Do Cinnamon Sticks Ever Go Bad?

Cinnamon is known for its warm and slightly spicy flavors that recall visions of freshly-baked cinnamon buns and apple cider enjoyed by an open fire. The iconic spice has a powerful pepperiness balanced by mild vanilla undertones. Often a favorite for fans of nutmeg, cloves, and cardamom, cinnamon has an undeniably comforting aura that's made it a staple in our pantries for quite some time — but how much time is too much time? If you're wondering whether the cinnamon sticks sitting in the back of your cupboard are still okay to use, keep reading!

Cinnamomum, as it's known scientifically, is harvested by extracting strips of cinnamon trees' inner bark and leaving them to dry, which leads to curling. These cinnamon sticks can then be used whole (typical of the delicate, floral Ceylon cinnamon) or ground into powder (typical of the more potent cassia cinnamon), reports ​​Bon Appétit. Given the differences in production, do cinnamon sticks have a different shelf life and do they ever go bad?

After four years, quality starts to suffer

Spices don't spoil in the same way that produce, dairy, or meats do. That means that technically speaking, spices will last indefinitely, but their quality will start to take a turn after an extended period of time.

According to Mrs. Fields, whole spices like cinnamon sticks and peppercorns have a much longer shelf life in comparison to ground spices since less surface area is exposed to outside factors that can diminish aroma and flavor. That said, Still Tasty explains that cinnamon sticks maintain freshness and quality for up to four years in your pantry — just don't forget to keep sticks in an airtight container and store them somewhere that's cool and dark. 

If you're not sure whether your cinnamon sticks are past their prime, you can test the potency of your cinnamon with a sniff test. Simply crush a teaspoon's worth in your hand and take a whiff. If the cinnamon lacks fragrance or has a dullness, then it should be discarded, notes MasterClass. However, to avoid any confusion, it's always best not to buy spices in bulk, in addition to labeling when you purchase your cinnamon sticks.