Menu Enter a recipe name, ingredient, keyword...

How To Tell If Your Spices Are Dead


Be honest: how long have those spices been gathering dust?

Look inside your spice cupboard: chances are you'll find a jar of dried something older than Justin Bieber. It's a common story: you get all excited by a new dish, rush out to buy all the spices required, use them once, and then forget about them as they languish in obscurity. 

Using up spices before they go off is can be tricky. Although most ground, sealed spices are labeled to last for 2-3 years, most professional chefs (including Martha Stewart) recommend that you use up spices within 6-12 months.

The reason is that as spices age, they go stale and lose their potency. So how can you tell if your spices are dead? If you pay close attention, spices will tell you when they're beyond their glory days — the key is in the aroma. Try this simple palm test: rub a bit of spice into the palm of your hand. If it has a nice, flavorful aroma then they're still good to use. If they smell weak or flat, then they've probably lost their flavor and should be replaced.

Those expired spices are unlikely to harm you, but they will weaken your cooking — you can add extra spice to compensate for the weakened flavor, but if the spice is dead then that dish is going to taste like paper. So what should you do to prevent wasting precious spices?

  • Buy Small: Unless you're a family of 8 or a restaurant churning out meals by the dozen, skip that super-sized box of parsley. Chances are you won't use it all up by the time it loses its flavor.
  • Store Spices Right: Keep them away from heat (never above the stove!) and in a cool, dry place. Don't let them sit in directly sunlight either, as that will put a dent in their freshness.
  • Get Creative: Don't pigeonhole your spices. Garam Masala may be a staple of Indian cuisine, but it'll also add a nice kick to cookies, cakes, vinaigrettes, and butters. 
  • Blend Your Own Spices: If your obscure and forgotten spices are near to the end, blend them together and make your own mixes. Whip up a batch of "Mexican Spice," and use it! 
  • Cook In Big Batches: Freeze the rest. Jars of spices weaken over time, but cooked-in flavor lasts in the freezer for months.
  • Host A Feast: If you have lots of spices you're trying to get through, cook for your friends! You'll end up using a lot of those leftover spices, and everyone will love you for feeding them.

Ultimately, if you have a bunch of spices that are beyond their time, cook up a big meal and throw them in! There's no point in wasting them, and you could find yourself with a surprisingly delicious dish!

Love spicy? Here are 25 spicy foods you need to try before you die!

More steaming articles

Chef Tips and Tricks

VIDEO: Zebra Cake

Try this clever trick to make the perfect zebra cake!


  • 2 large water or soda bottles (empty)
  • 2 cups flour
  • 1 cup sugar
  • 2 sticks butter
  • 6 eggs
  • 1 tbsp baking powder
  • 1 cup heavy cream
  • 4 tbsp cocoa powder


  1. Preheat oven to 350°F.
  2. Ready 2 large plastic bottles, cleaned and dried.
  3. Add 1 cup of flour to each bottle.
  4. Add 1/2 cup of sugar to each.
  5. Melt butter, then add equal halves to each bottle.
  6. Add 6 eggs, 3 in each.
  7. Add 1/2 tbsp of baking powder to each.
  8. Add 1/2 cup of heavy cream to each.
  9. Shake the bottles thoroughly until the contents are well mixed.
  10. In one of the bottles only, add the cocoa powder.
  11. Beginning with the cocoa powder mixture, add a dolop of batter to the center of a circular
  12. baking tin. Do the same with the other mixture, placing the dolop directly in the center of the previous one.
  13. Continue with alternating additions of each mixture until all batter is used and the tin is full.
  14. Place in the oven and bake for 30 minutes.
  15. Serve and enjoy!

Comment on this article

Miranda Kerr and Julianne Hough: A Tale of Two Weddings How to Properly Handle Leftovers