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Organizing spices - container recommendations?

I have at least 50 different spices and herbs, mostly in various types of unwieldy / unreclosable packaging (plastic bags, etc), jammed into and overflowing 2 13x9 pans in my (NYC, tiny kitchen) cupboard, perpetually threatening avalanche when the cupboard is opened (not to mention being very annoying to sort through). Does anyone have any ideas on containers I could buy that would maximize use of space and make it possible to get something out without pulling the whole schmeer out? Perhaps a segmented plastic box? Need something that would isolate each type of spice to prevent transfer of flavors. All suggestions welcomed.

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  1. I use mason jars. Mostly the 1/2 cup/125ml size or larger for some. I hook them up to my foodsaver and they are vacuum packed. Will last longer (I hope).
    They stack reasonably well, but I only keep about 20 spices on hand.

    1 Reply
    1. re: billieboy

      We just put in an elfa door rack -- it consists of a single rail that clamps on to our pantry door. You then hang baskets off of that rail. No need to drill holes or pound in nails.

    2. "Perhaps a segmented plastic box"

      Have you thought of the giant pill boxes with labels?

      For the most part, I have my sweet spices in the far cabinet by the drink mixes. The ones I use daily are on the top of the range. Everything else is in a narrow (12"x5"x40") bookcase next to the oven.

      Something else you may want to try are 4oz mason jars, as billieboy suggested (a dozen for ~$8 at the hardware store). Getting loaf pans (or similarly sized containers or drawer organizers) to separate out sweet/baking spices and savoury spices, or by most commonly used.

      We had a few metal containers with magnetic backs which we stuck on our old range hood, but would work equally well on the side of the refrigerator.

      1. I use heavy zip-top bags, lined up in a cardboard box that's just wide enough to hold them. It seems to be the most space-efficient way to store spices.

        3 Replies
        1. re: alanbarnes

          This would be my suggestion too. Dump them in heavy zip locks. Make labels that are big and easy to read. put the label close to the top of the bag. Alphabetize! Makes it easy to find what you need.

          1. re: janetms383

            or use post it tabs which stick up...

          2. re: alanbarnes

            What kind of lifespan do you notice with these? I tend to worry a bit about old plastic. I try to not keep spices forever, but have been positively impressed by the condition they keep in small Ball jars.

          3. Plastic isn't the best choice, especially for very strong herbs and spices, because it's permeable - air goes through it, between the molecules. Not a lot but enough that they'll lose strength and/or cause nearby herbs and spices to pick up the smells.

            Glass is a much better choice, either recycled from other products or purchased from a spice company like Penzey's or a pharmaceutical supply house.
            You might ask your pharmacist or try this company http://www.specialtybottle.com/index....
            They have 4 oz spice bottles for as little as 80 cents each.

            I've found a nearby shop that sells bulk spices and now keep few on hand -only the 20 or so that I use regularly. The others were getting old and when I needed them, they were past their prime and I had to buy new stock anyway. I stopped giving them space. Now I buy them as I need them in small quantities. They'll allow me to buy even 5 or 6 star anise. Nothing gets old and feeble any more.

            1 Reply
            1. re: MakingSense

              Thanks everyone for suggestions - the count of 50 might have been a bit hyperbolic (although probably not too far off, given Indian and Chinese items and spice blends). The website cited by MakingSense has some tin square deep containers - food grade - that look very useful. This is a project in development, if anyone else has ideas please let me know...will report on final outcome.

            2. I keep my spices in a small plastic 3-drawer rolling cart from Target (photo below). The spices themselves are in a motley collection of peanut butter jars, and such. The tops are labelled so I can look down and see what's what, and I have a Master List telling in which drawer each spice can be found. Lol, if only the rest of my life were so organized!

              My kitchen is very small, so I actually keep the cart in another room, then roll it next to me in the kitchen when I'm cooking. The top of the cart makes a handy extra surface for setting down a cookbook or ingredients.

              1. Do you have those adjustable shelves to store them on - that has really helped me.

                1 Reply
                1. re: MMRuth

                  Another good suggestion but cupboard space is really limited, can't afford to lose 1 cubic centimeter!

