How to Test for Freshness
To ensure freshness, it is best to open and visually check spices and herbs annually:
- Open and visually check if the spice or herb looks fresh.
- Green, leafy herbs will fade upon aging. Be aware; however, that different herbs naturally vary in color and should not always be compared against each other. For example, tarragon is naturally greener in color than rosemary. Additionally, some dill products contain the flower portion, giving them a more yellow color than those without the flowers.
- Red colored spices, such as paprika, red pepper and chili powder will turn from red to brown in color.
- Crush a small amount of the spice or herb in your hand and smell it. If the aroma is not rich, full and immediate, the spice or herb has probably lost much of its potency. (Exception: Whole spices, such as peppercorns and cinnamon stick, have a protective outer coating and will not release its full fragrance until broken or crushed.)
- Compare the aroma (Be aware, however, that subtle changes may also occur with each new crop.) of a freshly purchased spice or herb to that which you’ve stored for a year or more to see the difference.
Spices and herbs are made up of numerous flavor components. Each component dissipates at varying rates over time, altering the overall balance of flavors in spices and herbs as they age.
The initial quality of a spice and herb can impact its shelf life, with a higher quality product retaining its good flavor longer than a lower quality version.