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Spice strategy revisited. Spice racks need NOT apply

I asked in this thread how people handled their spices if they did NOT use a spice rack.


That resulted in a gazillion spice rack and spice system construction suggestions.

My Chowhounds said go buy a spice rack . I said NO, NO, NO

I gave my reasons in the above thread. If I can't reuse something and hopefully not buy anything ... I do NOT want it.

Here's my strategy so far combining the FOUR posts that answered the question (so far over 20 did not) .

1. For bagged, bulk spices use an accordion desk file

2. For normal sized jars, put them in a kitchen drawer and slap a label on the top to easily see what is there. Alphabetize.

3. Use a bin for outsized bottles and big bags of things like dried peppers.

I have the file folders, bins and labels. If these don't work, then I can reuse them for other things. I have a foldable bookcase that I use for cookbooks. So the file folders and bins can go on a shelf. The whole thing next to the spice drawer so everything is together.

Another possible option is to use photo boxes instead of a drawer for normal sized spiced jars, then everything could go on the bookshelf. I have photo boxes.

I love that desk file idea. I have one with where you can insert index tabs, so I can write the spice name and alphabetize. If I overflow one folder, I can use another maybe having one folder for savory spices and others for sweet ones.

I can use the original spice jars for the others without having to buy special bottles wich inevitably lose their lids for various reasons.

Maybe this helps clarify what I'm looking for.. Anyway, any other ideas that do NOT involve a spice rack?

And ... if you have a GREAT spice rack, built-tn shelves or other kitchen remodel for spices, you just need to share with Chowhound, I'd ask you please to use this link which is about those.


If it involves a carpenter ... NOT what I'm looking for.

I'd like to keep this thread on topic and on the General Board as this is NOT about cookware. It is the anti-cookware topic. It is about organizing spices with NO cookware (i.e. spice rices).

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  1. I'm going to cut and past a new suggestion by meatn3 here because it really answers this question and provides some new Ideas. I like the binder thing too as that would actually fit in better on my bookshelf than the accordion file. Will need to try both. Here is that suggestion.

    Since you are re-establishing your pantry and prior posts indicate that cooking is not your primary pursuit of happiness, I'm suspecting most of your spices/herbs will be purchased in smallish quantities.

    If so, especially if they are in little zipbags, you might be able to use a loose leaf binder.
    Sheet protectors, zippered pencil bags, pocketed divider pages - all are options that could corral and organize the little bags.

    On the topic of little bags, I have quite a few sizes left from a stint selling gemstones. These are the handiest thing to have around. I use them constantly. Bead shops often sell them by the bundle at a good price.

    I'm glad you posted this. Spice organization is always tricky for me. I find I have to adapt my system to each new kitchen. Right now I'm mainly storing in drawers. I'm moving soon (knock on wood) to a place with few drawers, more cabinets so I'll need to revamp the system again. I'll be following this with interest!

    2 Replies
    1. re: rworange

      If using small ziplock bags, they can be labeled with name and date and tacked by pushpin to the interior side of a cabinet door. Won't work for large quantities, obviously, and for spices like asfoetida that need special handling but otherwise would qualify as dark and orderly.

      We typically have kept one cabinet for spices, teas, and dry ingredients like baking powder. Somehow molasses and honey end up there as well and eventually there is a sticky mess gluing down the giant container of Canadian Steak Seasoning (no idea, this is one of the dangers of living in a household with other adults).

      1. re: BenKarlin

        You know, because I'm renting, I can't put pin holes in the cabinets, but I like this idea and am thinking about an adaptation. I have a corkboard and lots of pins. I could pin the small baggies to that ... alphabetically.

    2. Confusing request, rworange. You "finally" got a house, will be moving stuff out of storage. Sounded long term when I read that. But it's a rental so nothing permanent would work. In your profile (which I was curious about when I saw all the fuss here) you say you "don't cook", that was confusing too. Of course I see now that isn't literal. A system or strategy implies organization, but I think you're saying it doesn't matter if the spices are in 2 or 3 different places. Some in a cupboard, some in a box, some in a drawer, some in a binder, some in a file. That just sounds like a big "area for spices".. you've already got that, no one here can know your kitchen set-up. I simply use half of a cupboard shelf, half alphabetized, mostly memory of what the container looks like. (I call it a "spice cabinet") I think it would be a hassle to get spices into AND out of little plastic bags. Will you remember if the nacho-enhancer is in the file, or in a jar, or in a square tin? No need to own a spice rack, but you'll need a master list of some sort if you have a largeish number of spices to organize. How many containers do you need to keep track of?

