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Jan 26, 2009 09:04 AM

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
            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.