That Allspice is at least 40 years old …

Dear K&K: I was trying to help my mom declutter her kitchen but she wouldn’t let go of her spices that were 20+ years old. Her argument was that spices don’t spoil so what’s the problem. Don’t they go bad?

Signed: Perplexed in Plano.

Dear Perplexed: Hilariously, there is nothing more perplexing than the human ability to hold on to spices for longer than most marriages last. In our work, I’ve come across quite a few people with spices from the 1960s. Photographic proof above. Now, down to the nitty gritty, the answer to your question varies. I read around the internet. Looks like some spices are good for 2-3 years. Others, I believe whole, unground, last 3-4 years. Although according to Bon Appetit, they all go bad within a year. I think there are exactly three non chef humans in America who actually switch out spices every year. I’d say most people multiply those estimates by at least 10x.

So, yes, spices go bad. However, they also last for long enough for people to forget that they’re not in fact pieces of furniture with almost an indefinite life. While they don’t go rancid, they essentially become dust with no flavor. Begging the question, what’s the point of using 20 year old spices in recipes? It’s rhetorical.

My advice to you is to put in a better structure to store the spices so your mom can see what she has. Chances are if she knows she has 30 year old nutmeg and 50 year old nutmeg, she might, JUST MIGHT, let for got the 50 year old nutmeg. Try emptying a big drawer and getting a spice storage rack for in there. Here’s a link to a piece we wrote on this method. Remember to measure twice before buying. Or make sure she has enough Lazy Susans to house every bottle. When you put in the proper organizational structure for things, it helps people let go of things that don’t “fit” in this new structure. Helps them make the hard choices. And we don’t mock, it’s hard for some people to say goodbye to 1964 Nutmeg.

Best of luck on your mission! Katie & Kelly

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