The Pantry Staple You Should Probably Replace Before The Holiday Season 

Don’t be caught unprepared! 

Pumpkin pie spice
Photo: Photography: Caitlin Bensel, Food Styling: Torie Cox / Southern Living

Preparing for the holiday season goes beyond putting up decorations and assigning out casseroles. Between all the festivities and quality time spent with loved ones, the days get busy, and so it's even more important to set yourself up for success ahead of time. You never know when the need will strike for a homemade pie or batch of cookies, and time is too precious to make countless runs to the grocery store.

While it's always a good idea to grab an extra can of pumpkin purée before the aisles begin emptying, there's a less obvious pantry staple that many people forget to check before the season gets busy: the spice rack. Spices often fall into the category of "out of sight, out of mind," but that's a big risk to take before the holidays when seasonal ingredients tend to sell out quickly.

Despite common misconceptions, spices do expire and lose their potency the longer they sit in the pantry. Therefore, when you're banking on using the pumpkin pie spice that's been sitting on the shelf since last year or the year before, think again. Spices are actually best when used within six months of opening, which means that the seasonal spices that don't tend to get a lot of usage excluding the holiday season can lose freshness before you need them next. The expiration date might give more leeway—up to two years in some cases—but the flavor degrades over time, especially after six months. For frequently used spices such as paprika and garlic powder, you generally will restock once they run out. But what about the spices you don't use quite so often?

Popular spices used during the holidays include cinnamon, nutmeg, allspice, cloves, pumpkin pie spice, apple pie spice, ground ginger, star anise, and cardamom. Before heading into Thanksgiving and Christmas, consider checking these spices for their "best by" dates, or tossing out any that you've used for previous holiday seasons. If you're not sure, give it the whiff test. Spices lose their potency over time. If it smells like nothing or very faint, time to restock. Replacing your seasonal spices will ensure you're not left stressed and are ready to bake at a moment's notice.

The flavor of your pies will thank you—and your guests will, too!

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