Here's how to keep spices fresh, plus how to know when it's time to chuck them in the compost bin.

The EatingWell Test Kitchen has hundreds of herbs, spices and spice blends. And while our recipe developers and testers go through a lot of seasonings, even we have some spices that are rarely used. And when one gets dusted off, we often don't have time to stand around wondering if it's OK to use.  It's not that spices go bad, per se, but they do lose color, aroma and flavor over time. And who wants the dish they've been laboring over all day to taste flat—due to dull spices? (In a pinch, here's a good way to revive stale spices.) If you remember one thing, remember this: the enemies of your dried herbs and spices are the elements—oxygen, heat, moisture and sunlight. 

My philosophy on the best way to enjoy spices at their peak? Cook with them as often as possible! Here are more tips on how to keep your spices fresh and how to know when to toss them.

Glass jars with colorful pepper
Credit: Getty Images / komargallery

Spice Rack Rules

* Never keep spices in the freezer. The cold, moist environment can cause condensation in the bottle and degrade the flavor.

* Don't dip into spice jars with wet measuring spoons—be sure they're dry to avoid introducing moisture.

* Keep your spices in a cool, dark cabinet away from windows and, ahem, not above your stove. 

* Label your spices with a Sharpie on the date you first open them, to keep track of their age. 

* Ground spices are best used within one year. Whole spices (like cardamom pods) can last up to two years. Any unopened jars will stay flavorful for up to three years. 

* Don't know how long a spice has been in your cabinet? Give it a big sniff. Does the aroma waft out of the container or do you find yourself searching for an odor? If there's only a faint smell, compost it.

* For the freshest spices, be realistic: resist the box-store garlic powder purchase and buy only what you think you'll use in a year. Check out our guide to the best places to buy spices online—some stores will let you buy very small quantities of spices.