At the start of 2009, New York Times food columnist Mark Bittman came up with a set of New Year's guidelines for stocking one's pantry . Most were good suggestions, in line with his sensible and helpful approach to cooking. Then there was this one:
OUT Spices older than a year: smell before using; if you get a whiff of dust or must before you smell the spice, toss it. I find it easier to clean house once a year and buy new ones.
Throw out musty spices, sure. But everything? Once a year? Who does that?
Not even Mark Bittman, he confessed today :
I bought this bag at Kalustyan’s when I moved, three apartments ago; that was 2005 (I did transfer the leaves to this spiffy Ziploc). And despite my frequent admonitions to replace dried herbs and spices every year I can’t bring myself to get rid of these: They still smell pretty good, they’re high quality Turkish if I remember correctly, and there are just so many of them.
My bay leaves are fresher than Mark Bittman's. Mainly because a few months ago, I used up my supply of bay leaves for the first or second time in my adult life. The fresh new ones are sitting up there on a shelf next to a big, well-sealed shake can of dried oregano that has a price tag from a supermarket in a city where I haven't lived in 11 years. It still smells very strongly of oregano, and not at all of dust. Don't waste spices if they still work.