Organizing Your Herbs and Spices

lavender flowers dried

Dried Lavender

Thanks for sharing your thoughts and suggestions on last week’s Organize This post. I’m passionate about organizing and gardening, so writing a weekly feature should be fun.

Cathy, the fabulous cook, gardener and blogger at Words and Herbs is looking for a way to organize her extensive collection of herbs and spices in a ‘very small spice cupboard.’

Since I’ve not seen Cathy’s kitchen or her spice collection, the following ideas are generic in nature, and should apply to everyone.

Gather and Review:

While it’s tempting to skip this tedious step, it’s often the most fruitful. Haul out all your herbs and spices from cabinets, counter tops and drawers and spread them out in one place. If you love to cook, you probably have an extensive collection.

Spread a large table-cloth or newspaper on your table or counter so it’s easy to tidy up any spills. Set out your spice and herb jars and packets so you can see everything. If you have 50 jars or less, alphabetize into A – L and M – Z. If you have 100 or more, break it down even further. Alphabetizing serves two purposes: it allows you to search for duplicates and it makes it easier to keep your spices in order for regular use. Most markets and grocery stores display spices in alphabetical order so you can find what you’re looking for. It makes sense to do this at home as well.

Consolidate:

If you have duplicates, see if you can consolidate them into one container. Before doing so, check the herbs or spices for potency and freshness.  According to Spices Inc., whole spices and dried herbs, leaves and flowers will keep 1 – 2 years, whereas ground spices and herbs will keep for about a year.

Purge:

Painful, I know, but if your spices have gone off, or have lost potency or flavor, it’s time to let them go. Did you buy a special ingredient that you’ll never use it again? It’s okay to let that go too. You can’t recoup the cost and those spices are taking up valuable cupboard space. Finally, if you’re a fabulous cook, you may receive gifts of herbs and spices. After graciously thanking the giver, consider passing them on.

Organize:

Yes! Now you can put your system in place.

Spices are best stored in glass containers with tight lids in a cool, dry place. Though you’ll want them close by when you prepare your dishes, you don’t want them close to the stove (too hot) or the dishwasher (too humid). Boy, those spices are temperamental!

Consider investing in a generically sized set of jars. When the jars are all one size, it makes it easier to see what you have and easier to put it back where you found it. It’s also helpful if you’re the cook, but someone else puts things away.

At home, we have the luxury of large kitchen drawers. Our spices are laid on their sides in a   drawer for easy access. In smaller spaces, I’ve helped clients organize spices in a drawer by relocating items like tea towels, or seldom used utensils to another location, freeing up drawer space.

If storing them in drawers is out of the question, consider storing your spices in bins you can easily remove from your cupboards. Spice jars are small and not really well suited for the average design of a cupboard. Lift out bins take care of two issues: they contain the smaller jars, keeping them from rolling to the back of the cupboard and they catch spills, making clean up a lot easier.

There are a number of gadgets on the market designed for organizing spices, but I’ve found that most of them are limiting, either in size or ease of use. Most cooks have far more spices than the average storage system allows. The simpler the better.

Finally, all kitchens are not created equally. A fabulous cook living in a small studio apartment will find it challenging to house everything. Consider rotating your meals in such a way that you can get by with less, or store your less frequently used herbs and spices in a shoe box in an out-of-the-way place.  Just be sure to keep an index card listing what you have and where with your other spices so you can retrieve what you need when you need it.

Bon appétit!

Note:

Do you organize or organise? I’m writing from North America so I organize with a ‘z’. Apologies to my readers outside of the US and Canada. You can read more about the origins of the word at Grammarist.

 

37 thoughts on “Organizing Your Herbs and Spices

  1. Oh Alys, a really big THANK YOU! Not only do you have some excellent ideas and tips, most importantly you have inspired me to do something about my spices and herbs at last! I especially love the tip about spreading everything out on a table cloth to save spills! You are a treasure! I have a few metal jars that stack well, so I need to buy a few more in the same range and finally sort it out. I’ll post a photo once I get it done! Thanks, and a big hug!
    Oh, and I write organize with a z usually, simply because I like my handwritten z more than my s…. we were told at school both are acceptable, but we should be consistent, and the Oxford dictionary prescribes z too, as it is apparently closer to the Greek origins. Now I have just looked it up and found this link: http://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Oxford_spelling
    Have a great weekend!

