Shelf life of herbs and spices

I pretty much use the same spices all the time so well over 3/4ths of what's in my cabinet just sits rarely being used. I wish I knew more about the shelf lifes of spices and herbs because I'd probably be able to toss out over half of what's in there. Does anyone by any chance know anything about the shelf lifes of spices and herbs? Wonder if there's a web site out there somewhere that tells us when these go bad and should be pitched.

I need some sort of a guideline so I can toss some of these spices and herbs out that have been accumulating for at least 15 years.

I do use some of the less common ones from time to time when recipes call for them and I haven't poisoned anyone here yet so my thoughts are the shelf lifes must be long. I know the herbs lose much of their potency when they're dried so I generally use fresh whenever I can. I also know dried herbs need to be sealed in air tight jars that aren't clear but what about spices? Lots of the spices I have hanging around on the shelves here are in clear jars.

Any help appreciated, I'm going through all levels of my lazy susan now and my counters look like a graveyard for spices and herbs.

Have another question that is somewhat related. I just ran into a whole pocket of extracts. I know I haven't used these in at least 5 years. Here are several I found rammed in the back: pure cocoa bean extract, pure orange extract, imitation strawberry flavor, star anize extract, and black walnut extract. I haven't a clue how long these are good for and all of them have been opened because I used to use them frequently.

North Saanich, Canada

Here's a link that may help you. It is from the McCormick Spice Company, so if you have any of their spices, it will help you find out how old they are.

North Saanich, Canada

In another area of that same site, it says extracts are good for 4 years, except vanilla which lasts indefinitely.

Hope this helps.

Very big help, I'm going to pitch all the extracts right now and then I'll go look at McCormick's site. Thank you.

Know anything about bouillon? I found that a bunch of those had spun off the lazy susan and ended up underneath it out of view? No dates on any of the boxes of bouillon. My guess is they're at least a few years old if not older based on the packaging. They're in the old style Knorr packaging. I do use bouillon all the time.

Oh not good, all of my tins except the pepper are over 15 years old. They claim disco is dead and so are all of my spices in tins.

And big uh oh-
they say I have some spices that are older than my go go boots and that they don't have a place in my kitchen.

Back to check some more!

Very big thanks ggd. Now I'm going to have to find a website like that for all my other spices and herbs. I think from now on I'll just use a permanent marker and add the date I buy these types of products right onto the label so I don't have to screw around inputting the codes from all the bottoms of my spices. This is sort of embarrassing.

North Saanich, Canada

Equiloibrium: I also have some spices that are WAAAAY too old and must gt around to chucking them out. I may even have a couple of extracts that need to be pitched. Why oh why do we keep these things hanging around?? LOL

Because we're too cheap to replace them and never realized there was no expiration date on the containers??? I go through our medicine cabinets all the time and pitch anything that is expired but can't recall ever having pitched a spice or an herb. I've tossed 1/3 of the spices and herbs I've checked so far, even ones I've been using regularly. I started a list of what I need to replace. I'm still going at that website plugging codes in to see how old everything is and I'm not even half way through all that I have that is McCormick and somebody out there should make a law that these codes should be large enough to read without having to call a kid. This is pathetic. My husband said to pitch it all and start over from scratch but that's wasteful.

I'm definitely going to make it a point to use a permanent marker to date all spices and herbs from here on out. This is incredibly time consuming.

I’m feeling so much better about my spices. I was reading stories at your McCormick site and one person stated, “I wasn’t even alive on that date” while another admitted to having whole bay leaves in a tin from Baltimore stamped 49˘. If you think that’s bad, there was another who claimed to have found tins stamped 9˘, 12˘, and 19˘ referring to them as “Golden Oldies”. Then there was the one who checked her dates and found them to have been from the Jurassic Period. There’s at least one person out there who isn’t pitching hers in favor of adding them to her collection of other items from the good old days. And get this- a young gal had a boyfriend who refused to open a can of pepper at her mom’s house dated 1976 lest he awaken the spirits of the ancient pepper gods. Couldn’t wait to show my husband that I was definitely not alone in hanging onto spices long past prime. Some of the stories these people are sharing are hysterical. So come now ggd, fess up and share how old yours are.

