How Long Do Spices Last?

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Oregano flakes looking a bit ashy? Bought that cayenne for the chili you served at your housewarming party—two apartments ago? It may be time to do a little restocking.

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As herbs and spices age, their flavorful oils evaporate, rendering them dull and dusty. Though professional chefs will swear you need to replace seasonings every eight months (nice if you have the budget), the rest of us can get away with the following timetable:

Ground Spices: 2 years

Whole Spices (such as nutmeg and cinnamon): 3 years

Dried Herbs: 2 years

Seasoning Blends: 2 years

Pure Vanilla Extract: forever (just keep the lid on tight!)

And keep the following tips in mind:

Think small: Old herbs and spices are bland herbs and spices. So step away from that warehouse store quart container of oregano. It may last you through your infant daughter's high-school graduation brunch, but the results will be uninspiring. For rich, flavorful dishes, buy spices in small containers that you'll have to replace often enough to keep them fresh.  

Keep 'em covered: Sunlight, heat and moisture are the other enemies of dried herbs and spices, diminishing their flavor and color. To keep yours in peak condition, stow them in a dark, dry cabinet —not in an open shelf above the stove or near a window. (Paprika and chili powder can go in the fridge.)

Opt for whole over ground: Grated or ground just before cooking, whole nutmeg, coriander and cinnamon can be more potent and aromatic than anything you'll find in a jar. Plus, they last longer. 

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