                2. Kind of spaced and missed the part about all of your spices being strewn in plastic zip-locs. Well, that IS the pits! Personally, I wouldn't want to have to manage a "filer drawer" of spices.

                  The place you got your bulk spices should sell fairly inexpensive plastic containers. Not as cheap as the mason jars, but they often willl have a shaker in the lid.

                  Plastic shouldn't really be a problem -- if you have the spices hanging around so long that the flavor is seeping out, it's time to buy new spices anyway. The hint of bay leaf, oregano, thyme and basil wafting through my pantry is actually kind of nice.

                  My challenge wan't with finding containers, it was corraling all of those containers in a convenient spot. Stuff on shelves tends to get knocked over and shoved to the back (a lazy susan helps) and spice racks often get stuck in a corner where they are hard to get at.

                  1. I keep all my spices in identical small amber square glass bottles that I got many years ago from a chemical supply house. I label with Brother p-touch label maker. I think square is better than round because you can easily keep them lined up with the label side out. Clear might work better than amber because you can see what's in there without opening it up but the amber ones were available when I got mine. When I buy spices from the store I transfer them into these bottles and throw out the store containers. I don't have anywhere near 50 and can't even name 50 spices. There are probably only 20. I think having them in identical hard containers helps with the management a lot.

                    1. We have a set of 30 test tubes next to the stove with the most frequently used spices. The container store sells the Elfa system, which is a track that you can hang baskets from. We have this on the inside of the pantry door, and we store extras of the most-used 30 spices plus innumerable more. I am very happy with the system. Since the baskets are shallow, nothing hides behind something else, and you can always find just what you are looking for. No more desperate hunt for the saffron or the creme of tarter, which always seemed to be lurking behind the 5 containers of tumeric we would buy because we couldn't find one when we needed it!

                      1. A vertical solution seems like a good idea to maximize space. You could always buy a container you're happy with. Slap on a magnet on the back and put up a steel wall board/wall in your kitchen/shelves if your fridge does not have space. You could decide to store some way in the cabinets and keep the rest handy and open.

                        I'm not so fancy nor do I have so many spices... I don't think I can name 50 different spices, but I do keep the ones that are normally demanded for Indian, Chinese and Middle Eastern cuisine. I just keep them in the plastic bags I used at the bulk store to fill up and put them in 2-tier stackable tiny shelves in my cupboard. I pull it out and dig through them when I need them. All the ones I use often are on the counterop in a rotating rack in glass jars with plastic caps and labeled with a (Brother) labeler.

                        2 Replies
                        1. re: moreana

                          I have found the ultimate system that works for me. I was determined to keep my spices to one drawer only - a 12-inch drawer at that. I had your standard spice jars with white lids, standing up with lids facing up, for which I made some cute labels. But then I started cooking more and needing more spices, but I didn't have room in my drawer. What to do?

                          Here is the thinking behind my theory. There are lots of spices that I like to have on hand, but are used very infrequently, in very small amounts. Why do I need a whole jar full of something I would like to stock only a couple tablespoons of? Like Cream of Tartar, Ground Cloves, Ground Cardamom, and many more. Spices like chiles, chili powders, turmeric, cumin, coriander, are the workhorses and used more often in larger quantities, so they get to stay in the large jars. So I found glass vials at a science store and they were perfect - same height as my existing jars. So I can now fit a huge variety of spices in my drawer. Obviously this system works best when you can purchase spices in exactly the amount you need at a bulk store.

                          And to top it all off, I revised my labeling system and colour coded them to make it easier to find (alphabetical seemed too tedious). Burgundy is for chili type spices, dark yellow for spice blends like curry, garam masala, green for herbs like marjoram, thyme, brown for whole spices/seeds, and then white is miscellanous. (I'm a graphic designer, so the labels are a little better than the label maker type, I can't help it).

                          1. re: bigos70

                            Sounds like American Science & Surplus! I can't believe I forgot about them for kitchen use, as I've used the small amber bottles and peekaboo metal containers to organize so many other things:


                            (they also have real test tubes, which someone else mentioned)

                        2. Do you have 18 inches anywhere? On the inside or outside of a closet door? Mine is on an otherwise unusable wall in a pretty small Manhattan kitchen. It’s an Elfa-type shelf system with wider shelves on the bottom that hold flour, sugar, rice and other stuff. Top shelves, which I obviously didn’t arrange for their photo moment, are spices arranged in alpha order mostly, but not exclusively, in Penzey bottles. I nearly fired a housekeeper who didn’t understand what alpha order meant.

