Kitchen spices can be surprisingly expensive. Whether buying a container of spices for everyday use (like crushed red pepper), or buying something one off for an ingredient in a recipe, overtime you’ll be sure to acquire an expansive collection. And unless you’re constantly whipping up different recipes and dishes, most spices probably collect a layer of dust between uses.

Maybe you’ve purchased a spice rack with 30 different types included, just to cover all of the bases. Or bought a spice one off to compliment a specific dish. Or maybe you’re like us, and love to experiment with different types of seasonings.

While it’s nice to have options, chances are high that most of the spices in the kitchen may never be fully used. It can be frustrating to buy an expensive spice only to use it sparingly. Spices also tend to collect in the kitchen over time, so the general thought is that purchasing a spice is a long term investment.

The common perception is also that spices can last for ages. Just because the herbs that make up spices are dried and sealed, it doesn’t mean that they’re immune to going bad. In fact, kitchen spices actually have an expiration date, and it’s not really a great idea to keep (or use) them past this point. This all begs the question: when is the proper time to replace kitchen spices? Here are the factors to consider.

The Shelf Life of Spice

Sealed Kitchen Spices

Keep spices in tightly sealed containers to maximize freshness!

Once opened, spices generally tend to stay fresh for about a year. Herbs, like dried basil or parsley, can be stretched to stay fresh for about 2 years or so. But we’re all guilty of keeping (and using), spices for well past that time. It can be difficult to keep track of how long a spice has been open for. One tip? We love to label our ingredients, and it is helpful to take some tape, a pen, and write down the date that a particular container was opened for. This helps keep track of when it’s time to chuck and replace.

You can expand the shelf life of your spices by keeping them in sealed containers, and in dark places. While it might be nice to have your spice rack on display in a well lit kitchen, this can contribute more quickly to the spices going bad.

While the FDA refers to spices as foods that never truly expire, once opened their flavor begins to degrade. So while you won’t get sick from eating old, crushed red pepper, you surely won’t be getting the true flavor.

Refrigerating spices can also keep them fresher, for longer, as long as you’re willing to put up with a slightly altered taste. Curious if your spices have gone bad? A simple smell test (a dusky smell), or taste test can confirm if it’s time to replace. Colors often dull over time, and if they’re not the vibrant colors of old, it’s time to chuck ’em away.

To Grind or Pre-Grind

Whole and Ground Spices

Whole spices tend to stay fresh longer

When figuring out when to replace kitchen spices, consider what kind of state they are in. It’s tempting to buy pre-grounded spices. They’re easy to use and store, and take away the fuss and extra work. But keep in mind, whole spices tend to last longer. Whole spices can maintain their freshness for up to 4 years, while pre-ground tend to go bad after 1-2 years. Once a spice is ground up, it releases essential oils. These oils pack a ton of flavor, but also begin to contribute to to the slow degradation of the quality. Buying whole spices can save you money in the long run, and provide a fresh burst of flavor each time they are ground.

If you want to keep things extra fresh, it’s super easy to grow a kitchen herb garden! This way you’ll always have fresh basil (or the herbs of your choosing), and not have to worry about sitting on expired or stale containers.