find all kinds of extremely old spices lurking around in your pantry or cupboards. Those little jars do cost money, after all!
So to help yourself in the future, resist buying spices in bulk if you find you're throwing a lot of them away. You can't save money on something if you end up tossing it in the trash eventually.
Further, each time you buy a new spice write the date of purchase on the side of the bottle or tin so you can keep track of how long you've had an item without wondering later.
Finally, make sure you're storing your spices properly, because improper storage can lead to quicker deterioration of your herbs and spices.
The short version of proper spice storage is to keep them in airtight containers in a cool, dry, dark space, like inside of your cabinet or pantry. If you do have a spice rack that exposes spices to the light dark bottles that don't let in light are better than clear ones.
The one storage rule I see people violating frequently is that they keep spices too close to heat. Heat, even more than light, deteriorates spices rapidly, so avoid storing your spices too close to your stovetop and oven, or above the stove cabinets (which is actually a common place for people to keep their spices, but not a good one).
You can see lots of real life examples of how and where people store their spices in this article here on the site.
I hope this information has inspired you to declutter your spices, herbs, and seasoning packets.
When you begin to declutter the feeling you get is contagious, so if you're loving the results you're getting I would encourage you to keep going.
I've got a whole series of 15 minute decluttering missions (eventually 365 of them!) that you can do.
Just pick and choose the ones you want to do, that will make a big impact in your home. But if you want someone else to tell you the order you can also grab the 15 minute daily decluttering mission calendars and follow along as we all get our homes clutter free together!
First photo courtesy of a reader, Kristin, second photo courtesy of Sherry, and third collage from another reader, Sharon
I would love to hear from you, sharing your thoughts, questions, or ideas about this topic, so leave me a comment below. I try to always respond back!