‘Tis the Season to Update Your Spices

We are two weeks away from Thanksgiving which makes this the perfect time to restock your spice cabinet.

Unless you’re an avid cook or baker, it can take a year or more to go through a bottle of spice.  I know that I have a couple that coming up on at

Courtesy of

Courtesy of

least their second year in my cupboard. If we were diligent cooks, spices would be replaced every six to 12 months.

A dash of a slightly long-in-the-tooth spice is not fatal to the eater, but it doesn’t do your recipe any service.  Spices that are over their shelf life lose their flavor. While you want the dishes you serve at the holidays, and throughout the year, to be their very best, the idea of replacing an entire shelf of spices makes the more frugal of us cringe. Spices are expensive and usually we need only a small pinch. However, if you shop and store properly, you can get the maximum amount of flavor from your spices.

  • Store spices away from air, heat, moisture and light. They are natural enemies of spices. Do not keep them near the stove, dishwasher or sink, and keep them in tightly covered, dark containers.
  • Buy small containers. Those big bottles of cinnamon and paprika from Costco or Sam’s Club certainly are tempting, but unless you use a lot of that spice, stick with smaller containers. Or consider dividing that big bottle among family and friends.
  • Purchase whole spices instead of ground. Whole spices last longer, up to four years versus six to 12 months for ground. Whole nutmegs, peppercorns and others are generally available at the corner grocery store.
  • Don’t store spices in the refrigerator or freezer. Humidity condenses on the spice and the container. But there are some exceptions: paprika, chili powder and red pepper should be refrigerated, particularly during the hot summer months, to maintain their color.

The holidays are also when we use those seasonal necessities, pumpkin pie spice and poultry seasoning. Considering you might use them only two or three times during the season, even the smallest bottle can last for years. Instead of buying these combo seasonings, I make my own. It means I have a fresh supply every year, and I’m not running out on Christmas Day frantically looking for the last grocery store that is open because there’s no more poultry seasoning.

Pumpkin Pie Spice: 2 teaspoons

  • 1 teaspoon ground cinnamon
  • 1/4 teaspoon ground nutmeg
  • 1/4 teaspoon ground ginger
  • 1/8 teaspoon ground cloves

Poultry Seasoning: 6 1/4 teaspoons

  • 2 teaspoons dried sage
  • 1 1/2 teaspoons dried thyme
  • 1 teaspoon ground dried marjoram
  • 3/4 teaspoon ground dried rosemary
  • 1/2 teaspoon ground nutmeg
  • 1/2 teaspoon finely ground black pepper

The best way to test from freshness is by smell: If it smells strong and flavorful, you’re good to go.

Cora Weisenberger has been writing about food since 1997, first for her hometown newspaper and later for national magazines.  She’s a graduate of the Medill School of Journalism, and can be found rattling about her suburban Chicago kitchen preparing goodies for hubby, Greg, and sons David and Jonathan. Read all of her blogs at


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