In an age that is trying to eliminate the issue of food waste, expiry dates are an important concept to grapple with. Many foods have an obvious fridge or shelf life, coming and going from the refrigerator in a ritualistic way. Others have a blurrier shelf life, and often are thrown out prematurely, or spoiled as a result of poor storage techniques.
So where do baking ingredients and spices fall within the expiry date conversation? Many of these ingredients are dry, and don’t typically need to be checked for mold or anything else that might make you sick. But is there still cause to worry about replacing baking ingredients and spices after a certain amount of time has passed?
For many of these items, it’s not so much of an expiry date, as it is a reality that over time, many of these ingredients may lose their potency or chemical ability to do what they are intended for (eg. baking soda). To avoid being disappointed by a cake that didn’t rise, or a flavourless dish, check out our guide on expiry dates.
Baking soda: 3 years
How to test it: Baking soda will lose its strength depending on how you store it. To maximize its value, keep your baking soda in a dry place, covered tightly. If you want to test the strength of your baking soda, mix ¼ cup of baking soda with 4 teaspoons of vinegar. If the mixture begins to bubble immediately, your baking soda still works!
Baking powder: 6 months – 1 year
How to test it: Spoon ½ teaspoon in a bowl and pour ¼ cup of boiling water over top. If your baking powder is still good, the mixture should start bubbling violently.
Brown and powdered sugar: 2 years
Ingredients that will never expire: Pure vanilla extract. white sugar
HERBS AND SPICES
The comforting thing about spices is that, unless contaminated by moisture, they will never spoil. However, they will lose potency of flavour over time. Here, I’ve researched estimated expiry dates of spices, meaning the approximate time your spices will last before becoming so dried out that they are flavourless.
Ground spices (nutmeg, cinnamon, turmeric): 2 to 3 years
Dried Herbs (basil, oregano, parsley): 1 to 3 years
Seasoning blends: 1 to 2 years
Whole spices (cloves, peppercorns, cinnamon sticks): 4 years
Seeds: 4 years (except for poppy and sesame seeds, which should be discarded after 2 years)
Extracts: 4 years (except for vanilla)
To retain maximum freshness, store spices and herbs in airtight containers, and keep them in a cool, dark place. This will protect them from moisture, which will shorten their shelf life. You also want to keep them away from light, which can cause their colours to fade.
There is a myth that storing spices in the freezer and fridge helps to retain freshness. This is FALSE. This method results in unwanted condensation in your spices. The same caution goes for sprinkling spices straight from the jar over a hot pot or pan. The steam rises up and enters your jar. To protect your spices, sprinkle what you need into a spoon or your palm.
With all of this in mind, try your best to store your spices properly, and consider buying them in smaller quantities to maximize freshness! Are baking agent and spice expiry dates something you already knew about? Let us know what other shelf life questions you have!