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How to Store & Organize Your Spices

Store & Organize Your Spices | Cleaning & Organizing | DIY Spice Drawer | Spice Rack

Being able to whip up any number of dishes based the pantry staples you already have on hand is a great way to keep your grocery expenses down, and a well-stocked kitchen should include at least a basic selection of frequently used spices and herbs.

Like most things in life, spices and herbs are usually best when kept simple, and a budget-friendly spice rack means making sure you’ll actually be able to use the spices you keep on hand before they go bad. The truth is that most of us have way too many spices on hand, and we could probably all benefit from a nice big purge.

Believe it or not, most dried herbs and spices have a definite shelf-life and it’s actually not nearly as long as you think! Most jars come with a clear expiration date that usually falls within 1 to 3 years, if kept sealed. When opened, most spices last from 12-24 months, depending on storage location.  Fresh herbs and spices can add a lot of oomph to your cooking, but old or expired spices may detract from or muddy an otherwise great dish.

Most herbs and spices should be added at the end of the cooking process. If you’re cooking up a freezer meal or making a crockpot dish, we find that the flavors turn out brighter and stronger when there’s a final round of seasoning added just before the dish is served, especially when using fresh ground pepper or herbs.

Use small jars to organize all your herbs and spices.

Spices & Herbs: Containers and Storage

Small jars work very well for spices due to their tight-fitting lids. Glass works well because you won’t transfer flavors. Plus, the jars can be reused and there are a variety of sizes available. Small mason jars are one possibility, or you can order a set of 12 glass jars like these ones for less than $15.  I’ve also seen individual jars sold at The Container Store or Bed, Bath, & Beyond.

It's easy to buy clear glass jars in bulk and add your own labels.

As counterintuitive as it may seem, spices should never be stored near your stove. Heat damages spices and weakens their flavor. Spices should be kept in a cool, dry, dark area of your kitchen, like in the pantry. Red-colored spices (including red pepper, paprika and chili powder) should always be stored in the fridge, especially in hot and humid climates. Seeds like poppy and sesame should also be stored in the fridge to prevent the oils from going rancid.

For easy access, store spices on a lazy Susan or on a staggered shelf so you can clearly see labels and quickly determine what spices you have on hand. A drawer works great as well, as long as you can clearly see everything and it all fits properly.  In our kitchen, my husband used a few scrap pieces of wood to create simple drawer racks to hold the spice jars.

Uniformly labeled spices look beautiful in an organized DIY spice drawer.

As you transfer your spices to jars, it is a good idea to include a sticker or mark the date on the bottom of each container. This ensures you don’t keep spices beyond their usefulness. As tempting as it can be to buy in bulk, only purchase what you can use within the allotted “freshness” time period—six months to a year once a jar is opened.

A counter top herb grower is a great way to have fresh herbs all year round. When it comes to herbs, nothing beats fresh. “Green” flavors just don’t dry well. A windowsill herb garden with a few basics like parsley and cilantro can really up your culinary game. Try a cool countertop pod like the Miracle-Gro AeroGarden to keep your herbs fresh and growing all winter long.

 

If you have a black thumb, freeze-dried herbs or herbs frozen in cubes (like these by Dorot) are great alternatives to fresh. You can also make your own by chopping herbs and storing them in broth or olive oil, then freezing them ice cube trays.

If you purchase fresh (sometimes pricey) herbs from the market, store in open bags with damp paper toweling to help them last longer. Prepara Herb Savor Pods help your herbs last three times as long in the fridge and they’re worth the investment seeing as fresh herbs often come in large quantities and are hard to use up in just a few days.

Building Your Spice Drawer

To keep it simple, you really only need to keep a few basic herbs and spices on hand. Storing them as whole as possible will help preserve their life and flavor.

  1. Salt (I love these Maldon Sea Salt Flakes, but any sea salt or kosher salt will work)
  2. Black Pepper (Peppercorns are even better!)
  3. Chili Powder (store in the fridge)
  4. Garlic Powder
  5. Minced Onion
  6. Ground Cinnamon
  7. Freeze Dried Dill (Litehouse brand, found in the produce section at Target!)
  8. Paprika (store in the fridge)
  9. Dried Thyme
  10. Seasoned Salt or Lemon Pepper

Add these extras if you…

Do a lot of baking:

  • Nutmeg (purchasing whole will ensure a longer life and fresher flavor)
  • Poppy seeds (store in the fridge)
  • Cloves
  • Pumpkin Pie Spice
  • Ground Ginger

Like Mexican flavors:

  • Cumin
  • Crushed Red Pepper (store in the fridge)
  • Cayenne Pepper (store in the fridge)

Like Italian cooking:

  • Dried Oregano
  • Freeze Dried Basil (Litehouse brand, found in the produce section at Target!)
  • Crushed Red Pepper (store in the fridge)

Like Asian & Middle Eastern dishes:

  • Yellow Curry Powder
  • Sesame Seeds
  • Turmeric
  • Mustard Seed
  • Freeze Dried Ginger (Litehouse brand, found in the produce section at Target!)

