Identifying spices that are too old is easy if the manufacturer has stamped a “Best By” date on the side or the bottom of the container. If there is no “Best By” date, you may find a product code on the container. For some brands, the product code can be translated into the date the spice was manufactured.
McCormick uses both the “Best By” date and the product code. The McCormick website has an abundance of fun information about spices and herbs. Plus there’s a gadget that allows you to enter the product code along with the city of manufacture to get a date of manufacture.
Durkee’s website has a FAQ page that tells you how to translate their product code into a manufacturing date.
In the absence of “Best By” dates use the guideline below for freshness:
- Ground Spices 2-3 years
- Whole Spices 3-4 years
- Blends 1-2 years
- Herbs 1-3 years
- Extracts 4 years – except for vanilla extract which lasts indefinitely
If the label is faded or there is rust on the tin, odds are your spice is way past its prime. If you use your own spice jars you will need to rely on the signs of aging: faded color, lack of aroma, and diminished flavor.
Toss old spices but before you rush out and replace them, consider if they are really needed. After all, the spice got old because you did not use it very often.
To make your life a little easier going forward, use an indelible marker to put an expiration date on your new spice bottles. I use “exp” before the date so I know it’s an expiration date. If you fill your own spice bottles, put a piece of tape on the bottom of the bottle before writing the expiration date on it.
Spice Islands provides a spice registry on their website. Register your spices when you buy them and you will be able to track all expiration dates and even receive email notifications when one expires! Additionally, the site accumulates the names of every spice you enter in your own spice library. In one glance you can see your entire inventory of Spice Islands spices, and quickly peruse the recipes that use your inventory.
With age, spices lose their flavor, aroma, color and vibrancy. Do you really want to add dusty flavor to food that you worked hard to bring to the table? Purge your old spices and herbs, and your taste buds will thank you.
Clear Spaces owner Denise Lee merges seven years of social service experience and seventeen years experience in Information Technology to bring you effective and personal organizing solutions for the home, the small business and the student. The Clear Spaces approach is holistic -- empowering you to live the life you want to live.