How Fresh Is Your Spice Rack?

How Fresh Is Your Spice Rack?

Herbs & Spices


By Betsy Ginn,Guest Blogger

When was the last time you peeked at your spice shelf? After taking a look at mine, I found the spices I use regularly (like cumin, cayenne pepper, cinnamon) sitting up front, which was no surprise. However, when I moved those to the side, I was a bit nervous. I ended up finding a jar of Chinese Five Spice from the winter of 2008 when I decided to make homemade pho. It immediately went into the trash—6 years is obviously too long to keep a jar of spices in my cabinet! But what about the other stuff—the jars that were between 1 to 3 years old? Did they need to be thrown out too?

Do Spices Spoil?
Spices have a high oil content, so they can go rancid (or spoil) like any bottle of oil you have or other foods with high oil content like nuts and seeds. If spices are consumed when rancid, you won’t get sick, but they’ll taste stale, muted, or off. If you add rancid spices to your food, it can make your dish taste worse, instead of tasting better. Over time, all of the spices in your cabinet will go rancid, so a goal should be to slow the process of rancidity (or preserve them longer). Here are four tips on how to purchase and store spices so they last longer:

#1: Purchase Smaller Jars
Buy smaller jars of obscure spices you don’t use frequently. Even if the bigger jar is a better deal, you probably won’t use it all before it goes rancid.

#2: Look for High Turnover
Buy spices from a market or grocery store that you know has a high turnover of product. You don’t want the spices to be sitting on the shelf for months. The fresher you can get it from the store, the longer it will last. If you purchase your spices from a specialty spice store, ask the employees when it was received and when it was ground.

#3: Store Properly
Store spices in an opaque, airtight container, away from heat and light. Light, heat, and oxygen all speed up the rancidity process. Keep spices in their original, clear glass jars and place in a dark cabinet. If you store spices on your counter, then transfer them to an opaque container like a metal jar. Make sure the lids are sealed properly to prevent oxygen from getting in. Keep your spices in the coolest area of your kitchen or pantry; do not store them near or above your stove, oven, or dishwasher.

#4: Buy Whole Spices
Choose whole over rather than ground spices. Once you grind a spice, the rancidity process starts happening quickly. One of the best things you can do to slow it down is buying whole and grinding at home using a coffee or spice grinder (an inexpensive addition to your kitchen). Also, you can use a hand-held grater for larger spices like nutmeg.

So what about spices in the cabinet now?

  • Toss anything that is older than 2 years.
  • With the remaining spices, open the jar and take a whiff or crush some of the spice in your hands. Is it potent and smells like the spice it is (you’re checking for quality here!)? Then keep it. If it smells a little off or dull, toss it.
  • Is the color faded? Spices like paprika or cayenne pepper will appear more brown than red. If so, throw it in the garbage.


After following these guidelines my spice shelf is looking a little bare. But I’m confident that everything I have is fresh and am looking forward to a fun visit to my neighborhood spice shop to restock!


TELL ME: What’s the oldest spice you found in your spice rack?


Betsy Ginn is completing her Masters of Science in Nutrition & Education from Teachers College, Columbia University. She specializes in pediatric oncology nutrition, working in the New York City area, and loves working daily with children and families.

  • Atlantia
    Posted at 07:35h, 31 October Reply

    Definitely makes sense to buy smaller jars, given how little people use them it would lessen the spices and herbs going off

  • Callum Palmer
    Posted at 18:14h, 19 December Reply

    I really like the article’s suggestion about choosing spices with a high turnover. After all, no one wants to use spices that have been sitting on a store shelf for months. Instead, you need to make sure you’ve chosen spices that are fresh and will remain as fresh as possible on your spice rack.

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