San Francisco Bay Ar, CA(Zone 9b)

I usually have a pretty good turnover on the spices, but a few have languished and will now become worm food. I think I bought them with a particular recipe in mind and then never got around to making that recipe.

North Saanich, Canada

Okay, fess up time. We moved from Saskatchewan to BC in 1990, and I know I still have some spices that moved with us. Let's see...........that's 18 years??????????????????????

Love the awakening of the pepper gods story!!!!

Houston, United States(Zone 9b)

This was a neat reminder! Thanks for this thread.

I saw a "chef" on a talk show who said to throw out ALL spices after a year, if you want those restuarant quality dishes. But I was thinking that seems a waste. Then on another advice talk show they suggested every 5 years.

I wonder how much those old spice jars would sell for? Wouldn't that be fun if someone took in a huge collection to the Antiques Roadshow!

We moved from Saskatchewan to BC in 1990, and I know I still have some spices that moved with us.
Thata girl! I'm feeling even better now.

I've learned that it seems to be ok to keep ground spices up to 5 years and whole spices up to 10 years. Pepper seems to last indefinitely. Makes sense to me. Think about it, when is the last time we ever heard of anyone being poisoned by fossilizing spices and herbs? Seems as if everyone who is anyone has the motherload of spices and herbs long past their expiration dates yet I've never heard of anyone with spice poisoning listed as a cause of death. Interestingly enough, any opened extracts should be pitched within 2 years.

Never thought of the Antiques Roadshow. Should I quick fast go dig everything out of the garbage ;)

Belfield, ND(Zone 4a)

I think the whole idea with not keeping spices beyond their shelf life is that they lose their flavor, not that they become poisonous. (At least I'm hoping.) :o)

You're probably right. Now, why don't you fess up and tell us how old yours are ;)

Belfield, ND(Zone 4a)

You're probably right. Now, why don't you fess up and tell us how old yours are ;)

LOL! Because I'm not willing to challenge the spice cupboard yet. I've been reading this thread for a few days and thinking that I *really should* go take a peak, but the thought is a bit scary. I'm afraid by the time I got done purging, it would be empty!! Then what if I suddenly got the desire to cook something? No spices! I could go to the store and get replacements, and then throw them out in a year or to also.

My question is...why can't we buy spices in increments of a couple of tablespoons? I'm thinking little bitty vials of spice, rather than the big containers of spices that we use only on holidays or in very little amounts.

I have no idea what prompted me to tackle that project. I was scrubbing floors Sunday morning and was sort of in the area and knew some had spun off the lazy susan so while I was on my hands and knees I peeked in there from ground level. Saw a few unidentifiable objects underneath the lowest tier and figured I best dig them out. Took a back scratcher and pulled out what I could reach but there were still a few stuck in the far back. That's when I started pulling them all out one by one. I cleaned the outside of every little jar, canister, and tin and spread them all out on the counter looking for duplicates so I could organize them when I put them back. That's when I realized there were no dates on anything. Figured some were at least 15 years old. Posted here and hoped for the best.

Must admit I don't see a need for anyone to check the dates as I did as they are probably good indefinitely other than losing potency. I spent hours doing that and pitched quite a few that I ended up retrieving later on in the evening after I thought about it. I did leave all the ones that were older than 10 years in the garbage can. What a pain. I'm down to half of what I had and have a list of needed replacements. In the future I am going to begin writing the date I buy them on the front somewhere. I think I'll just go by the 5 years for ground spices, 5 years for herbs, 10 years for whole spices, and 2 years for extracts if opened.

Several of the people commenting at the site ggd sent me to asked the very same question you did. Nobody answered. The answer is almost laughable and I knew why they weren't getting a response. Seems as if you (ha ha) and all the others asking haven't been spice shopping in so long that y'all didn't realize McCormick began offering spices in tiny 1.0 and 1.5 oz containers a few years ago. I happen to have about 10 of these little spice containers. So there, hang your head in shame!

Now here's my question, why not go back to tins? They stacked well and didn't fall over when I twirled around the lazy susan looking for what I wanted. I liked the tins best. I have one left and it's pepper. The other nice thing about tins is that the name of the spice is usually written on it in a few different places as opposed to just being written once on the paper labels. Some of the paper labels look pretty scuzzy from sitting out while baking and such. The containers with paper didn't clean up nearly as easily or as well as the tins.

belleville, NJ(Zone 6a)
This article caused me to go on a major pantry raid after i read it. i had way too much stuff for too long!


