While cleaning my cupboards, I decided to do a purge of my spices. I really, really hate to throw out spices, but it just has to be done at least once a year. I remember cleaning out my Grandmother’s after she passed away, and there were spice cans that were at least ten to twenty years old. The contents were gray dust.
Bulk Spices - Sue buys a lot of hers in bulk from StringTown grocery which is an Amish store. I don’t buy from bulk stores much as if they are open bins they can be risky for Celiac people. Health food stores and Co-op stores have spices and seeds to buy in bulk also. New Pioneer Co-op in Iowa City is a good store to buy spices and seed in bulk. The nice thing about stores like this, is you can buy small amounts or larger amounts according to what you use. Don’t buy large jars if you won’t use it often. It is no saving if you have to toss a large amount. Spices are becoming more expensive and as the cost of gas goes up, they will continue to raise in price.
When to toss - The general rule of thumb is to smell and taste your spices. If they do not smell anymore or taste flat, they should be tossed. Penzeys recommends keeping red spices such as paprika and whole, crushed and ground chili peppers in the refrigerator.
Storage - Other than vanilla beans and extract, the flavor of spices will not be damaged by cold. Always store in a dark cool shelf in your cupboard. If you have an open spice rack, hang it out of the sunlight. Heat, light and moisture are the hardest on spices. They will lose their flavor and aroma faster if stored in these conditions.
How long do they last? While it doesn’t make sense to discard spices oftener than once a year, some will last two years or more, you need to check on them. Ground spices will not last as long as whole ones. Seeds can become rancid quickly and really are better kept in the refrigerator.
When in doubt about a spice, just smell it. If it smells strong and spicy, use it. If not, toss it.