Signs That Your Spices Have Gone Bad

Not to shame your spice cabinet or anything, but chances are your spices are stale. And it's not necessarily just because you keep spices around for years (and we're definitely guilty of that, too). There's a few things to know about how spices get from the ground to your kitchen that might help you get the most out of your spices. As you probably know, fresh spices are worth the effort. Not only do they add a kick of flavor, color and aroma to your cooking, but they also provide some health benefits and can help preserve food by slowing the growth of microbes (via Frontiers in Microbiology). However, as spices age they start to lose color and flavor, per Healthline.

There's one big reason that your spices are likely even older than you thought, according to The Takeout. Because most spices are harvested around the same time, the market is flooded with them, which lowers prices. To compensate for that, many spice sellers hold on to their spices — for years, even, until they can maximize their profits. Then, they'll bottle the spices and after travel and time spent on a shelf in the grocery store, the spice might make it to your home. Of course, our tendency to use spices only a little bit at time might help spices get even more stale as we let them sit for months.

How to know when to throw out your spices

First of all, look for fresher spices when you're out at the store. They'll be brightly colored and if you're buying a spice that doesn't normally have a strong color, like cardamom, look closely at the bottle (via The Takeout). If it seems more dusty or powdery than others, it's likely older. Older spices take on a grayish color, so if you're sizing up the spices in your cabinet, take a look at its color and texture. Another great sign is the aroma open up a bottle and take a sniff. Fresh spices give off a strong scent that you can smell right away. If you have to stick your nose into the jar to detect the smell, it's likely gone stale.

To get the best results from spices, avoid supermarkets if you can and buy the good stuff in small quantities from companies with shorter supply chains, like Penzey's or any of the companies listed on this handy guide from Bon Appetit. Adding more of a stale spice won't give your food any more flavor (via The Takeout). If spices have a pack-by date (expiration dates aren't as helpful), use them to inform your spice-buying habits. Generally, it's safe to consume spices that have gone stale, according to Healthline. But why would you if you can add a dash of something vibrant, aromatic and flavorful?