Cooks liven up baked goods and entrees with a sprinkle of cinnamon. Herbalists of long ago and modern physicians alike have experimented with the spice's healing effects. But you’ll miss out on any health benefits – and cinnamon’s delicious spicy taste – if your cinnamon loses its potency. This happens over time or when it's not properly stored.
It’s likely you don’t know how long your container of cinnamon has sat on your spice shelf. To test the potency of cinnamon, pour out a little and rub it between your fingers. If you have cinnamon sticks, break off an end and crush it between your fingers. If the cinnamon is potent, it should smell fresh and strong. A weak scent means your spice is over the hill.
To prevent a loss of potency, practice good storage techniques. Store cinnamon in an airtight container inside a cool, dry cupboard. A tight lid helps ensure potency. Many cooks like to display their spices on a pretty rack for general kitchen viewing. However, this makes your spices more vulnerable to sunlight streaming through your kitchen window or steam wafting off saucepans on your stove. Keep them tucked away, and never store cinnamon in the refrigerator or freezer.
Most packaged spices have an expiration date on the label, which you can use as a guideline. Poor storage, however, can bring on staleness sooner. Then again, it might taste just fine months past the expiration date. In general, the older your cinnamon, the less potent. If you buy spices in bulk, write the date of purchase on the container. According to the shelf life tracking website Eat By Date, with proper storage you can expect ground cinnamon to last six months to a year past the printed expiration date. Cinnamon sticks may be good for another two to three years.
Organize your spices according to your favorites. If you want to remember to reap cinnamon’s health benefits by adding it to coffee, curries and yogurt parfaits, place the cinnamon container front and center. This will ensure that you use it up before it loses potency. Don’t be shy about throwing away old spices. Weak and impotent spices don’t do your cooking justice.
Teresa Bergen writes about fitness, health, yoga, travel and the arts. She is the author of "Vegetarian Asia Travel Guide" and has written hundreds of articles for publications online and off. Bergen also teaches yoga, spinning and group fitness classes, and is an ACE-certified personal trainer.