It’s likely that we’ve all had the frustration of starting to prepare a meal, only to find that we are missing a key spice or herb. So off the store we go. A few days later, as we search for that ingredient again we realize that we now have TWO of them. It was hidden behind three bottles of garlic salt and beside two jars of paprika.
The spice aisle is an overwhelming experience for many shoppers, and our spice cabinets prove it. We purchase tiny jars of powders and leaves, and are told that if stored properly, they can last for up to 2-3 years. But how are we suppose to store them? Not how you might think. So when it comes time to declutter the spice cabinet we are left confused.
The steps below will help you rethink this mysterious kitchen cabinet, save you some money, and hopefully you’ll never be left without a key spice again.
Step 1 - Sort through everything in your spice cabinet or drawer.
Pull everything out, including spice racks. Take this time to thoroughly wipe down the inside. Categorize the items - salts, spices, rubs, herbs, & baking. How many duplicates do you have? Has moisture gotten into any of the containers, creating clumps? Spices and herbs are labeled with a best before date, instead of expiration date, so you will need to inspect each one and decide on a couple of factors.
To test its flavor, rub a little spice into the palm of your hand and smell. Spices have a nice aroma, so if you don't smell anything you probably won't get much flavor from using the spice. Another indication if a spice is beyond its useful life is its color. Has the spice or herb lost its vibrancy or has it changed color all together?
Eat By Date has a useful guide that shows the useful life of fresh, ground, dried, and whole spices & herbs.
Step 3 - Rethink spice organization and storage
Spices were originally stored in tins (remember those old tins grandma had in her cupboard), but in recent years we have been convinced by marketing that our spices should be a part of our home decor and should be stored for all to see. Cute mason jars, magnetic spice boards above the stove, and countertop racks are very popular, but they are not a practical storage solution if you want your spices to last.
Spices and herbs are best stored in air tight, opaque containers, away from heat and moisture. Keep them away from your stove and dishwasher. If you are still attracted to fashionable, see-through containers, be sure that they are the smallest containers possible with a very tight lid. You want to keep the herbs and spices away from as much air as possible. Store them in a cabinet that does not see a lot of light.
Uniformity makes it easier for you to see what you have, so consider picking up some spice tins that you can then label. Make sure that they are food-safe and have a very tight lid. These tins at Container Store are a favorite, but remember, they should be stored away from the light.
Green Bonus: You can take tins to the store, fill them up in the bulk spice section, and save on that pesky packaging!
Step 4 - Simplify
Unless one of your passions is creating culinary masterpieces, resist the temptation to purchase one-recipe ingredients. Better Homes & Gardens has a Spice Substitutes guide that is quite useful.
Buying large containers of spices and herbs isn’t a good deal if they go stale before you can use it all. Plus, as you empty those large containers, they become a trap for air and moisture.
Organize your spices and herbs alphabetically. There is rarely a need to categorize beyond that.
Lying down is best. My favorite way to organize spices is lying down in a shallow drawer. They are easier to see this way, and you aren’t wasting a lot of extra space doing so.
Aimee Olson of Life Done Simply is a Productivity and Organizing Coach and is a member of the National Association of Productivity & Organizing Professionals (NAPO).