Mmmmmmm…. Spicey!

I love to cook…. and by “I”, well,  I actually mean WE, me AND my husband, Brent.  We enjoy homemade foods, canning, and entertaining with food.  Yes, I think you could call us “foodies”.  And because we enjoy cooking, we have slowly become spice collectors.

There are soooo many different types of spices to collect.  (And amazing places to collect them from.   I recently discovered a fabulous little shop in Denver – Savory Spice Shop. OH MY GOODNESS!)  Different variations of all kinds of deliciousness to fill your cabinets – basic salts, flavored salts, dehydrated herbs, freeze dried herbs, ground spices, powdered spices, bulk section spices, prepackaged spices… Whatever your poison is you need a method to contain it and store it in a method that makes sense to you and your style of cooking.  Today I’d like to give you a peek into my spice cabinet and how I have simply and affordably organized it. I did not want to spend a ton of money to get my spices stored neatly.

Here is my BEFORE photo.  This was just a few weeks after moving into our house in the fall of 2013.   (Please ignore the not-so-hot quality… I snapped them with my phone.) I opened the moving boxes containing the spices and just loaded them into the cabinet.

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It’s sorta neat… I could talk myself into it being neat…. but it was not functional for me. I had to keep digging for bottles, bags, and packets of spices.  I did a pretty good job of purging my spice cabinet before we moved here to Colorado, but when we got here we discovered that our spice cabinet was just not going to work out… not at all.

Step One… Empty & Sort:

You’ve got to clear some space… take everything out of your cabinet and place it on your counter or a fold out table near your cabinet… whatever it takes to be able to get it all out of your cabinet.  This is a great time to take inventory of what you have on hand.

Now sort it out.  How do you prepare food in your kitchen? What’s your style?  For me, I need to have my cabinet like a store shelf.  (You will hear about my obsession with having shelves like a store again in a future post, hehe.) I like it all lined up neat and tidy so that I can see what I am looking for quickly. (Plus, it’s pretty, and what master of her kitchen doesn’t like it to look pretty?)

I like to group my spices like so:

  • Dried Green Things – dried oregano, basil, cilantro, thyme, rosemary, etc.
  • Ground/Powdery Spices -onion powder, garlic powder, ginger, nutmeg, cinnamon, etc.
  • Salts & Peppers – all near each other if possible.
  • Baking Schtuffs – baking powder, baking soda, vanilla sugar, vanilla, misc extracts, etc.
  • Packaged Mixes – soup mixes, dip mixes, marinades, etc.
  • Misc Schtuffs – herbs I have dried, bulk stuff that doesn’t fit neatly in little spice jars.

By grouping like things together I can easily grab and go because I know where that yummy spice lives.  It also makes putting spices back in their home when I am finished an easy task.

Some people sort alphabetically, by type of use (regular or specialty), or by type of spice.  The method of sorting really just depends on what works for you.  You can’t use someone else’s method of grouping if it doesn’t work for you.  You need to use a method that you will be able to maintain and be successful at.

Step Two… Purge, Baby, Purge

Once you have all of your spices and goodies laid out on your workspace take a good look at what you’ve got.  You may have tossed a few duplicates or expired spices while you were sorting, but now is the time to cull the spices.  How long has that bay leaf jar been sitting there unused? Did you buy a bottle of something for that party five years ago and have yet to use it again? Yes! Spices do expire… they lose flavor  and color if exposed to air and light. If your green spices are now brown or brownish green, it is time to discard them.

A few of these guys did not make the cut… Sorry guys…

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Step Three… Storage

I really dislike the word “storage”… to me it implies that it’s going away into a deep dark place, only to be pulled out once in a blue moon.   But really… everything needs a home. It needs to be stored somewhere and in a method that makes sense to be able to use on a regular basis. SO…. HOW and WHERE you store your spices matters.

Erin’s Word of Advice on Storing Spices:

Do NOT store them above your stove/range or on a wall in the sunlight.
(It’s a big fat no no if you want to extend the life of your spices. I will hunt you down and help you move your spices to a better location.)

As I mentioned earlier, spices DO have a limited shelf life for maximum flavor.  Certain oils and spices can go rancid in heat and light.  Nobody wants to cook something with rancid flavoring.  It is important that you do not store your oils and spices above your stove/range.  Remember that steam bath you got making pasta ?  Or the time you sweated to death making donuts in hot oil?  That heat travels up to the cabinets above your stove/range and heats that cabinet.  Poor little spices…  Give them a chance.

I am lucky and have a cabinet to the left of my range that I can devote entirely to spices.  OH YEAH!  SPICE, SPICE, BABY!  It is nice and dark and not directly over the heat of the range and within easy reach when preparing food.    So, that’s just what I did… BUT… it was kind of deep and my ginger kept getting lost in the sea of black topped jars. Oy!   It seems they needed a lift… a step up so I could see ginger hanging out with nutmeg.

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I took a little trip to the second happiest place on Earth  – The Container Store.   I purchased this simple expandable spice rack.   (Under $20 – YAH!)  This is a GREAT little gadget.  It expands to fill the space you need, up to 25″.  My cabinet is a little wider than 25″, but that’s ok.  I filled the extra space nicely.

ExpandableShelfOrganizerWht_xMany people put their spices in drawers, use  step racks like this one, Lazy Susans, small bins, or decorative baskets to contain their spices and goodies.  Lazy Susans are perfect for tucking into a corner where you may not have as much horizontal space for storage, and tiered Lazy Susans are great for adding vertical storage in a small space.  There are a “bajillion” ways to store spices but this little shelf worked out perfectly for me.

Step Four…  Fill and Organize

Once you have sorted and purged and have your storage method figured out you can start loading your spices back into your cabinet/space.   Here you can see that I have grouped my small bottles into little families and lined them up neatly on the expandable shelf.

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The shelf is expanded as far as it will go.  I used the leftover space on the right to store the large bottles of spices that I use regularly.  It looked so pretty and neat… But then I remembered I had the second shelf with the piled up packages to deal with.   This cabinet was lacking a second adjustable shelf, so later that day Brent picked up and cut down some shelving and I replaced the beat up existing shelf.

With the new shelves cut I was able to sort out the piles on the top shelf.  One of my favorite ways to store loose goodies is to use mason jars with plastic lids.   The jars keep your spices contained, fresh, and airtight.  I stored my little packets of vanilla sugar and some Stevia leaves that I grew and dehydrated in mason jars (middle shelf, left side). 20130511_163811web

You can see that I rearranged the bottom shelf a smidge, too.  I moved the larger spice jars up and put both sets of salt and pepper shakers on the first shelf for easy reach.  I’ve got baking up at the top middle and right…. I don’t use them as often as the regular spices, but here they are still in easy reach.  Mixes  contained neatly up at the top left in a plastic bin.

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I am happy to say that after just a little over a year my spice cabinet pretty much looks just like this, with the addition of a few new delightful treasures.  This system is simple and works for me.   By finding a spice organizing and storage system that works for YOU, the way you work in your kitchen,  you will be able to be more productive and enjoy cooking in your kitchen.

Do you have a favorite way of organizing your spices?  Tell us about it in the comments.

Happy Organizing!

~ Erin

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