Belfield, ND(Zone 4a)

Yeah, I have some of those 1 oz and 1.5 oz containers in my spice cupboard. They are the newest ones. I know that because they are in the front. :) But they are still way too much unless we cook weekly with nutmeg, allspice, cinnamon, poultry seasoning, turmeric, ginger, sage, etc. etc.

I would like to see them come out with containers that are tablespoon size. But that will never happen. It's all a marketing thing.

As to your question. I like the tin containers too, but I'm assuming they switched to the plastic containers to be landfill friendly or something. I'm not sure how landfill friendly plastic is, but it must be better than tin.

San Francisco Bay Ar, CA(Zone 9b)

Joan, many natural foods stores have bulk spice containers that allow you to buy just the amount you need. You might check around for that in your area.
A well sealed tin container will actually keep your spices in better condition than the plastic ones. You want to keep them away from air and light.

There goes my whole wheat flour-

How to Store/Where: Unopened/opened: airtight container in cool, dry place; fridge/freezer
How Long: Cool, dry place or fridge: 1 to 2 months; freezer: 6 months
Comments: The oil in the bran quickly becomes rancid at room temperature

I was ok on everything else.
Thanks amethystsm!

Who is next to make my day by sharing a freezer life chart?

And here I thought I was so spice smart and "with it" that I was one of the few with new small containers! The 1.0 and 1.5 oz containers seem to be best for lesser used spices. I can't imagine them being sold in any size smaller. That size already has a label that's hard to read and is difficult to get a grip on to open. I doubt they'll go smaller than that.

I like the idea of reusable storage containers. Don't know how practical it is though as bulk isn't sold around me all that much.

Houston, United States(Zone 9b)

Down here in Texas we have a prominent grocery chain that often in many stores will sell spices by the baggie, you can scoop as much or as little as you want. I'd venture to guess most your health food stores will have bulk spices you can bag yourself as well! It's so neat to see how much more variety they have!!!! And when we used the curry there over the jarred McCormick WOAH we were in for a treat, it was MUCH more powerful so now we can use 1/2 the amount called for in a recipe for still a stronger flavor!

The Mexican grocers around here still sell a decent array of "ethnic" bulk and we have at least one natural/health food store that isn't that far away that does sell assorted bulk however they're only offering the most common. We tend to gravitate toward our local Mexican grocers because the produce and meats always seem fresher although at least once a month we go to a large chain which is where I've been picking up the small spice containers. I don't honestly know what they're offering in bulk as I don't generally go down the ethnic aisles. Well, maybe every once in a while if I've run out of Goya medium grain rice but I just grab a 10# bag and toss it in the cart and move to the next aisle. Curry was never used in family "comfort food" recipes for either of us when we were growing up so we never quite acquired the taste for it but I know what you mean about fresh v. jarred because that's one of the main reasons why we go to the local grocers. The chain stores aren't offering fresh ethnic anything.

North Saanich, Canada

Here's a chart that contains freezer life of some items.

North Saanich, Canada

Up here, it is so much cheaper to go to the bulk section in the grocery store or the health food store, and just buy a specific amount of a spice and fill up the old jar. Also, that way, you don't need to get so much. Most of our stores have a bulk section, but each of them are different. Some sell spices, some don't. But the health food store is a definite shop for me when I run out of a spice.

I knew it! I just knew somebody was going to come along and cost me 1/3rd of everything in my freezer ;)

North Saanich, Canada

Well................ you asked for the chart!!!!! LOL

Houston, United States(Zone 9b)

LOL ya'll are to funny!!!!!!!!!!!!!!

ggd, our bulk spices have another bonus---they are much cheaper than the already jarred stuff. and given their flavor I'd say they are also fresher!

There are times I really have to wonder why I ask to be enlightened. This would be one of those times. I already found a box of mini quiche appetizers rammed in the back that was from a few years ago. I had meant to use that on New Years Eve of '06 but couldn't find it. With so much rammed in there it's amazing I find anything. The last time our deep freeze got cleaned out was when the electricity went off and we realized it hadn't been connected to the generator. That had to have been back in '03 or '04. I guess this is a good thing as there won't be anything in there older than 4 years. How about you ggd? Tee he, misery loves company. Back to the basement where the freezer is because tomorrow is garbage day and I want this stuff out of here.