      Sorry if I got pulled into the general slightly testy feeling of this thread.

      You want to know how those of us who *don't have spice racks* keep track of spices, right?

      3 Replies
      1. re: BangorDin

        Ok, I was going to report this, but you wrote

        " I simply use half of a cupboard shelf, half-ass alphabetized, mostly memory of what the container looks like"

        Well, wouldn't this topic be a help to you?

        First of all, I'm not re-bagging anything. I'm just labeling an index tab.

        I drop the plastic bag that was provided by the supermarket at the bulk bin into the accordion file folder and write an index tab.

        I've been considering the binder problem you mentioned. While I would just use one of those plastic pencil case inserts for binders and drop the already bagged spice in it, that means buying something and as you point out, might be a PITA to retrieve.

        I could just use binder sheets with pockets, but I am not sure that would fit little spice bags. Since I have lots of binders and binder pockets of this type I might try a few. I liked the book idea.

        How many spices does anyone have at any one time? I would say before I moved I tossed 30 - 40. So trying to remember where each is doesn't require an index. I know what I've bought in bulk (file folder), in a regular jar (spice drawer or photo box) or is over-sized like that huge bottle of pink Himalayan salt or bag of dried chili peppers. They are all in the same area, so if I goof up, I just look in one of the other things at my fingertips.

        How much I cook, my living situation, is pretty much irrlevant. The question is how to organize without a spice rack.

        My experience with Chowhound is that when people get the "why" or other details, rather than answering the question, they try to resolve the other situations which are not relevant.

        I'm looking for a better solution than you currently have ... which is what I've don in the past.

        This thread can be contentious or helpful. I hope it is the latter.

        1. re: rworange

          " I know what I've bought in bulk (file folder), in a regular jar (spice drawer or photo box) or is over-sized like that huge bottle of pink Himalayan salt or bag of dried chili peppers. They are all in the same area, so if I goof up, I just look in one of the other things at my fingertips. "

          OK, now you have a homemade, not decorative, free-form, multi-chambered, (and virtually free) spice rack.

          sorry about the objectional word I removed it.

          1. re: BangorDin

            DIdn't catch the word. Listen you called your kitchen cabinet a spice rack. If you want to call a kitchen drawer a spice rack, cool.

            Obviously the hints that are useful to me are useless to you ... like directing me to spices racks. I am not going to try to convince you of the the beauty of this to me. I am not going to try to foist what may work for me on you. That is the difference.

            I think you are not so unaware as to not understand what I'm asking. I've said it a number of times. There is a difference between buying buttles, buying a unit devoted for a single purposes or doing construction on a kitchen than asking how to organize spices.

            Call it what you will to make yourself happy. I hope you will let the disucssion continue to allow people with ideas along what I'm looking for. ANything else would be an attempt to hijack this thread and not helpful.

            I am not unaware that people in the other thread were tyring to be helpful. However after more than a half dozen responses from me that I didn't want spice rack info, either they weren't paying attention or just didn't care.

      2. I use a photo type box from Ikea and their glass spice bottles with no problems. I'm also not in the same boat as you with 90 spices (I think that's what you posted in your previous link). I love this system. It seems a lot easier and neater for me..

        1 Reply
        1. re: andieb

          I'm just starting over again so I currently have cinnamon. That's it. In the past at most I had 30-40 spices which I had collected over eight years.

          Some of this works metter for me because I'm less likely to toss the little baggy I used once on a whim ... I'm talking to you tarragon. I was just thinki8ng ... not another bag to add to the other mess so I tossed it.

        2. Just to tell you how I store my herbs and spices. No spice racks involved.

          I do have 5 small turntables, however: 4 on 2 shelves above the sink and 1 in a corner of a cabinet over a counter. Each turntable, which I have had for many years BTW, holds similar spices. Over the sink: paprikas and peppers on one, seasoning blends and ethnic spices on another, next spices used in baking, and the last dried herbs. In the cabinet: spices used in Middle Eastern and Asian cuisines. I'm lucky to have a large walk-in pantry where I store my bags of dried chilies in a large straw basket. Everything is labeled appropriately. Everything is behind closed doors, neat and easily accessible. Works for me.