                          1. Another vote for 4 or 8-ounce mason jars for spices in larger quantities. I buy the 1-piece plastic lids separately, which I prefer to the 2-piece canning lids that come with the jars.

                            For the smaller spice jars, I have a nifty battery-operated rotating spice jar holder that attaches under a cabinet shelf. It's made by Kitchenetics, and it holds 22 small spice jars. I've had it for many years, and I don't even know if they still make them, but it's a great design. And it's really a space-saver since my shelf height enables me to keep a lazy susan with more spice jars right below it. Here’s a photo of the spice jar holder attached to the under-side of a shelf in the pantry.

                            1 Reply
                            1. re: CindyJ

                              I also use the Kitchenetics rack. Have been looking and looking for this. Mine is slowing down and I am afraid worn out after 10 years... I would buy two more in a minute!

                            2. I have MOST of my spices organized in stackable containers like these:

                              But my spice cupboard is still overflowing, because I also keep other seasonings in there like old bay, harissa, black sesame seeds or smoked paprika in their original containers.

                              I have a two door / two shelf cupboard where I keep my stuff like soy sauce and oils, spices and seasonings as well as my coffee and teas. It's a mess....so the stackables make good use of what little space I have.

                              1. buttertart, have you seen Miss Needles solution of putting her spices in food grade tins, then affixiing them to her fridge with magnets? Frees up all of your cupboard space. http://chowhound.chow.com/topics/5739...

                                Inspired by her solution, I took a different approach. I order the same tins, but also some sticky backed sheets of magnetic paper, which I stuck to the inside of my cabinet doors. I wrote the names and dates of the spices on the tins with a grease pencil. All my spices are stored neatly inside my cabinets, without taking up any shelf space. http://chowhound.chow.com/topics/5739...

                                I wish the lids to the tins were not plastic see-through, but solid stainless steel instead. Otherwise, I am completely delighted with the solution. Even my husband has grudgingly admitted he likes it.


                                1. Have you seen the magnetic spice containers that you can stick to the fridge? I haven't tried them (they're a bit pricey) but they strike me as perfect space-wise for my own tiny NY kitchen.

                                  I have a precarious tower of Sahadi's plastic containers that needs attending to.

                                  1. Here's an article from the Washington Post about how to make your own magnetic spice rack for not much money. http://www.washingtonpost.com/wp-dyn/... (you have to wait through an ad.) I got as far as googling the cute little watch boxes, which were quite reasonably priced, but then life got the better of me. And my spice rack is still a mess! But I hope this helps you.

                                    1 Reply
                                    1. re: somervilleoldtimer

                                      Looks like the Washington Post ripped off Alton Brown.

                                    2. OT but once you find the containers you like, it could be a good occasion to go through tasting a little of each. Spices can really lose their punch - you may find you want to keep far fewer than you've got due to staleness, unless you are cooking with them all the time.

                                      1. I really like these containers:
                                        They are stainless steel, and can be stacked in a cupboard and clearly labeled on the outside and/or tops. You could put these containers stacked in a clearly labeled tupperware or something categorized by use, such as one bin for "italian spices", one bin for "baking spices", one bin for "Indian spices" and so on. Of course there may be some overlap in recipes but generally you won't need tumeric if making Italian dishes, and you won't need parsley if making a cake. Just a thought, but this system works well

                                        1 Reply
                                        1. re: freia

                                          Here's a picture to above, couldn't edit the post LOL! Available online too. And not too costly. :) No reason why you cant match these with small rare earth magnets that you stick on the fridge, then put the canister over top. They can be found at Lee Valley too: http://www.leevalley.com/en/wood/page...
                                          You could get the smallest size, 2.5 lb strength, put them on the fridge, then pop the stainless steel container on top. Just pull the container off the fridge when you need it. The magnet should stay behind on the fridge. Just a thought?