How many of us are guilty of this one? You have jars of spices that are older than your kids. You probably bought the jar for a particular recipe, which you made a few times, and now the jar is sitting there.
The same can happen with herbs, especially dried ones.
To help combat this problem and reduce waste, here are some ideas regarding the shelf life of common kitchen herbs and spices.
1. Herbs versus Spices
First, it’s important to point out the difference between herbs and spices, because they have different shelf lives. Spices are usually from a dried seed or fruit – like nutmeg, black pepper, cinnamon, turmeric, coriander, and allspice. Sometimes a root may be considered a spice, like ginger.
Herbs are usually stems, flowers, or leaves. Parsley, chives, sage, rosemary, thyme, and basil are all herbs.
2. Whole Spices Keep Better
Whole spices have a longer shelf life than pre-ground ones. Their insides are not exposed to air, so their essential oils are held within the spice. Generally speaking, spices are fine to use as long as they have flavor.
3. Dried Herbs
Because they are made from the delicate aerial parts of the plant, herbs lose flavor and potency sooner than spices. Give your herbs the sniff test – it’s unlikely that they will still retain their scent. You can simply increase the amount of herb called for in the recipe, because herbs don’t spoil like milk or fresh vegetables. But at some point, usually within two years, those herbs will lose just about all flavor and will need to be discarded.
4. Herbs That Don’t Dry Well
Some herbs just don’t retain their flavor when dried. For these herbs, like basil, freezing may work best. But they should still be used within 6 months. The freezer is not the ideal place for herb storage.
5. Prolonging the Life of Herbs and Spices
To get the most out of your dried herbs and spices, proper storage is important. Here are some tips.
- Don’t store herbs and spices near the stove. Yes, it’s convenient; but the heat from the stove will decrease their flavor rapidly, and so will steam from simmering pots. Humidity from your dishwasher will do the same. Herbs and spices are best stored in a cool, dry place.
- Pinch up the herb or spice you want to use (or use a measuring spoon) and drop it into the dish you’re making, particularly if it’s a hot dish. This is to prevent steam from getting into the herb container as it would if you shook the herb or spice container directly over the hot food, which introduces moisture.
Herbs and spices can’t last indefinitely, but you can increase their shelf life.