Houston, United States(Zone 9b)

I thought I was bad, finding a previous years Cadbury Creme Egg still in a packed basket! DH wouldn't let me eat it. Oh I considered it!!!!!!!!!!!! LOL LOL!

Missouri City, TX

If you really want some great spices - make a run to Penzey's in the Heights - just NW of downtown Houston. But plan on spending an hour or more just sniffing the sample bottles.

San Francisco Bay Ar, CA(Zone 9b)

You are throwing all that potential worm food in the garbage? We must get you a worm bin! :D

I'm in Northern IL so worm bins probably aren't a good idea for me but I do have a composter. Problem with tossing them in the composter is that I might make all my little critters of the woodland sick because I can assure you they'd find those mini quiches within about 10 minutes of nightfall and there would be a feeding frenzy out there. I didn't even toss out my old chili pepper in it because I didn't want to risk any critters rooting around in it getting that in their eyes.

Update, I now have one tall kitchen garbage bag filled with old stuff poking through the bag. Didn't lose nearly as much as I thought I would. Fortunately, I've been writing dates on frozen goods for a long time so it was a breeze going through the freezer.

Anyone know how long we can hang onto peanut oil we used this weekend for frying? What about olive oil or safflower seed oil? I've used oils to make rosettes as well as donuts and pitched the oil after one use but restaurants keep re-using their oils so how long do those last? I did find that un-used peanut oil lasts 2 years. Don't know for the others.

Found this site-,22304,676079,00.html
Good news, concentrated anti-freeze lasts indefinitely. Anyone know anyone who has that laying around who could use that useful tidbit?

Interesting perspective here-
I know when I've had suntan lotion that separated I shook it up and used it anyway. I'm still alive.

Oh this is a good one, the truth about food expiration dates-
Complete with a guide to food shelf life-
Since I've been sniffing spices, does this sound familiar to anyone,

You open the fridge, drag out the cottage cheese, check for fur, and if there isn't any, you say, "Honey? Will you sniff this?" This is not, however, the approved method of checking for freshness.

Houston, United States(Zone 9b)

Yes I've heard good things of Penzy's Bubba but shop as close to home as I can and our HEB has an awesome bulk spice section. They are new so I'm glad they came just in time, lol!

San Francisco Bay Ar, CA(Zone 9b)

Does anybody remember this skit from comic George Carlin?
Can you relate to some these? The chocolate pudding incident had me cracking up.

Ice Box Man
By: George Carlin

I'm the ice box man at our house. I'm Ice Box Man! I answer the call when there's a need at the ice box. Two very important responsibilities, the first one is: keeping people from standing with the door to the refrigerator open for more than 45 minutes at a time. God, that gets me mad - "YOU WANT TO CLOSE THAT DOOR PLEASE? YOU WANT TO CLOSE THE DOOR?! YOU'RE LETTING OUT ALL OF THE COLDNESS I SAVED OVERNIGHT! COME ON, CLOSE THE DOOR!"

Look, if you wanna know what's in there, why don't you take a Polaroid picture and go away and look at the picture and then come back and figure out what you want. Years ago, we didn't have Polaroid cameras. We had to make an OIL PAINTING of what was in there!

Aah, I don't let it get me down. 'Cause there's a bigger responsibility. And that is getting into that refrigerator and deciding which things need to be thrown away. Most people will not take that responsibility. Most people will just go and get what they want, leave everything else alone and say, "Well, someone else wants that. Someone else will eat that" Meanwhile, the thing is getting smaller and smaller and smaller and is, in fact stuck to the rack. Well, I've got to go in there and decide when to throw things away. "Chocolate pudding? Does anyone want this last chocolate pudding? I have just one chocolate pudding left. It's only pulled away from the side of the dish about three inches all the way around. And there's a huge fault running through the center of the pudding. Actually, it's nothing but a ball of skin at this point. Does anyone want a ball of fault ridden chocolate pudding skin? I'm only going to throw it away."