          I re-use glass spice jars of every description when making my own blends and save odd glass jars with their own covers for odds and ends. Never lost a cover because they're stored for later use with their covers as soon as they're washed and dried.

          I just couldn't/wouldn't deal with file folders and plastic bags.

          7 Replies
          1. re: Gio

            Ah, turntables, good idea -- a spice rack in the round and moveable to double the space. I have only seen (big) lazy susans -- are yours very small to fit over the sink on shelves?

            1. re: BangorDin

              Hi BangorDin... I would say each turntable is about 6 -7". They probably hold eight 1/2 cup size jars with duplicates in the middle of the circle of jars...IYKWIM. I'll measure the TT when I go downstairs to the kitchen.

              The trick is, of course, to make sure my husband returns the jars to their proper place. Last night I found the Aleppo pepper among the paprikas, At least it was on the same TT... but he's usually more careful. LOL

              1. re: Gio

                Straw baskets ... hmmm that might be so much more attractive than a bin for the over-sized stuff.

                Yeah, I gave the turntable thing a try a few years ago. Like you mention you have to remember to put things back in the right place and there were a number of reasons this never worked for me. That was the step prior to the spice drawer.

                I repurpose spice bottles and little jars as well. In addition to being earth-friendly, if I lose a lid ... doesn't matter. There's always another. Also, I can always find a jar that exactly contains the amount of spice I have.

                1. re: Gio

                  I was way off estimating the size of those lazy-susans... they're 12" in diameter. They each hold 10 -12 spice bottles, some larger than others.

              2. re: Gio

                I use mini zip bags as an alternative to the paper bags supplied at the food co-op where I buy bulk spices. I bring my own so I don't have to deal with the mess of pouring from the paper bags into something else once I get home.

                If it comes in a container, it stays in the container!

                Many of the spices in the ethnic section of the grocery are in plastic bags. Unfortunately they seem to rip and don't reseal. I transfer these to bottles (if I have one) or into the zip bags.

                1. re: meatn3

                  I'm kind of liking that and adapting it to the way I use spices. Someone mentioned craft or jewelry bags.Usually the bags at the bulk store are way bigger than the ounce I'm buying. Still, bringing my own little bag and filling it up directly at the store.

                  1. re: rworange

                    Think that was me on the other thread!

              3. I just revamped my spice cabinet. I don't use spice racks. I do a lot of indian cooking, and buy most of my spices in bulk/bags from the indian store and middle eastern market.

                I use a masala dabba for my commonly used indian spices, like this one. Mine's bigger, and has an all steel lid, no plastic insert: http://www.amazon.com/Nagina-Stainles...

                For others, I am slowly upgrading to the OXO Pop containers. http://www.bedbathandbeyond.com/produ... The small ones are great for spices and the medium ones are good for dried chillis, bay leaves, cinnamon sticks, etc. Since they stack, they take up little room, and I can see at a glance what's what.

                For the remainder of the masala dabba spices, I put a rubber band on the bag and put them all into one of the large OXO boxes that sits on my top shelf.

                1. Right now I have a spice drawer. I want to stick with that, but buy a bunch of bottles to store them all, since I typically buy spices bulk from rainbow grocery, so they come in paper baggies that I really shouldn't store anything in long-term.

                  My plan is pretty much to buy the tallest bottles that fit in my drawer, and then write on their tops. The thing is, my drawer is shallow, so I'm looking at 2-3 inch tall jars. Not really a problem since I try to buy small quantities since they just go stale most of the time anyway.
                  Something like:

                  Eventually the drawer will have 5-10 rows of little jars, with bags of chilis and other random bulky stuff tossed in the back of it.

                  I should also add, most of the metal tins are pretty cheap, and if you put a salt rub in them they end up corroding and then I hate using them. Same with glass bottles that have metal tops. I think my optimal bottle is square glass with a plastic top that is airtight. I found some all-glass bottles that were super cute, but they were bulky/inefficient to put in a drawer. I don't want half my kitchen to end up being used for spice storage!

                  4 Replies
                  1. re: SteveG

                    Interesting about the corrosion thing. It sounds like you are going for bottles, but have you jjust thought about leaving the spice in the baggie from the market and stuffing that in the tin or jar?

