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Black Pepper & Peppercorns: How Long Do They Last and How To Store Them

There’s an old black pepper in your spice rack, and you’re not sure if it’s any good anymore. How long does black pepper last?

Or maybe you have a small jar of peppercorns you don’t know where to put. How to store peppercorns to keep them spicy the longest?

If either sounds familiar, this article is for you. In it, we’re going to cover:

  • the shelf life of pepper and peppercorns
  • storage practices for both
  • “expiration” dates and spoilage of peppercorn and black pepper

Interested? Go to the section about the spice you want to learn more about:

Black pepper and peppercorns
Black pepper and peppercorns

Does Black Pepper Go Bad or Expire?

Black pepper doesn’t expire, and the date on the label only informs you how long the spice should retain quality. You can use pepper for months (or even years) past its date, but remember that the taste will slowly fade away.

If you follow decent storage practices, chances of black pepper going bad are slim. It’s ground and dried, so there’s no room for microbial growth. Unless, of course, water and some contaminants find their way into the jar or package.

If your pepper is a year or two past its date, chances are its taste will be much milder than what you’re used to, but that’s about it.

That said, if your ground pepper is clumped, there’s mold in the jar, or it smells bad, get rid of it.

Ground black pepper
Ground black pepper

How Long Does Black Pepper Last?

Black pepper retains quality for two to four years of production date. That period is already reflected in the “best-by” date on the label. You can still use it after that date, but the longer it sits in storage, the milder the taste.

The two to four years recommendation stands true for (pretty much) all ground spices ([MC1]), so it applies to spices like chili powder or cinnamon as well. Please note it doesn’t apply to salt, as salt is more of a mineral than a spice.

The second thing, maybe even more important than the recommendation above, is your perception of taste.

If your pepper is “expired,” but you’re happy about how your peppered dishes taste, there’s no reason to discard it. On the other hand, if it’s still well within date, but the aroma is hardly there and the taste is mild, it’s time to open a new package.

Black pepper: date on label
Black pepper: date on label

To check if your black pepper is any good (quality-wise), check the following ([MC2]):

  • Smell. It should be strong and easy to distinguish.
  • Taste. It should be sharp and pungent.
  • Color. It should be vibrant, not fading.
Black pepperBest-by + 3 – 6 months for best quality
Prepping leek salad
Prepping leek salad: spices on top

How To Store Black Pepper

Keep your black pepper in a cool and dry place, away from direct sunlight. The jar, container, or package should be tightly sealed at all times. This way, your pepper will retain quality the longest.

If you buy spices in plastic bags that aren’t resealable, it’s best to transfer the contents into a jar or plastic container after opening the bag.

If you can’t be bothered with that, at least fold the top so that the pepper is sort-of-sealed. Or use a sealing clip.

The more ground pepper in that bag, the more reason to go the extra mile. If it’s a small package that you’re going to finish within a couple of months, there’s no point in pouring the spice into a jar.

As long as water doesn’t get to your ground pepper, it should stay perfectly safe to use.

Ground black pepper bag
Ground black pepper bag with the top folded

How To Store Peppercorns

Store peppercorns in a tightly capped container in a place that’s away from heat, moisture, and direct sunlight. A jar in a kitchen cabinet or pantry is a great choice for that. Keeping a couple of peppercorns in the pepper mill is also a-okay.

Storing peppercorns isn’t that different from storing pepper. All you need is a cool and dry place, and a tight seal.

If yours come in a bag that’s not resealable, pour the peppercorns into a jar or airtight container after opening that bag. Or at least fold the top of that bag, so the peppercorns aren’t exposed to fresh air, which speeds up the quality deterioration process.

Many people store spices in a spice rack on the countertop. That’s not a good idea because they are exposed to sunlight, which might cause quality loss. If you have one of those, let it sit in a cabinet.

When it comes to spice grinders, keep in those as many peppercorns as you need for like a month or two. This way, they will stay fresh in storage for as long as possible, and you don’t have to refill the grinder every week or so.


How Long Do Peppercorns Last?

Whole peppercorns retain best quality for 3 to 4 years, and that period is already in the “best-by” date. They lose flavor much slower than ground pepper, so chances are your peppercorns that are way past their date are still quite potent.

As with pepper, the recommended period above is one thing, and the actual flavor of your peppercorns is quite another.

Because of that, throwing out peppercorns just based on the date on the label is a pretty bad idea.

Instead, you should crush or grind one of the peppercorns and check its smell and flavor. If the taste is sharp and the aroma strong, those peppercorns are still perfectly fine to use.

If some of the flavor is there, but it’s not as potent as you’re used to, try using more peppercorns to make up for that. This way, your dish should taste the way you like it, and you’re one step closer to opening a new container.

PeppercornsBest-by + 6 – 12 months for best quality
Black pepper on leeks salad
Black pepper on leeks salad

Do Peppercorns Go Bad?

Like ground pepper, dried peppercorns don’t really expire or go bad. They’re dry, and the chances of them growing mold if you store them properly are none.

If your peppercorns are “expired,” the worst that can (realistically) happen is that they’re going to taste somewhat mild, and you might need to add more of them to get to the desired spiciness.

There’s an off chance, however, that you’ll see mold or any other microbial growth in your peppercorns jar, especially if you left it open for a prolonged period. If that happens, discard the contents of the container, not only the moldy specimen.


  • Store black pepper and peppercorns in a cool and dry place, away from sunlight. To retain quality the longest, they should sit in a sealed bag or container.
  • Peppercorns retain quality longer than black pepper does. If you don’t use the latter that much, it’s better to go with peppercorns that you grind whenever you need some pepper.
  • If your pepper has lost its smell and sharp taste, it’s time to open a new package.