Just opened a small jar of ground nutmeg, and not sure what’s its shelf life or if it ever goes bad? How long does nutmeg last?
Or maybe there’s a half-open container of whole nutmeg in your spice drawer, and you need to know if the spice is any good.
Sounds familiar? If so, this article is for you.
In it, we talk about the shelf life, storage practices, and expiration of nutmeg. And, in case you were wondering, we cover both ground and whole nutmeg, so no matter what you have on hand, we’ve got you covered.
Let’s get started.
How Long Does Nutmeg Last?
Whole nutmeg lasts 3 to 4 years, while ground nutmeg keeps for about 2 years. The spice usually comes with a best-by date on the label, and that’s a good starting point. You can safely assume that its quality should be alright for at least a year past that date if you store it properly.
The periods above are only rough estimates, as the recommendations from credible sources differ quite a lot.
For example, McCormick, one of the top sellers of spices in the world, says whole spices typically last 3 to 4 years, while ground spices between 2 to 4 years ([MC]). On the other hand, we have the University of Nebraska that suggests storing whole spices for 2 years and ground spices for only a year ([UNL]).
If your old nutmeg has a bit of flavor left (but not a lot), you can try reviving it by toasting it in a skillet over medium-low heat until it gets more fragrant. Stir it constantly so that it doesn’t burn ([MC]).
To me, it’s not really about the dates (the date on the label is not an expiration date, by the way), but more about the quality of nutmeg you have on hand. If it adds flavor and aroma to my favorite dishes, I don’t care much if it’s “expired” or not.
Let’s talk about that.
Does Nutmeg Go Bad?
Store-bought nutmeg, either whole or ground, doesn’t really spoil, but at some point, it will start to lose potency, and the flavor of your dishes won’t be quite right. The date on the label is, basically, how long the producer expects the quality of the spice to stay optimal.
Most spices retain almost all of their potency for at least a year after the date on the label. But, over time, you might notice the gradual drop in terms of how much flavor you get from that old pack of nutmeg.
If your old nutmeg doesn’t give you enough of its nutty flavor, try adding a bit more of it. This way, your dishes should taste at least good enough, and you’ll finish that nutmeg that much faster.
If you’ve just found that ancient ground nutmeg and want to know if it’s any good (i.e., it’s still potent), rub a small amount in your hand. If the aroma is fresh and rich (not “sort-of-there”), it’s good enough to use ([UNL]).
And if you have whole nutmeg on hand, grate or grind a bit, and do the same with the powder you get.
If there’s no aroma, or there’s just a tiny bit of it, discard the spice and open up a new container.
How To Tell If Nutmeg Is Bad?
If your nutmeg is moldy, has any pantry bugs in the container, or it’s like ten years past the date on the label, throw it out. Do the same if you’ve tested it and it’s lost its potency.
If you only use nutmeg once in a blue moon and like grinding spices, consider switching to whole nutmeg seeds. Whole nutmeg retains best quality for longer than its pre-ground counterpart.
How To Store Nutmeg
Store nutmeg in a dark and dry place, away from any sources of heat, and sealed tightly.
A cupboard or spice drawer in the kitchen is probably the best place to store nutmeg, but if you rock an open spice rack, you can make this work as well. Just make sure it sits away from sunlight, heat sources (the stove, heating vent), and the sink.
While keeping all your spices in a drawer is probably the best option storage-wise, it’s not all sunshine and rainbows.
The main drawback is that you might forget they exist or not use them as much as you’d like. And that’s how you end up with half-open nutmeg that you bought five years ago and used twice since then.
It’s a balancing act, and you have to choose what’s best for you. If a bunch of spices on a kitchen counter is what makes you use them regularly, it’s a better choice than if they sit in a perfect spot forgotten.
When it comes to containers, bags, and the like, make sure they’re sealed tightly. If it’s a small paper bag (like mine), at least fold the top. It’s not perfect, but I find it’s good enough if your spices sit in a drawer.
I know sprinkling ground nutmeg directly from its container into a steaming pot of soup is super convenient, but it’s also how moisture gets into said container. That’s what we try to avoid at all costs. Use a dry spoon or your (hopefully clean) fingers instead.