Does black pepper go bad?

While refilling my salt & pepper shakers, I noticed the black pepper box has a sell-by date of October 2004. Is it still safe to use?

For what it’s worth, it still smells vaguely peppery.

Yes it is safe to use. It’s probably lost a lot of potency in 8 years, and will be slightly pepper flavored sawdust.

I replaced a ten year old box of pepper and ruined a bowl of soup with the new box. I was shocked how much stronger the new box was. I had to drastically cut back on how much pepper I used.

A box of pepper lasts me years and years. Long after the sell by date.

<Foodie Mode On>

Why in the world would anybody use pre-ground black pepper? On anything?

For the price of a box of ground pepper, that you’ll toss 3/4 of anyway, you can get a nice supply of Malabar peppercorns and a decent grinder. You haven’t had pepper until you’ve had freshly-ground pepper. You’ll have to adjust all your recipes.

<Foodie Mode Off>

Good point! But, do the peppercorns lose potency overtime, or only ground pepper? I made the mistake of buying a Cosco sized container of corns, and I may never need pepper again in my lifetime.

Pepper corns while whole will last a VERY, VERY long time.
It’s the grinding that exposes the volitile oils to the air.

I have heard that pepper should be tossed if the container gets wet - mold can be an issue. Other than that… yeah, you just lose potency.

I’m kind of with Silenus about grinding your own pepper. You can control the texture, and get the freshest flavor. I do buy both pre-ground pepper and whole peppercorns at Costco and use those up a couple of times a year. I must go through a lot more pepper than most people!

(On the other hand, I do have a jar of nutmeg going on 14 years… maybe it’s time to upgrade? :slight_smile: )

I read somewhere a long time ago that whole peppercorns retain their flavor for 100 years. Don’t know if that’s actually true but you’ll probably be able to pass the remainder of that container to a younger generation if you don’t finish it :wink:

As zoid noted, it’s ground pepper that has an expiration date. Peppercorns have more of a half-life.

If it’s a jar of GROUND nutmeg, kiss it goodbye.

Replace it with whole nutmeg, and use the fine grater on your box grater. You will not BELIEVE the difference! You’ll find yourself inventing things to use the nutmeg!

No shit. I have a bag of nutmegs in the cabinet that I consider more valuable than the rest of the spice rack combined. Fresh nutmeg can absolutely make so many dishes.

Really? My goodness. I’m going shopping tomorrow and may well find some fresh nutmeg.

Whole nutmegs are available at Penzey’s and they tend to be fresh. I’ve also found good supplies at Indian grocery stores.

Pepper is one of those things that loses it’s flavor rapidly after grinding. Ground spices can keep their flavor for a reasonable time when kept dry in a sealed container. But for any size container, once it’s about half full the spices don’t pack down well and there’s a lot of air in their, so they’ll enter a spin dive from that point. But they’re never as good as fresh ground.

Most dried whole spices will outlive the cockroaches if kept sealed and dry. Someone has suggested to me keeping rice or salt in their containers to absorb moisture and make them keep longer. I haven’t tried it though.

I agree with all that has been said. Preground pepper is terrible. I really don’t feel like I’m being a foodie snob by saying it; it’s just quite a different beast than freshly ground pepper. Preground pepper basically tastes like vaguely pepper-flavored sawdust, with a mustiness to it that freshly ground pepper doesn’t have. Fresh peppercorns have a fruitiness to them, both in flavor and aroma. I go through a good deal of pepper. I will go through several 14 oz Costco bottles of Tellicherry peppercorns a year.

Same thing with nutmeg, as said above. Don’t buy the preground crap. This rule holds true with pretty much any spice. Allspice, cloves, star anise, fennel, coriander seeds, cumin, whatever it is, grind it to order. The little bit of inconvenience makes a big difference in taste. Big difference.