How long will spice keep its flavour?
Pam’s use of the word “vague” in her question is appropriate, because suggested maximum storages times vary from source to source.
On spice/herb maker McCormick’s website, mccormick.com, they note whole spices, such as nutmeg and cloves, will keep three to four years. They say ground spices will keep two to three years, while dried herbs will keep one to three years. Other sources I checked say whole spices will keep one to two years, ground herbs and spices six months to a year.
That’s quite a variance and greatly affecting how long they’ll actually last is how they were stored before and after purchase.
If you’ve bought them from a bulk food store their shelf life will often be shorter than if purchased in a tightly sealed bottle or tin. Every time someone scoops that dried herb or spice out of the bin, it’s exposed to air and humidity, things that can have a detrimental affect on flavour and longevity.
If you did buy a spice or herb from a bulk food store, once home, store it in a tight-sealing container. Spices and herbs sold in bottles and tins can, of course, be stored in them.
Store dried spices and herbs in a dark place away from excessive heat and moisture. Racks on the wall near the stove, dishwasher or window are not good places to store them.
When using dried spices and herbs, don’t sprinkle them directly from the container into that steaming pot of stew or other dish. Steam rising from the pot can make its way into the container and negatively affect shelf life and cause caking, particularly in ground spices. Instead, when you need some, use a measuring spoon to get the herb or spice out of the container and into the pot
If you’re not sure how old some of your dried spices and herbs are, do visual and smell tests. Herbs and spices that still have life in them will not look faded and dull and when you rub some in your fingers, will be aromatic. If they don’t have these qualities, throw them out.
Remember that dried herbs and spices are most often added at the beginning of cooking so they have time to reconstitute and release their flavours into the dish they are simmered in. When using herbs and spices in salad dressings and other cold preparations, allow them to reconstitute and meld with the other ingredients at least 15 minutes before serving.
Note: The last two weeks I answered readers’ questions on dried herbs and spices. Next Sunday I’ll answer a reader’s question on using fresh herbs.
This tangy dressing is flavoured with such things as basil, oregano and garlic. Drizzle it on mixed green salads or use it to flavour grilled vegetables, bean salads or tomato salads.
Preparation time: 10 minutes
Cooking time: None
Makes: About 1 cup
3 Tbsp red wine vinegar
2 tsp Dijon mustard
1 tsp honey, or to taste
1 garlic clove, minced
1/2 tsp dried oregano
1/2 tsp dried basil
1/2 tsp dried parsley
1/4 tsp paprika
n pinch crushed chili flakes
n salt and freshly ground pepper to taste
3/4 cup olive oil
Place all ingredients, except oil, in a bowl and whisk to combine. Slowly whisk the oil into the vinegar mixture. Let the herbs steep in the dressing at least 15 minutes before serving. If kept in the refrigerator in a tight-sealing jar, the dressing will keep up to 10 days. Shake well before using.
Eric Akis is the author of the best-selling Everyone Can Cook series of cookbooks. His columns appear in the Life section Wednesday and Sunday.