How long dried herbs and spices really last

Unless some kind of herb-or-spice-eating bug gets into a jar (and that has been known to happen), some of our spices look like they might have a long shelf life — at least at first glance. But not only is this not the case, some culinary experts think that dried herbs and spices actually begin to lose their strength as soon as you buy them. 

Unlike fresh meats or produce, which can deliver a very strong visual or olfactory statement when they begin to head south, herbs and spices don't actually spoil — they simply lose their potency, which means using spices that aren't at their best could leave your dishes tasting subpar (via Bon Appetit).

Of the sources we've seen, Bon Appetit is the most militant when it comes to the point of no return for bottled herbs and spices. It says we're looking at a shelf-life of three months for ground spices and eight to 10 months for whole spices. This really doesn't sound like a lot, although some gourmet sites have been more lenient, with Spicesinc advising that whole spices and dried herbs could keep for between 1 to 2 years, while ground spices and herb leaves will keep for around a year.

Can you save old herbs and spices?

If you don't recall when you bought your spices (or when you last used them), the best thing to do will be to toss them out and start all over again. But if they're not too old, and you're willing to give them a last chance, McCormick says there are a few things you might try to bring specific old spices back to life. These include:

Toasting curry powder or a five-spice blend in a dry skillet over a medium-low flame. Stir frequently until the mix becomes more fragrant, then turn off the heat, cool, and return the spice to its jar.

Frying the spice in hot oil immediately before cooking. This spice hack involves heating oil in a pan, then adding powdered single spices such as coriander and cumin to release their flavors and scents before proceeding with the recipe as directed.

Turning older spices like cloves and cinnamon sticks into potpourri.

When you finally have the heart to replace your old spices with new ones, just remember that whole spices last longer than their ground counterparts do.