                    1. re: rworange

                      That would work too, but then I have to open 2 things to use 1 spice. And I find the little baggies always fling bits and pieces of spice here and there as I open them. Is this the kind of feedback you're looking for? ;-)

                      1. re: SteveG

                        It was more feedback for you. However, knowing about the corrosion thing is useful as I can get carried away by some cute tins. It is the same reason I have had so many spice racks. I'm in the moment and make an impulse buy. I'll keep it in mind should some tins whisper my name.

                        As to jars, since I use any old empty jar, if a lid corroded, I'd probably just toss the whole thing in the recycle bin or use it for some non food purpose like paper clips. A lot of glass jars went to recycling when I moved.

                        1. re: rworange

                          Now that I think about it, most spice jars come with a plastic lid now. I just remember being a kid and unable to open the rusty old spice jars my mom had been refilling from her mother's spice rack. Ugh.

                          For my spice drawer, once I get around to it, I want to have matching jars so they can all line up alphabetically. That's part of the appeal of the website I linked to, the jars are under $1 each so I can just buy enough for all types of spices.

                  2. I like the idea of a spice drawer but we do not have enough drawers as it is. We have a smaller cupboard (narrower) between the refrigerator and the stove and all three shelves are for spices and bottles of stuff like hot sauce, A-1, etc.

                    We use small (8" diameter) plastic lazy susans for the bottom 2 shelves. I date the spice jars when I buy them. I also mostly know where each spice is located and remember what the bottles look like. I transfer bulk spices from plastic bags to bottles and for the plastic bagged spices that don't get transfered to bottles, I put them all in a zip-type bag on the second shelf.

                    1. Um...well, I'm a big fan of pill organizers myself, the big ones where each container can hold probably 20 vitamin tablets of the kind I take, plus small prescription things. There are some really cool ones where the "days" can be slid apart individually, then slid back together again.

                      I use those organizers for all sorts of things, like jewelry (especially storing vintage jewelry I sell online), screws, paper clips, beads....any tiny little things that otherwise get lost, or dwarfed by other kinds of containers.

                      The nice thing about the pill organizers is they're fairly airtight, being intended to keep pharmaceuticals fresh. If not airtight enough, you can put them inside, say, a square or cylindrical "tin", the kind with a tight fitting metal lid. I've kept loose tea in them, with just enough tea for a single cup in each one, or tea bags.

                      Big plus: You can find them very cheap! And some I've found are magnetized, so I could slap them on the fridge. If not, it's also easy to find adhesive magnet sheets. For that matter, you could put a magnetic whiteboard on the wall, stick a magnet to a spice bag, and toss it at the wall to put it away! (Ok, only half serious there....)

                      Last: never overlook the possibly of a "spiceline", like a clothesline. Run it across your kitchen, then just use clothespins to clip spice bags/loose spices/peppers/etc to the line. Make decorative loops on the line, or funky hooks for the bags from "found" objects. Save individual liquor bottles, put spices in them with a tiny funnel, and tie colorful string around the bottle neck for the clothespin or a hook. Save any kind of small plastic bottle, kids toys, colorful plastic bags, etc. Wing it with what would normally be trash. Give your friends different colored markers, and let them create personal art on a bag or bottle while they are visiting. Or just hang fun decorative stuff up with the spices, even small paintings, figurines, a mobile or a string of beads. Save decorative plastic bags to put your loose spices in. Go abstract.

                      With the spiceline and a magnetic board together, create a Wall 'O Spice, an abstract piece combining function and form!

                      Hey, I don't claim those are GREAT ideas, but you asked for different, and NOT a spice rack, and it seems you said it didn't matter what your house or kitchen were like, or how the kitchen is laid out, constructed, organized, etc. So, I tried to think of things within those criteria.

                      I'm not sneering or mocking, by the way. Philosophically and psychologically....and for the hell of it....abandoning the norm and attempting to come up with a different way of doing things, even a ridiculous one, is a great mental vacation, silly fun in a way, but who knows. Maybe you'll end up tacking chicken wire to one wall, growing ivy on it, then hanging spices all over in little Halloween bat bags...start a kitchen Spice Bat Colony.

                      Time for another drink! Cheers!

                      4 Replies
                      1. re: cordwainer

                        I actually think these are very cute ideas! Very creative. I always thought alcohol brought out the creativity in people...

                        1. re: cordwainer

                          You did give me a laugh. I'd love to sit in a brainstorming meeting with you ... or go out drinking ... or both at the same time. Cheers.

                          1. re: rworange

                            Alcohol does bring out something for sure :-) As far as brainstorming and drinking, sounds like a great idea. I'll buy the first round of spiced rum!

