Since spices tend to have a longer shelf life than most items in your kitchen, it's probably been some time since you last inspected your spice cabinet for expired seasonings. But an expiration date isn't the only thing you need to look out for when it comes to fresh versus not-so-fresh spices. You might end up needing to toss out your seasonings even sooner, as certain factors can speed up the expiration process. Read on to find out what experts say are the telltale signs you should throw a spice away immediately.
You should throw away your spices if their texture has changed.
If your spices no longer look the same as they did when you bought them, it's probably time for them to go. Spices that are wet, clumped up, or have gone hard need to be thrown away, according to Vicky Cano, a chef and recipe developer with Mealfan. This could be a sign that moisture has gotten into them, which means there is a "high chance of mold spores growing in the spices," Cano says.
"As a rule, it's good to be cautious with spice freshness," adds Anne Clark, food expert and owner of My Kitchen Serenity. "If your spice is wet and clumped together—then yes it would be wise if you threw it away. No one wants to take the risk of consuming old and bad spices and putting themselves or anyone at risk of food poisoning."
You should also check the color and smell of your spices.
Even if your spices haven't grown mold, texture changes at the very least indicate that they have lost their flavor and freshness. You might also notice signs of diminished freshness through a spice's color and smell, Clark says.
According to Lori Bogedin, a culinary expert and founder or TwigsCafe, most spices have bright colors that they "maintain as long as they're fresh," so if these have dulled out, you should toss them. Naturally dull-colored spices, on the other hand, will turn dusty when they've lost freshness, she says. As for smell, spices will lose their aroma once they go bad, Bogedin adds. "If you have to stick your nose in the jar to smell them, it's time to throw them away," she says.
Some spices are meant to last longer than others.
It's important to know how long specific spices are meant to keep, so that you can make sure to keep a close eye on certain ones. "Different spices last for different amounts of time depending on how they are treated before their sale and how they are stored," says Julia Bobak, a content creator with food website Home Grounds. According to Bobak, ground spices can be stored for up to three years but typically start breaking down after six months. Whole spices, on the other hand, can typically last up to four years, while dried leafy herbs can last for three years but should be checked consistently after a year.
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Experts say there are things you can do to prevent spoilage and waste.
To prevent waste, Bogedin recommends buying spices as needed in small quantities, so they have less of a chance of absorbing moisture or losing freshness over time.
"If you buy spices in abundance and expose them to light and air consistently, they will look clumped or dry soon enough," Emily Perez, a culinary expert at Kitchen Infinity, explains. "Spices are sensitive to environments and they need to be kept in places where they are not exposed to light and air. You can keep them in airtight containers, as spices thrive in dark and cool places. Use glass jars with tight fitting lids and store them in your cupboard as an alternative if you cannot find airtight containers."