1. Whole spices--like nutmeg--maintain their freshness longer than ground ones.
2. Keep spices and herbs away from heat, moisture, and direct sunlight. Even a commonly used herb like dried bay leaves should be kept away from the stove.
3. Spices and herbs will keep for a long time if you store them properly. Whole spices can last 4 years! Ground spices like mustard can last for 2-3 years and contribute to hundreds of tasty homemade salad dressings. Herbs last anywhere from 1-3 years, depending on the herb.
4. They don't spoil, but spices and herbs do lose their strength. Old and weak seasonings will not deliver the taste that they should. Don't end up with flavorless ham just because your cloves lost their power!
5. You don't need any special instrument to test whether spices are fresh. Just use your senses. If the color of the spices has faded, their flavor probably has too. Taste and smell your spices and herbs: if a strong spice like garam masala doesn't tickle your nose and tantalize your tongue, replace it.
6. Don't sprinkle spices and herbs directly from the bottle over a steaming pot. Steam can sneak into the spice bottle and sap your spices' power. If you're wondering why ground spices like allspice can get hard and caked in the bottle, steam may be the culprit.
7. Make sure your measuring spoon is completely dry when you dip it into the bottle. The moisture can quickly ruin the flavor of an aromatic spice like cinnamon.
8. Members of the red pepper family, including paprika and chili powder, keep their color and stay fresher when stored in the refrigerator.
9. Replace bottle lids tightly immediately after use to keep out moisture and lock in the flavor you want from a highly aromatic spice like fennel seeds.
10. An inexpensive coffee grinder can also be deployed to grind whole seeds, cloves, and cinnamon sticks. Fresh-ground spices are especially flavorful.