If you cook at home, spending extra minutes hunting for the perfect spice when you need it can slow down your meal prep time.
And seasonings stored in not-so-easy-to-find places might go months – or years – without getting used.
“Spices are something that can sit a really long time and they get forgotten about,” explained Leslie Gail, owner of Declare Order Professional Organizing.
To increase your cooking efficiency and ability to produce flavorful, fresh-tasting dishes, consider spending an afternoon or evening revamping your spice collection. The next time guests come over to help prepare a meal and dine with you, they’ll notice the difference.
If you want to organize and store your spices, start by tossing out stale spices. Then clear out a space in your kitchen, choose a storage method, and sort and label your spices.
Follow these additional steps to organize your spices and store them properly:
Take Stock of Your Spices
“It’s always a good idea to take inventory first,” explained Tonia Tomlin, president and founder of Sorted Out, LLC. Take out all of the spices you have and put them in one spot, such as a counter or kitchen table.
Then go through each container, and determine if the spice is one that you use and want to keep. If you find two (or more) of the same kind, group them together or combine them if they are still fresh.
Spices that smell stale or have been in your cupboard for too long should be tossed. Ground spices and herbs typicalyl stay fresh for up to a year.
Also check the safety status of your spices. There have been recent recalls for turmeric, curry powder and other spice blends. Visit ConsumerSafety.org to see if you have any in your kitchen that shouldn’t be kept.
Prepare Your Space
Once you have all of the spices you want, look for a convenient spot to store them.
“It won’t be as efficient if you have special items that you use on a regular basis and they’re in a hard-to-reach place in the pantry,” said Gail.
A cabinet, drawer, or counter near the stove might be a suitable place for your collection.
To ensure a well-rounded collection, especially if you’re just beginning to cook regularly, gather a few staples.
“My top recommendations for people looking to start a spice collection are sea salt, whole peppercorn to grind fresh at each use, oregano since it pairs well with many cuisines, ground chipotle for heat and smokiness, cinnamon for baking, bay leaves for soups, stocks and roasts, whole nutmeg, ground mustard for rubs and sauces, and a blend or two that speaks to the cook,” noted Kelly Zajac, owner and operator of Tudor House Tea & Spice.
Choose a Storage System
“I enjoy using mason jars to organize my spices,” noted Alon Popilskis, who blogs at Local Taste Blog. “Since they’re clear, it’s easy to see what’s inside.”
Mason jars also allow you to store homemade spice mixes, which may be healthier and allows for customization, noted Popilskis. For instance, if you want to mix a few ingredients together to make a taco seasoning, you’ll have a blend that doesn’t have MSG, sugar, or other unwanted flavor enhancers. If you prefer more nutmeg in your pumpkin pie spice mix, you’ll be able to make adjustments for your own supply.
“My favorite way to organize spices is to put them in tins that have magnets on the bottom and nice labels on the top,” said Zajac.
The tins can then be placed on something else magnetic, such as a fridge or piece of metal.
“You can alphabetize them, or put them in any order that makes sense to you,” added Zajac.
You might group them according to seasonings for Italian-style meals, spicy dishes, and desserts.
If it’s not easy to see the type of spice you have in its container, use a permanent marker to add the name to the top of the jar or in an easy-to-see spot. Also, add the date you purchased the seasoning.
“I like to put the date it was purchased on the bottom of the jar,” said Tomlin.
If you tend to cook certain meals, such as Indian dishes, that require a large number of spices in a single dish, consider making a kit for the seasonings. You might place 10 or 12 spices in one specific box and label it according to its use. You can then store it in the pantry and take it out when you’re ready to cook.