Open your spice cabinet, and be honest. Do some of your spices predate the Internet? Is it sometimes difficult to identify a spice in your collection, even if you smell and taste...

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Open your spice cabinet, and be honest.

Do some of your spices predate the Internet? Is it sometimes difficult to identify a spice in your collection, even if you smell and taste it?

If so, it’s time to clean house, seriously. Although most of us hold onto spices like they contained the secret to eternal youth, the reality is that the average container of dried herbs or spices has a shelf life of six to eight months.

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Rise in spice use

America’s spice consumption has gone up, too, according to the American Spice Trade Association, which charts usage close to an incredible 1 billion pounds per year.

According to McCormick & Co., spice consumption in America has doubled from 2 pounds annually per person in 1982 to 4 pounds per person in 2002.

It used to be that most of us were perfectly content with salt, pepper and maybe something called Italian blend in our cabinets.

Now, thanks to the globalization of our palates, an upsurge in ethnic cuisine and exposure to a liberal dose of chefs on cooking shows and the Television Food Network, we don’t just want chili powder, we want chipotle chili powder. And while crushed black pepper is a must, a second grinder loaded with white peppercorns is a good thing, too.

Many home cooks are familiar with Vietnamese, Thai, Greek, Middle Eastern and other international cuisines, and are tempted to experiment with some of those flavors at home.

Testing spice’s efficacy

Which is all the more reason to throw out old, tired spices.

Kevan Vetter, executive chef at McCormick & Co., said it’s quite simple to test a spice’s efficacy. “Check that the colors of your spices and herbs are vibrant,” he said. “If the color has faded, so has the flavor.

Next, rub or crush the spice in your hand. If the aroma is weak and the flavor is not apparent, it’s time to replace it.”

Essential oils are at the heart of a spice’s pizazz. You wouldn’t want to get an aromatherapy facial with lackluster lavender, and you shouldn’t want tired herbs in your food either.

Jeffrey Nathan, who hosts the PBS television show “New Jewish Cuisine,” advises using the bruise and sniff method.

“The best way to test if an herb is still fresh is to bruise it between your fingers and take a sniff — you’ll smell essential oils if it’s fresh. If not, toss it,” he said.