Everything You Want To Know About Herbs & Spices

AssortedHere are a few notes to help figure out whether or not your herbs and spices are stale or still good to use. I also added some DIY spice rack projects to the page and a few recipes for making your own blends.

First here are a few tips for testing for freshness…

  • Look at the color, is it still rich and vibrant? Old spices and herbs can lose their color over time. If it looks old and faded, it probably is.
  • Crush or rub them between your fingers. Is the smell strong like it should be? Is it weak or musty smelling? If the smell has lost its punch, they are likely too old to cook with. If it still smells pretty good (just not as strong as it should) and you’re in a pinch, simply use more than the recipe calls for (you’ll need to taste test to determine how much more).
  • Taste a bit, you can usually pick up on the staleness right away. If there’s no taste to it, it’s old and not worthwhile to cook with.
  • Is it clumpy or cakey? Chances are moisture got into the container and the flavor may be reduced. You can break apart the clumps and use if the taste is still good.

Testing Online:

  • McCormick’s How Old Are They?: For McCormick products. Check the bottle for a “Best By” date or look for a code, you can enter it into their “Fresh Tester” that will tell you if it’s still good to use.
  • Clubhouse: Has a list of tips that will help you determine how old your Clubhouse products are as well as a tester to enter your 4-digit date code.
  • Durkee: Shows you how to read the Durkee product date code.

How Long Can They Be Stored: Spices don’t spoil or go bad, but they do lose strength. Here’s a general guideline for storing them…

  • Whole & Seeds: 3 to 4 years
  • Ground: 2 to 3 years
  • Leafy Herbs: 1 to 3 years
  • Seasoning Blends: 1 to 2 years

Storage Tips:

  • Keep them in a cool, dark location. It’s common to see racks above the kitchen stove, but the heat affects the quality of the products so this isn’t the best place.
  • I like to buy them in bulk (if I don’t grow them fresh), portion into small bottles for ease of use, then store the rest in individual ziploc bags (keeping them in their original packaging). Press out as much of the air as possible, seal the bag closed, then stack them all in a solid rubbermaid (or tupperware) container (something with a good fitting lid). I keep this container in the pantry and refill my bottles as needed.
  • It’s suggested to refrigerate those from the red pepper family (paprika, cayenne and chili powder) to prolong their flavor and freshness.
  • Make sure to keep them dry, don’t use a wet measuring spoon to dip into the bottle and don’t hold the bottle near steam.
  • As you buy new items, try getting into the habit of labelling the bottles and packaging with the purchase date–this will help you determine whether or not they are still good to use or if they’ve gone stale.

Quick Tips:

  • Try growing your favorite herbs, snip them directly from your kitchen herb pot and you’ll never get fresher. A few tips: 9 Ways To Grow Herbs and for preserving them, see 10 Easy Ways To Preserve Herbs.
  • Dried herbs are stronger than fresh. If a recipe calls for fresh and you only have dry on hand, a general rule of thumb is to use one-third the amount asked for in the recipe. For example, 3 TBS fresh would be 1 TBS dried.
  • Whole spices keep their potency longer and it’s a snap to grind them if you have a grinder.

Source: Much of the tips and information are found in the three sites listed above, McCormicks, Clubhouse and Durkee.

Here are a handful of ideas for making your own spice rack, fairly easy projects that provide plenty of inspiration! For the labels, you can customize your own easily.


Test Tube Rack: Awesome & easy to make too! Each tube will hold about 1/4 cup of product. Label the cork tops with a sharpie.

Under Cabinet Magnetic Tins: Made by fastening a metal ruler underneath cabinets and attaching magnetic tins. Found via Curbly.


Wall-Mounted & Magnetic: Just bolt on a sheet of metal in the location that you want your rack, glue neodymium magnets to the top of one-piece metal jar lids, add some labels, fill with spices and voila!

Wooden Rack: Some basic woodworking is involved, includes free pdf download for labels.


Repurposed Etched Glass Jars: Not a rack but a nice way to organize your spices. Recycle glass jars, clean them up then use etching cream to label.