Do people do that with you? Offer you some food that if you don't eat it, they're only going to throw it away. Well, doesn't that make you feel dandy? "Here's something to eat, Dave. Hurry up, it's spoiling!" "Something for you, Angela. Eat quickly, that green part is moving!" "Here, Bob. Eat this before I give it to an animal." Y'ever been looking through the refrigerator and you come across an empty plate? Boy, that starts me to wondering. Did something eat something else? Maybe the olives ate the tuna! Maybe that chicken isn't really dead yet. Actually, I picture a little mouse with gloves and a parka on, y'know. Just waiting for the lights to go out.

Perhaps the worst thing that can happen is to reach into the refrigerator and come out with something that you cannot identify at all. You literally do not know what it is. Could be meat, could be cake. Usually, at a time like that, I'll bluff. "Honey, is this good?" "Well, what is it?" "I don't know. I've never seen anything like it. It looks like...meatcake!" "Well, smell it." (snort, sniff) "It has absolutely no smell whatsoever!" "It's good! Put it back! Somebody is saving it. It'll turn up in something." Thats what frightens me. That someone will consider it a challenge and use it just because it's in there.

It's a leftover. What a sad word that is. Leftover. How would you like to be...a leftover? Well, it wouldn't be bad if they were taking people out to be shot. I might even volunteer. But, y'know, leftovers make you feel good twice. D'ja ever think about that? When you first put them away, you feel really intelligent- "I'm saving food!" And then, after a month, when hair is growing out of them and you throw them away you feel...really intelligent- "I'm saving my life!"

When you make a sandwich at home, do you reach down past the first three or four pieces of bread to go down and get 'the good bread'? It's kind of a self preservation thing, y'know? What you're really saying is, "Let my family eat the rotten bread! I'll take care of Numero Uno!" And down you go into the loaf. Down, looking for the two that you want, a matching pair. And you have to be careful pulling them out so they don't tear. And then when you get them to the top, the upper eight slices fall the other way. I never straighten them out. I think, screw it, let 'em think a burglar made a sandwich. Not my job, straightening out the bread.

Gotta tell me. In the refrigerator, who is it, please that puts into the refrigerator the half-gallon containers of milk with only that much left in them? I get one of those every time. Hey, here's some milk- fooom! ...God, not enough to drink. Better put that back, huh? I know my responsibilities.

©1981 George Carlin (Stavro288)

I love George Carlin. Had not seen that before.

I'm a good girl with the frig. I think the only no no item in there right now would be a packet of yeast that's no good. Well, the honeydew mellon looks as if it's seen better days so that's going to end up in the composter tomorrow.

Yucca Valley, CA(Zone 9a)

Probably way too late with this, but if you haven't pitched all your old spice tins yet...just empty them into the trash and save the tins. Then when you restock you can fill the tins & not have a cabinet full of those cruddy little glass & plastic bottles & jars...and stick a piece of tape or label on the bottom with the date you fill so you'll know when it's time to dump them again!!!

San Francisco Bay Ar, CA(Zone 9b)

Reading the Ice Box Man isn't quite as funny as hearing him say it. It came on NPR one day while I was driving. I had to pull off the road, I was laughing too hard to drive safely.

Agree on keeping the tins. They are the best for refilling.

I've heard George Carlin once and I about peed in my pants.

Too late to save them for myself to re-use. Garbage day is tomorrow and I was talking on the phone to a girlfriend and she made me dig them all out of the recycling bins to set aside for her. She collects seed from native plants and wanted them. Funny story about my girlfriend. She makes me save all of our Rx bottles for her to store seed in. My Mother In Law brings her bottles over and also gathers bottles from her friends at the senior center to add to ours which all go to my friend. Last summer sometime my friend came over and I sent her home with an entire bag of Rx bottles. I guess she must have slipped them under her drivers seat. There was a road block on the way home checking for people to be wearing seat belts and for insurance and she got pulled over. She couldn't find her insurance card and while digging around dislodged the bag and all the Rx bottles rolled out. The cop told her to get out and step away from the vehicle. He then began with the standard line of questioning as other officers began going through her entire vehicle... Maam, do you have any needles in the car...
Most unfortunately for her, she had a tray of Rx bottles in the trunk filled with unlabeled seed she had collected from plants growing at friends' homes. It was a very long night for her.

Needless to say, she prefers tins these days and she will be the recipient of the motherload from me and next week I'm going over to purge my MIL's spices and herbs so she'll get even more.

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