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  2. These are very sensible ideas! My husband does most of the cooking here and truly seems to believe that he needs some of every obscure spice on hand, just in case! I need him to read your post . . .

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    • I hope he’ll find it helpful. My husband does most of our cooking as well. I have a few dishes that I’ve mad for years, but none of the ingredients are remote or exotic. We used to bake more when the boys are young, but honestly my waistline can no longer handle all those baked goods. 🙂

      I loved your post today on sentimental possessions, by the way. Good for you.

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  3. Love this post…when it comes to my kitchen cupboard, I am close to a maniac. All is well ordered, labeled, has its own place…’just a little OCD’ says Mr. Walker when he is cooking and I keep a watchful eye…

    Liked by 1 person

  4. I love organizing my spices. Gets the creative cooking juices flowing again. I keep most of mine in jars in the door of my fridge. Do you keep any herbs/spices refrigerated?

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    • Nice! I can picture you doing that, too.

      I wondered about storing spices in the fridge or freezer but this article suggests otherwise:

      Proper Storage
      There are two critical keys to maintaining the optimum flavor and in getting the greatest value out of your herbs and spices. Store your spices and seasoning blends in air tight containers and keep them in a cool dark place. Keeping containers tightly closed will protect them from moisture and oxidation. Keeping them away from direct light will keep their color from fading. We’ve also found that when spices are stored in glass jars they tend to retain more of their essential oil content (this is where the flavor is).

      Never store your spices above your stove as the additional heat will more quickly lead to degradation of their quality. Also don’t store them directly above your dishwasher as the increased humidity will also shorten their shelf life. Stored spices do best in temperatures below 70° and in lower humidity environments. While achieving both of these may be impractical in your kitchen the closer you can get to the ideal storage of them the better off you’ll be.

      If you have ever heard it’s good to freeze spices and herbs forget it! Condensation will be a problem each time the jar or bag of spice comes out of the freezer and is likely to introduce unwanted moisture to the spices. We also do not recommend shaking herbs or spices out of the bottle directly into something you’re cooking as any steam/ moisture rising up from the cooking dish will introduce moisture into your jar of spices. Instead it’s better to shake the spice into the palm of your hand and then add it to the dish you’re cooking.

      Some people like to store red spices like chili powder, cayenne pepper and paprika in the refrigerator to prevent loss of color and flavor. As mentioned in the freezer scenario above I think that it does more potential harm than good.

      Whole spices keep the longest because they have not been cracked or ground which would expose their volatile oils to the air which speeds up the breakdown of their flavor. This is why ground spices have a shorter shelf life than whole spices or seeds.

      Here is the link for the full article: http://www.spicesinc.com/p-780-what-is-the-shelf-life-of-spices-and-herbs.aspx

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  5. I know about spices losing their potency. I once bought a very big tub of chilli powder. In the end, I would have needed the whole lot to have any taste at all 🙂

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  6. This is a good one – storing herbs and spices is a perennial problem! I now keep herbs in jars stored in a wire basket hung inside a cabinet door and spices in jars on a carousel that sits on the counter top. I like my carousel, but when I looked for another one to store the herbs in they seem to have disappeared from the market. Moral: purchase enough for your needs at the same time!

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    • That is so often the case isn’t it? My mom was always saying that whenever she found the perfect something like hosiery, that they stopped making them. I’ve seen you in action in the kitchen. I like the idea of you tossing herbs and spices to make things just so.

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  7. I keep very few as I cook very little. They lose there freshness so quickly that I’m thinking I’ll only use what I can grow. I bought great little glass jars for herbs and spices as I hate anything stored in plastic. Everything comes in plastic but I don’t have to leave it there. In the last “house” I had them in a drawer. No counter space so they stay hidden in the cupboard for now. Still arranging and they may find a new home soon. Thanks for the help on this. My son has cluttered all my counters as he has no room for all his stuff. And his mother an OCD Virgo.:(

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    • They do lose freshness quickly. I like the idea of using what you grow and now you have the garden space to do that. Yay you!

      It must be very hard living with clutter when you crave order yourself. I’m sorry your counters have been over run. I know how challenging that must be.

