How to Organize Your Spice Rack

What spices lurk in the back of your spice cabinet or drawer?

Although it’s a best practice to sort through your spices annually, it had been a while since I sorted through our spice cabinet.  So recently I decided it was time to do a thorough check.

I am partial to Penzeys brand spices. A dear friend of mine turned me on to them a few years ago and I am a total convert. Over the past 2-3 years, I have slowly been finishing up my older spices, and replacing all of them with Penzeys.

Penzeys Catalog

Not only do they offer high-quality common spice and herb options, they also offer some terrific blends that I have grown to depend on in my cooking.

Anyway, before I started clearing out our cabinet, I did a little research to find out how long spices can be kept before they need to be tossed. There were some varying opinions online, but I decided on the following as a guideline:

  • Ground spices (nutmeg, cinnamon, turmeric) – 1-2 years
  • Herbs (basil, oregano, parsley) – 1-3 years
  • Blends of seasonings – 1-2 years
  • Whole spices (Cloves, peppercorns, cinnamon sticks) – 4 years
  • Flavor extracts – 4 years, except for vanilla, which lasts forever

Armed with this new insight, I completely emptied out our spice cabinet. I took every single container out and placed it on my counter. As I was doing this, I inspected the “best used by” date for each one.

Most of my Penzeys brand spices were still fine – but there were some older containers that I no longer recognized and immediately tossed.

Even after inspecting the dates, sometimes it’s still hard to know if you should keep or toss a particular jar. In a few cases, I poured a small amount out and checked to see if the color still looked fresh and if smelled fresh, too.

If they looked or smelled dull, chances are the flavor would be too.

spices-4web

As I decided to toss a particular spice, I made a list of what needed to be replaced. I actually tack an index card on the inside of our cabinet door and list the spices that need to be replenished the next time I place an order.

After our recent move, I took the opportunity to really think through how I wanted to organize them. I decided that simply organizing by how I use them worked best. For example, I grouped my baking spices together, my seasonings together, and then the blends.

On a second shelf, I grouped the extracts, such as vanilla, and some other seldom-used seasonings I have on hand.

Another popular option from Penzeys is that I can order larger quantities of herbs and spices that I use all the time (such as cinnamon, oregano, or parsley) and just refill the jars as needed. I like that I don’t have to order as often, and that I am reusing their nice glass jars over and over.

Now with autumn upon us, it may be a good time to ensure that your seasonings and spices are freshened up in time for the busy holiday season on the horizon. You will be glad you did.

Ta-Da Tip of the Month

Here are some quick tips to think about when storing your spices and seasonings:

  • Space or elevate jars for easy viewing. I have two 3-tier organizers on the shelf turntable in our cabinet. It helps tremendously for finding just the right jar in a snap. There are similar racks you can insert into drawers as well. 3-tier_spice-4web
  • Spices should be kept as far as possible from the direct heat of your stove. But they should be within reasonable reach while cooking.
  • Some spices, such as parsley flakes and paprika, are sensitive to light. Consider keeping these and other light-sensitive dried herbs in the refrigerator to keep them fresher, longer.

And a couple of tips for cooking with spices and seasonings:

  • Don’t sprinkle spices over a hot pot while cooking. Steam from cooking can cause ground spices or blends to cake.
  • Make sure measuring spoons are dry. Even the smallest amount of moisture could ruin an entire jar.

Pick a time each year to inspect your spice rack. It only takes a few minutes. Ta Da!

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