At this point, you might be scratching your head and wondering, “What about parsley? Cilantro? Basil?” Unfortunately, many green herbs simply aren’t worth storing because they lose so much flavor. The exceptions to this rule are Thyme and Dill which both remain fairly potent, even on a shelf.  But for common herbs like parsley, cilantro, basil, chives, sage, and mint, it really is better to use fresh whenever possible.

Windowsill herbs are a great addition to the kitchen--snip and add the fresh grown herbs to your favorite dishes.

Once in a while, your recipe will call for a unique herb or spice, like Gumbo File Powder or Cream of Tartar, and offten it is that unique flavor that really “makes” the dish. In those cases, we recommend buying the smallest quantity possible from a spice retailer or the bulk foods section of your market. Often you can transfer leftovers from a bag to the smallest jar possible or simply only buy enough to use all at once.

Keeping it Organized

While it might seem a little overwhelming at first, overhauling and assessing your spice and herb collection doesn’t have to take all day.  Simply follow these five simple steps:

  1. Check expiration dates and get rid of anything that:
    • You don’t use regularly
    • Looks discolored
    • Looks like it’s caking
    • Smells weak
    • You’ve had open for longer than a year
  2. Find and assemble glass containers with lids that seal tightly, such as these or these.
  3. Create labels and expiration labels. (Try these chalkboard labels–so cute!)
  4. Assemble jars and fill with spices
  5. Store in an accessible corner of your fridge or pantry, away from light, heat and moisture

It can feel a little painful to throw herbs and spices away, especially when you know how expensive they can be, and it can also be a little scary to add new flavors to your collection if you aren’t sure how to use them.  Even so, a well-stocked kitchen strikes a balance between flavor and waste.

DIG DEEPER


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How do you store your spices?

How to Store & Organize Your Spices: Everything You Need to Know

15 Comments

  1. I’m dying to do this to my spices. My problem is that it never looks great because I tend to hold onto spice jars and reuse them. That means mine are always different sizes. I swear I’m not a hoarder, but I can’t bring myself to buy pretty new jars when my old ones work just as well.
    One day I will bite the bullet and revamp my spices! I definitely believe in buying in bulk because it is cheaper and they taste so much fresher!
    Thanks for all these great tips!

  2. April 13 at 02:50PM

    What a practical post! I love the cute glass containers. We are making our first attempt at an herb garden this year. I am worried that we won’t be able to keep up with the output, though. I once tried freezing herbs, but they ended up becoming a soggy mess. Any tips?

    • April 13 at 10:03PM

      Sarah, you will love your herb garden! I have found that it is so convenient to just walk out and grab whatever herb and whatever quantity I need. If you are concerned about having too much, then gift them to family and friends. Ours always loved the ability to stop by and get what they need! (I have 2 garden posts on my blog, one on gardening and one on herbs in pots!

      • April 15 at 04:06PM

        Thanks, Kelly! I will stop by your blog to check them out. Have you had luck with freezing the herbs?

  3. April 13 at 10:00PM

    I need to organize my spices better. I just worked on my pantry over the weekend and my spices were too much to handle. So I put it off. This post will help me. Thanks! (I love cooking with herbs but if you can’t find them, then that’s a problem!)

  4. April 15 at 08:19AM

    When we bought this house 5 years ago, one of the things I loved was the pantry. It’s just a big cabinet style but the door has shallow shelves that are perfect for spices. I keep my spices in their original jars as that is just what works for me. But I do love the look of those glass jars. 🙂

  5. These are such a great ideas. I have to be honest, this is quite new to me as I don’t have much spices at home, but I learnt a lot 🙂

  6. November 20 at 08:59AM

    Very helpful article! It gives me a lot of information about storing herbs, for which I had no idea. Glad to read this post!

  7. July 29 at 04:22PM

    I love saving money on quality bulk herbs… but have yet to move them to the cute little jars I bought for them! Thanks for the ideas!

  8. April 14 at 03:11PM

    I want to try and organize my kitchen a little better. Having all my spices organized would hopefully help make cooking easier as well as save space. I hadn’t thought about how spices and herbs could go bad and how a spice rack could also help make sure you use them before they go bad. Thanks for sharing!

  9. Leigh
    July 24 at 09:16PM

    Thanks for the jars idea! Never have liked having different sized containers in the cabinet. Perfect timing in the article since I just cleaned out other cabinets in my kitchen and didn’t even think about doing anything with the spices. It shouldn’t take long since I’m pretty sure mine are all over the 1 year mark. However, it will be hard since I try to use things up before tossing.

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