      I had roommates many years ago that would fill a sink with dirty dishes, then leave for the weekend. My choices were to leave it (gross) or clean the dishes so that I could use the kitchen. Not much of a compromise. Fortunately for me it was just a summer situation but I remember it well.

      Liked by 1 person

  8. So glad other people alphabetize their spices. But drawers I had never thought of. Like Pauline, I have a spinning thing that the jars fit into, but it’s not big enough…

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  9. I adore spices and herbs and all things fragrant. And I have waaaay too many of them. They are in fairly good order though, but I think I still have a few from as far back as when Reagan was president. Yeah, I hang on to stuff. Not so good. But some of them just remind me of the meals I made with them. They’re like slightly fragrant mementos of feasts from the past.
    I know. Time to spring clean.
    xox

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    • Oh now the wheels are turning. We can gather up those ancient spices and make a fragrant quilt. Each herb or spice can go into a tiny organza pouch. You’ll write a fabulous memory about each one and we’ll print that on a larger square with the pouch in the center. Once all the squared are joined, you’ll have a conversation piece for years to come *and* a consolidated spice cabinet or drawer. Operators are standing by…

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      • Oh, my godfathers, Alys, this is a brilliant idea for a book.
        Consequently, if we do indeed make this smelly quilt, I will repeatedly wake up in the night hungry.
        My weight gain will be on your creative shoulders.

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        • I’m fully prepared to take responsibility for any weight gain you may have as a result of our sumptuous quilt. Having seen your svelte form, I’m feeling confident that any weight gain will be relegated to one of your big toes.

          …and I see your beautiful face in your new Gravatar. Lovely! xox

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  10. What a perfect topic.
    When I found I had three little bottles of curry, two of cumin, and two of lemmon pepper, I realized that I needed to clean and organiZe.
    Have I done it yet?
    Take a guess 🙂

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    • All in good time, my dear. You’re running a campaign and working full time, riding your bike and taking pictures. Those spices will wait for a cold, winter day. Meanwhile, if you’re cooking and you come across duplicates, take a moment to combine the two…or three. 🙂

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  11. Thanks for this great post! It reminded me that I haven’t recently taken a peek inside the deep cavernous cupboard that holds all my spices and herbs…time to make sure everything is still fresh and usable! I usually go through them every few months, just to be sure all is a-ok.

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  12. Sounds like I should purge that Creme of Tartar I bought back in the 90’s, LOL. I don’t even know what I used it for. A pie maybe? Does it go in Meringue? I also bought some spices once to make a chex mix for Christmas gifts. I think that was in the early part of this century…snicker. Honestly, I probably could get by with just Basil, Dill and Garlic……just the basic Ukrainian kitchen necessities. I put Basil on and in almost everything I eat. I don’t have an index card but always buy McCormick’s spices and Herbs because I know the jar sizes will fit my organizer. It’s a small drawer thing that looks like stairs. With everything the same size, they’re easier to organize (I think). xoK

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    • LOL on the Creme of Tartar. I remember that living in my mother’s spice cabinet.

      Oh my gosh I love home made Chex mix. We did that a couple of times, but stopped due to extreme waistline inflation. Sigh. Soooo yummy.

      What a neat idea for a Christmas gift, hon.

      I have the same stepped drawer organizer you are referring to. I haul it out now and then to rinse it off. I think the spices jump out when I’m not looking. We always have Italian Seasoning blend in our drawers along with chili powder, pepper in red, white and black and basil, too.

      xoxo

      Liked by 1 person

      • Ha, I Googled Creme of Tatar and yep, egg white stabilizer. Now I know I haven’t baked a pie in forever. But this other website says it’s “non-perishable” so no need to replace it. Karen Maxwell was our neighbourhood super baker, maker, fixer and I used her recipe. I think they’re yummy too. xoxox

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        • Oh, good to know. I guess it doesn’t really fall into herb or spice but more of a baking additive then. Who knew???

          Nice to know it keeps forever. I’m sure I learned about all of this stuff in 8th grade cooking class, but much of it is lost. If you don’t use it, you lose it. [Raising my hand]

          Go Karen!

          Liked by 1 person

  13. Pingback: Spice Cupboard Inspiration | Words and Herbs

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