Organizing kitchen spices

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I worked with a client unpacking and setting up her kitchen this week. I corralled and sorted all her spice containers; jars, plastic bags, paper bags, plastic boxes, fabric bags; and we saw that there were duplicates and even triplicates of some spices.

One problem is that spices don’t all come in the same kind of container and plastic bags don’t work well in a spice rack. That means that some spices end up packed into a larger container in the pantry, away from the jars in the rack.

They’re usually not very usable there because the bags are rolled up or not labelled clearly. In this case they were also pretty tightly packed together. When it’s hard to find one, it’s easier just to buy more and then you end up with doubles and triples.

With spices, that’s a waste of money because they don’t keep very long. Not many cooks need half a cup of turmeric on hand all the time. I like Spicely brand boxed spices because the quantity is small. So here’s what we did:

  1. We got rid of all the expired spices. Some were dated. Some we judged on their color and smell; lack of either means toss it.
  2. We got rid of extra spices. One average spice jar-full is plenty to keep. We tried to select the newest ones to keep judged as described above.
  3. We now had spare jars to wash and empty the bagged spices into. Even so, the jars aren’t exactly the same size. I recommended that the client either start buying one brand or buy her own jars. Uniform containers with uniform labels make it much easier to find what you need quickly.
  4. We used a labelled to identify the jars and put them in the rack in alphabetical order. Some cooks like to sort by type of cuisine, or by the spices they use most often; those methods are fine too. With alphabetical sorting, I put the blends in their own section at the end.

Other spicy notes:

Don’t keep spices above your stove. The heat will destroy the flavor.

Select a spice container based on your cooking style and preferences. If you have a drawer available, you can get handy inserts to keep the jars in place. To save space, attach a rack or two to the inside of a cabinet. If you like having them on the counter, use a tiered lazy Susan. A graduated riser shelf unit is great if you have cabinet space for one.

Photos courtesy of The Container Store