How Long Do Dried Chilis Last?

Dried Chiles. Bright red color. Bright bold flavor.

Dried Chiles. Bright red color. Bright bold flavor.

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Dried chilis can add a great punch of flavor to a variety of recipes. I call on them for soups, sauces and other full-flavor dishes. It’s a great spice to have in stock. One of the best things about them is they’ve got a nice long shelf life.

Basic rules

Dried chilis are typically good for up to 5 years after they’ve been purchased. They last MUCH longer than most food you buy, so chilis are a solid investment.

Like many spices, the long shelf life is due to their dried, preserved state. It makes them great for storing and traveling, and keeps them tasty for a nice long time.

You can bet that unless you’ve had dried chilis hanging around for over 5 years, you’re probably going to be fine.

Older than 5 years

What if you found some chilis in the back of the cupboard and really have no idea how long they’ve been there? Well, the good news is, you’re going to be fine. Even if you eat “expired” chilis, they’re most likely not going to make you sick.

Of course, first check them for things like mold or water damage, those could actually make you sick. But if you find unopened preserved dried chilis that have just been forgotten for a long time, they are unlikely to do you any harm.

These acrylic containers from Amazon will keep your dried chili fresher.

That being said, old chilis are unlikely to do much good. Like many spices, when dried chilis get old, they lose a lot of their flavor and aroma.

Expired chilis become dry, brittle, and flavorless. So check to see if they’re still good enough for your recipe. How? Glad you asked. Read on. 

How to tell if your chilis are still good

Whole dried chilis are often sold sealed in plastic. If you find one of those packages and hope to use the chilis inside, first open it up and check for any signs of mold or moisture damage. If they look okay, you can proceed to checking if they have any flavor left.

When you buy a dried chili, the chili inside is “dried” but it isn’t 100% dry. It still has moisture and is soft and kind of leathery. Look for this texture before you use a dried chili in your recipe.

Here’s a New Mexican Chili Powder from Amazon.

If the dried chili is hard, brittle, or crunchy, it has likely lost most of its flavor. You should think about buying new chilis.

Again, they’re unlikely to make you ill and you can always try them in the recipe. They’re unlikely to give the desired taste, and you may find them more difficult to mix in and use than a “fresh” dried chili.

These chiles are ready to spice things up.

These chilis are ready to spice things up.

Dried chilis vs. fresh vs. powder vs. flakes  

There are so many chili options out there! It can be tough to know when to use which kind, and how to store them. Here are some storage and usage tips for each kind:

Whole dried chilis

These are perfect for soups, broths, etc. You should store them in a cool, dry cupboard, or even in the freezer! As discussed above, they can last up to 5 years, though the sooner you use them, the more spice and flavor they’ll have.

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Whole fresh chilis

These are perfect for fresher meals like stir fries, salsas, and even cocktails. They have a lot of flavor, but don’t last as long as their dried counterparts. They can keep for up to 2 weeks if left in a cool dry cupboard, or the fridge. But they can’t be frozen. You should only plan on buying fresh chilis if you’re going to use them right away.

Cooking up some Thai? These whole chilis from Amazon will punch it up. 

Chili powder

Chili powder is easy to use and easy to store. It can hang out in your spice cupboard with the other spices, and it’s often cheaper and easier to transport than whole chilis. Chili powder works best when you’re using a whole bunch of ingredients in a slower meal, like a thick soup or stew.

Chili flakes

These are similar to chili powder, in that they’re easy to store and maintain. They’re easy to measure (if a recipe calls for a certain amount of dried chili), but keep in mind they can be very spicy when fresh! Just like other chili and spices, chili flakes lose some of their taste over time.

Dried chilis in cooking

Dried chilis (and all the other kinds of chili!) are a great way to add some punch to your favorite dishes. They’re flavorful and store well, and can often be quite cheap.

They’re a great way to diversify the flavors you’re cooking with, and to spice up your dishes! They last for a good long time, so if you’ve recently found a package of dried chilis you bought at a market a year ago… go ahead! They’ll still be great.

Slice those chilis thin with a sharp knife. Or a brand new knife.

Making your own tortillas is so satisfying (and economical) here are my picks for the best tortilla presses. 

Additional Resources

Image credit via Flickr Creative Commons: Calsidyrose and Iwan G.