Has spring inspired you to begin a few spring-cleaning projects? While you are in your kitchen, take a look at what is lurking on your spice shelf. Spices can sit benignly on the shelf for years. They really don’t spoil per say, but they do get old.
Identifying old spices is easy if the manufacturer has stamped a “Best By” date on the side or the bottom of the jar. Instead of a “Best By” date you may find a product code on the jar itself – this is not the number on the label by the UPC. Product codes can be translated into manufactured dates on some of the company sites.
McCormick uses both the “Best By” date and the product code. The McCormick website (www.mccormick.com/Spices101/) has an abundance of fun information about spices and herbs. Plus there’s a gadget that allows you to enter the product code along with the city of manufacture to get a manufacturing date. Durkee’s website (www.durkee.com/homeuse/) has an FAQ page that tells you how to translate their product code into a manufacturing date. If you are in the Greater St. Louis Area and buy Schnuck’s store brand spices, you can figure out the pack date with the algorithm they kindly provided to me.
The first number is the year.
The letter represents the month, where “A” is January and “M” is December
The next two numbers is the day of the month.
The last letter represents the shift.
So Schnucks would represent April 1, 2009 (first shift) as 9D01A.
In the absence of “Best By” dates use the guideline below for freshness.
Ground Spices 2-3 years
Whole Spices 3-4 years
Blends 1-2 years
Herbs 1-3 years
Extracts 4 years – except for vanilla extract which lasts indefinitely
If the label is faded or there is rust on the tin, odds are your spice is way past its prime. If you use your own spice jars you will need to rely on the signs of aging: faded color, lack of aroma, and diminished flavor.
Toss old spices but before you rush out and replace them, consider if they are really needed. After all, the spice got old because you did not use it very often.
To make your life a little easier going forward, use an indelible marker to put an expiration date on your new spice bottles. I use “exp” before the date so I know it’s an expiration date. If you fill your own spice bottles, put a piece of tape on the bottom of the bottle before writing the expiration date on it. Spice Islands provides a spice registry on their website (www.spiceislands.com). Enter the product code in the registry and the site will return the “Best By” date. Additionally, the site accumulates the names of every spice you enter in your own spice library. In one glance you can see your entire inventory of Spice Islands spices, and quickly peruse the recipes that use your inventory.
With age spices lose their flavor, aroma, color and vibrancy. Do you really want to add dusty flavor to food that you worked hard to bring to the table? Purge your old spices and herbs, and your taste buds will thank you.