Does Chili Powder Go Bad?

Chili powder seasoning consists of various ground spices and at least one herb. This spice blend was invented as a convenience product for American cooks. It encapsulated the flavors of Mexican cooking in one mixture and saved cooks the trouble of seeking out multiple spices. As such, it is more of a Texan spice blend than a truly Mexican one. However, you may not have many uses for chili powder if you do not regularly cook Tex-Mex dishes. So how quickly does chili powder go bad? How do you tell when it has? Let’s break down what you need to know.

Note: in this article, we discuss chili powder, the seasoning blend, that utilizes multiple herbs and spices. But much of the same holds true for chili powders made with 100% hot pepper powder.

Do the ingredients in chili powder affect how long it can last without going bad?

Because chili powder consists of dry spices, it does not go bad in the same way that a moist spice blend or chili paste might. The dryness and the antimicrobial properties of the spices prevent the growth of bacteria, which means that chili powder will usually not get rancid.

Along with moisture, the other major cause of spoilage tends to be sugar. Most chili powder blends are sugar-free. Compare chili powder to a spicy chili paste like gochujang, which has both sugar and moisture. Gochujang must be refrigerated to keep it from going bad, while no such precautions are required for chili powder. However, chili powder consists of ground spices. Ground spices have a much shorter shelf life than whole ones.

How do the right storage methods keep chili powder from going bad?

In most cases, how you store chili powder determines how long it lasts. As with all dry spices, you should keep chili powder away from light. It lasts the longest when you keep it in the dark. Light degrades the volatile oils that give chili powder its flavor. Heat can have the same effect, so you should keep cool as well.

Ideally, the container for your spices should be airtight. You can expect chili powder to last for up to three years if you store it correctly. Note that even under ideal storage conditions, you should still expect chili powder to lose some of its flavors over time. Like any ground spice, its pungency will decrease the longer you have it.

Another factor in how long chili powder will last without going bad is its freshness. If you buy fresh whole spices and grind them yourself, you can expect them to last much longer than a commercial chili powder blend.

What are the signs that chili powder has gone bad?

If you spot signs that water has gotten inside a package of chili powder, you may want to discard it and purchase some more. Mold and other problems caused by moisture can make you sick. If you see clumping or mold growth, your chili powder has probably gone bad.

The more common way that chili powder becomes unusable is when it loses its flavor. You do not have to discard it, but you may have to use more of it to ensure that you get the right taste. If you have had chili powder in your spice cabinet for more than a year, smell and taste a small amount before you add it to a dish. A smell and taste test allows you to determine how much flavor it has lost. Remember that there should be more to the flavor profile than just heat.

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UPDATE NOTICE: This post was updated on October 28, 2022 to include new content.
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