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What's Up Magazine

Spicy Spoiler Alert!

Sep 09, 2014 12:07PM ● By Cate Reynolds
Most of us have a home-supply of herbs and spices—some in fancy display bottles and cases, others conveniently tucked away in the latest pull-out cabinetry. Even the smallest efficiency kitchen boasts a shaker or two of garlic powder, oregano, or ground cinnamon. But when was the last time you checked the expiration dates? Even after switching to those little halfie jars, I don’t think I have ever used up an entire container of paprika, for instance. I just devil my eggs and reach into the cabinet and, as I recently discovered, pull out paprika two years past it sell-buy date. Oops.

According to our Maryland neighbors at McCormick & Company (the largest spice company in the world), my old paprika won’t hurt anyone, but it won’t thrill them either. Spices lose their potency over time so McCormick has recommended shelf lives for their products, which include:

  • Ground Spices – 2 to 4 years
  • Whole Spices – 4 years
  • Leafy Herbs – 1 to 3 years
  • Pure Vanilla – 4 years
  • Recipe Mixes (gravy, taco, etc.) – 2 years
  • Marinades and Sauces – 12 to 24 months
  • Seafood Box Mixes – 18 to 24 months

Of course these durations are based on proper storage conditions which include tightly capped containers that are kept away from heat, moisture and direct sunlight. (This means avoid storing over the stove, dishwasher, sink or near a window.) McCormick does not recommend freezing any dried herbs and spices. Repeatedly removing the bottles from the freezer may cause condensation to form and accelerate the loss of flavor and aroma. They do, however, recommend that you: “Store members of the red pepper family, including paprika and chili powder, in the refrigerator to retain their color and freshness.” Now they tell me.

Bottom Line: The spices may not be as exciting to see, smell, or taste, but using that past-its-sell-by-date tarragon will probably only harm your culinary reputation. —S.H.