Just a pinch of garlic, oregano, and rosemary can turn any dish from boring to flavorful in an instant..
While fresh herbs are great, their availability is limited.
Dried herbs, on the other hand, last a really long time. And that’s more convenient than ever now that I’m decreasing the frequency of my trips to the store.
BUT…how many times have you gone to use a spice and found that it expired years ago?
Whether you make your own dried herbs at home or purchase them already dried, they all have an expiration date.
So today, I want to help you get the most out of your dry herbs by showing you how to make them last longer!
The General Rule of Thumb
For the most part, dried herbs last 2-3 years. However, that “rule” isn’t going to be relevant if you don’t store them properly.
Heat, humidity, sunlight, and air all have negative effects on your herbs. They essentially break down the essential oils that give spices their flavor.
Additionally, some spices can become rancid or moldy over time.
To learn more about storing your herbs properly, check out this herb storage guide.
Not all herbs and spices follow the rule of thumb though.
When it comes to what will last longer than others, herbs that are left whole (as opposed to ground) will last much longer.
Essentially, the less broken down the spice, the longer its shelf life.
So if you can purchase the whole spice, you should. They’ll more potent (aka flavorful) that way too. Plus, you can grind your own spices easily when ready to use.
I like this herb grinder:
Most ground spices will only last for one year. In contrast, poppy and sesame seeds as well as nuts and truffle products are the least long-lasting products. They’ll only be good for 3-6 months.
Also, there are a few notable exceptions for commonly used spices:
- Black pepper – whole peppercorns should last 5-7 years
- Whole cloves – last 4-5 years
- Ground sage – last 3-4 years
- Dried thyme – both ground and whole will last 3-4 years
- Turmeric – usually ground, will last 3-4 years
Finally, keep in mind that salts are not in this same category of “dried herbs and spices.” Salt is in a league of its own lol
It will keep indefinitely.
Flavored salts are another matter. The salt content will keep for 3 years, but any infused herbs will decrease in potency – or go stale – over time.
How Long Do Spices Last After Expiration?
When it comes to understanding expiration dates, you often don’t need to go by the date on the container.
After all, the USDA defines spices as being a shelf-stable product so they never truly expire.
What generally occurs is that the flavor of the spice will decrease. One of the simplest ways to determine if your spice has lost its potency is by removing a pinch and rubbing it onto your palm.
A spice that’s still good to use as-is will be fragrant while a spice that’s lost its flavor will be more difficult to smell.
If you purchase your spices or make your own, labeling and dating them is a simple way to determine their approximate age.
3 Ways to Know if Herbs Have Gone Bad
If you think your spices aren’t good anymore, don’t throw them out just yet. They may still be usable.
There are 3 primary ways you can tell an herb-gone-bad from a good one:
1. Crush and rub between your fingers – It should have a strong smell. If it doesn’t, it’s probably gone stale.
2. Check for Deep Discoloration – For example, pumpkin pie spice tends to be a bright orange. You can tell that it’s no longer fresh when you notice that it’s a dark brown. Other spices may darken over time as they go stale.
3. Do a Small Taste Test – This one is pretty self-explantory 🙂
SO…what do you do if you’ve done these three “tests” and you determine the herb really is past its prime? Let’s talk about that.
What to Do with Old Herbs and Spices
As long as they’re not moldy or rancid, spices that have lost potency aren’t going to harm you. You have a few options left for getting some value out of your herbs before discarding them.
First, consider using a larger amount in recipes than is originally called for.
When using old oregano, you can increase a teaspoon serving to a whole tablespoon if it’s stale.
Increasing the amount of cumin and coriander will also increase the flavor and, if you like spices, you’re probably not going to go wrong by bumping them up.
If you don’t have much of any one particular spice, you could also consider making up your own spice bland. A grill mix is easy to whip up from small amounts of dried herbs and you can add as much as you want when cooking.
Secondly, if the spices are really too far gone in order to use them in meals, then consider other options to get value from them.
Non-edible options may be your best bet. If you like to make soap or candles, aromatic spices such as cinnamon, ginger, and cloves are all options.
You can even use them in sachets to add a pleasant scent to drawers and cupboards.
Thirdly, you can also infuse old herbs with oils. Infusions will draw any aromatic compounds left out of spices and herbs. Add the spices to a favorite oil for a few weeks and then filter out the solid spices.
Grind your spices finely before doing this. Even adding a small amount of heat will help. Once the oil has gotten the flavor of the spice, you can use it in cooking or for other uses.
How to Revive Old Herbs and Spices
If your spices are past their prime and you don’t want to use one of the methods above, try adding heat source.
Toasting works well to revive spices such as pepper and cumin although you can use this with other herbs as well.
To achieve this, get a skillet that’s clean and dry and put it on medium heat. Put in the amount of spice that you’re planning to use in your cooking and toast for up to three minutes.
Shake or stir the spice to avoid burning. When you notice the spice becomes fragrant again, it’s done and ready to be worked into your meal.
Keep in mind that while this method works, it’s best to only use the amount of spice that you’re using at one time. Toasting the entire bottle doesn’t work as well.
My #1 Tip to Make Your Dried Herbs Last Much Longer
Simple: Just keep them whole!
Whole spices such as cinnamon sticks or coriander seeds are going to stay fresher for a longer period of time.
Grinding breaks down the oils that give them flavor. Some chefs even avoid grinding spices until they’re ready to use them. Always buy them intact if possible.
Frequently Asked Questions
How long do freeze dried herbs last?
Since freeze drying removes most of the moisture content, this method will keep herbs in good condition for up to a year
How long do whole cloves last?
When stored properly, whole cloves should last about 3 to 4 years.
Can dried oregano go bad?
No, dried oregano will not typically go bad if stored properly but will lose potency just like other dried herbs
How can you tell if basil has gone bad?
If moisture is present, basil can go bad. Take note of a rotten smell, the presence of mold, or a moist texture.
I’m a foodie that’s slightly obsessed with drying fruits, veggies, beans, and more – especially from my own garden! It started as a hobby but became a “must” when my family fell on hard times, and my dried food stash sustained us. Now I’m always experimenting with different techniques and recipes and sharing them here!