Please keep in mind that the information presented on this site is intended as a guideline. Spices can react very differently to conditions depending on the location they're sourced from as well as the storage and shipping practices employed during transit.
What is the difference between herbs and spices?
In some instances, both the spice and herb derive from the same plant ie.:
Coriander seeds and leaves.
Dill and fennel seeds, root and plant
Garlic root and plant
Do Spices go off or spoil?
Naturally everything has a shelf-life, especially ingredients such as fresh ginger, garlic, turmeric and tamarind.
However, most spices are dried which means they tend to have a longer shelf life in their whole form. But as soon as spices are ground they will begin to deteriorate. Natural light and oxygen will also hasten the process.
How long do Spices last in the packet?
Packet spices last up to 2 years in their whole form. Some can last longer, but hopefully you will have used them up by then.
Ground Spices can only last up to 18 months, due to the fact that they've already been broken down which means that they are more fragile.
How long do Spices last once opened?
Once opened, ground spices can last up to 1 year while whole spices can last for up to 2. However, while they may still be usable after this time, it is highly likely that their fragrance and flavour will not be as strong.
I personally throw any spices away that have been left open for more than 5 months.
How Should Spices be stored?
Quite simply, always try to keep your spices in an air tight container. Make sure it is in a cool part of the kitchen and away from sunlight. Keep away from all heat sources such as oven vents.
This also goes for your dried herbs.
Direct sunlight or any other source of strong light will discolour your spices which is not ideal if you are using spices as a garnish.
How do I preserve the flavour of my spices?
In addition to using good air tight containers for your spices, take care not to mix spoons from one spice to another. Although this is easily done, try to get into the habit of using a clean and dry spoon.
Also, every three months check your spices for colour, odour and anything that does not look right such as fungus.
Remember that a spice’s fragrance should rise up to your nostrils when you open the jar. If you have to put your nose to the jar, it's a good bet that your spice has weakened considerably.
Whole spices react differently. Typically the outer shell/rusk will look fine but is seldom fragrant. However, once this is ground the fragrance should be quite pungent.
How can I tell if the spices have lost all flavour?
Fragrance is key, but it is always good to compare the remnants from an old batch to a new batch. Over time fragrance will weaken - this for me is the most important factor.
Can spices be frozen?
As with herbs, there's nothing to say that spices cannot be frozen. However, because spices have such a long shelf life there is usually no need to freeze them. Freezing ground spices, could result in eventual loss of the flavours and fragrances that are locked into the natural water content of the spice.
Nevertheless, if you make up a water-based paste, this can be frozen without fear of deterioration and readily added to a dish when cooking.