How to Tell When Spices Are Stale

How do you know when spices have lost their flavor and need to be replaced?

Whole spices like peppercorns, cinnamon sticks, cloves, cumin, cardamom, and nutmeg can keep their aromatic oils up to five years if kept very dry in airtight containers, todao said in a recent discussion on Chowhound. Remember to grind spices in small quantities as you need them.

Dried herbs can keep their flavor for as long as three years under perfect storage conditions. Storage at room temperature is better than freezing, since every time you remove a container from the freezer—even briefly—some condensation occurs.

To test if spices and herbs still have flavor, sprinkle a few pieces in the palm of your hand, rub vigorously, and take a sniff. If the aroma is weak, Chowhound lcool says, it's time to buy a new batch.

Discuss: Spice Shelf Life

Photo of spice jars by Flickr member L. Marie under Creative Commons