Bamboo Caddy: Repurpose a bamboo steamer with some stiff cardboard, glue, paint and caster wheels.


Dark Wood: Easy to make with a few scrap pieces of wood, brad nails and stain.

Under Shelf & Magnetic: Made by drilling holes under the cabinet for the magnets to fill.


Make Your Own Blends

Apple Pie

2 TBS ground cinnamon
1 TBS ground nutmeg
1/2 TBS ground allspice
1/2 TBS ground cloves

Pumpkin Pie

1 teaspoon cinnamon
1/8 teaspoon nutmeg
1/8 teaspoon allspice
1/4 teaspoon ginger

Italian Seasoning

1/4 teaspoon oregano
1/4 teaspoon marjoram
1/4 teaspoon basil
1/8 teaspoon sage

Poultry Seasoning

2 TBS sage
1 TBS thyme
1 TBS marjoram
1 TBS savory
1/2 tsp ground black pepper
Pinch of cloves

Source: Common Causes Of Poor Quality Pickles: Tip Sheet

2 TBS allspice berries
2 TBS cardamom seeds
2 TBS coriander seeds
2 TBS whole cloves
2 TBS mustard seeds
2 TBS peppercorns


2 bay leaves (crumbled)
2 cinnamon sticks (broken)
2 small pieces dried gingerroot (chopped)
2 small dried red chilies (crushed) or 1-2 tsp hot pepper flakes.

Bulk Bouquet Garni
Using dried herbs:

2 TBS parsley
2 TBS celery leaves
1 TBS thyme
1 TBS marjoram

  • Mix together then divide evenly onto 12 cheesecloth squares (approx 4? square, 1/2 TBS herb mix per square); add a couple peppercorns and one bay leaf (dried) into each sachet; tie the sachets closed. Store in an airtight container and use as needed.

Three Tasty Recipes To Shake The Salt Habit

Here are three recipes you can use to flavor dishes, nice alternative to salt if you’re trying to cut or reduce salt from your diet.

Salt Free Seasoning Shake #1

1 TBS garlic powder
1 tsp basil
1 tsp thyme
1 tsp parsley
1 tsp savory
1 tsp mace
1 tsp onion powder
1 tsp black pepper
1 tsp sage
1/2 tsp cayenne pepper

Salt Free Seasoning Shake #2

2 tsp garlic powder
1 tsp basil
1 tsp oregano
1 tsp lemon peel powder

Directions For Both: Simply mix together the ingredients from either recipe then put in a herb shaker for easy use.

No Salt Seasoning Shake #3

1 tsp garlic powder
1/2 tsp onion powder
1/2 tsp mustard (dry)
1/2 tsp thyme (dried)
1/2 tsp paprika
1/2 tsp black pepper
1/2 tsp white pepper
1/4 tsp celery seed


  • Mix all ingredients together and store in an airtight container. You can keep a portion of this in a shaker and just shake over your dish as you would salt.
  • Try this on soups and meats too when cooking, works well for seasoning chicken.

Salad Seasoning Shake

Mix together and keep in a single shaker to season up your salads:

1/4 cup Parsley flakes
2 TBS Oregano
2 TBS Basil
2 TBS Marjoram
1 TBS Dry mustard
1 1/2 tsp Pepper

Makes approximately 3/4 cup. Use a shaker that has larger holes and preferably a cap to seal flavor. Store in a cool, dry spot.

Cajun Kicker Seasoning

Use on fish, shrimp, chicken and whatever else you like!

4 TBS Paprika
3 TBS Basil (dried)
2 TBS Thyme (dried)
2 TBS Onion Flakes (minced)
2 TBS Garlic Powder
1 TBS Fennel Seeds (crushed)
1 TBS Parsley Flakes
1 TBS Salt
1 1/2 tsp Cayenne Pepper
1 tsp Pepper


  • Mix all ingredients and store in an airtight container or jar with tight fitting lid.

Cinnamon Sugar

1/2 cup sugar
1 tablespoon cinnamon

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