                            1. re: cordwainer

                              ... as long as I have a place to put the spice.

                              There's just something about tossing those spice bags with magnets attached to white board that has a strange appeal. Maybe a dart board with spice bags from the darts where I could also hone my dart skills.

                              Since I don't like cooking, I usually feel like throwing something at the wall after I finish.

                              Now that spice line ... perhaps a way to use Christmas decorations year round ... using that tiny funnel to fill the ornaments (which might then conveniently shake out) and attaching to a blinking string of lights .. or maybe struck around a large plant with the spice ornanments hanging.

                              Third glass of wine.

                        2. I'm a proponent of storing spices in well-sealed 30 ml or 60 ml glass bottles/jars with plastic lids out of the light and away from the heat of the stove.

                          I'm not a fan of storing spices in plastic baggies, because I've found that the oils of some powdered spices have a tendency to react with the plastic eventually turning it gummy/sticky. Aside from the mild ick factor of dealing with weirdly sticky bags, I wonder what kinds of chemical reactions are going on and how they might be affecting the flavor of the spices.

                          If a person doesn't have adequate drawer space to keep the glass containers out of the light, a workaround might be to group the bottles, let's say alphabetically, in stackable rectangular tins. Labels could be affixed to the tins to indicate which spices are in there (e.g., "Achiote - Fenugreek", "Garlic powder - Nutmeg", "Paprika - Saffron"). Of course, other grouping rubrics could be used, e.g., savory vs. sweet, region/cuisine, and so on, depending on the kinds of things one generally keeps on hand.

                          1 Reply
                          1. re: hohokam

                            +1 on not keeping spices in plastic bags--I find they either leach out the fragrance of the spices or become sticky over time. At the dollar store, found some tiny glass rubber rimmed jars, and I transfer my bagged spices into those. That said, for those I do still have in bags, they go into small wicker baskets, separated by use: baking (cinnamon, nutmeg, etc) and more savory (tarragon, rosemary, etc). I have about 60 spices and/or spice blends (do a lot of Indian cooking), and I can't abide cutesy spice racks. On that other thread I did recommend a stepped system that fits into drawers, but that's not an option for a lot of people.
                            Edited to add: have a friend who does use the snack-size baggies, and she keeps 'em in those office accordion files, alphabetized. Works for her.

                          2. Firstly, I don't have many bottles and tins. I buy spices by the cupful from Indian stores in the area, and a rare trip to Penzy's spices downtown, for when I want to smell and taste, say, different chipotles. I also order online (great saffron is ridiculously expensive when you buy in the fingernail quantities they sell in stores). So I always end up rebagging bulk spices in baggies. I have at most a couple of dozen bottles & tins, which all fit 2 deep on one narrow shelf in alphabetical order.

                            The baggies are themselves bagged into the gallon sized vapor barrier Ziploc brand freezer bags (this are vapor barrier quality now). They're grouped into aromatic and bouquet groupings, like mace, nutmeg, cloves baggies all in one gallon bag. Then there are a few gallon bags per drawer. There's a drawer for leaf herbs, a drawer for powdered spices, a drawer for whole seeds and solids (like cinnamon sticks), a drawer for spice mixes (like curries and herbes de Provence) and I have a drawer for peppers & chiles and paprikas.

                            Works out great, I can put my hand on whatever I need in a few seconds and it's all better quality than those stuffy, maddening little bottles.

                            By the way, rigid containers don't keep foods fresh unless there's an hermetic seal. Bags will keep them fresher, and I've never had a spice melt a bag. You should probably get top quality bags.

                            1. Has anyone tried test tubes with stoppers, by chance?

                              1 Reply
                              1. re: GulaSocordia

                                I love the look of test tube for spices. I don't think the reality would work for me, klutz that I am.
                                I can just see them rolling off the counter since there isn't a flat bottom. I usually have my seasonings laid out as I'm prepping, that way when I taste test the wine nothing is forgotten!

                              2. A basket was mentioned upthread. I also use this method and find it works very well. The height of my wicker basket is approximately the same height as my spice jars. I purchased glass jars with flat plastic lids from the dollar store and affixed round DIY labels to the top. Spices are stored alphabetically. My basket holds 40 jars perfectly and it's width is just short of the width of my cupboard where it's stored. I love that I can slide out the entire basket when I need access to a number of spices at once. I also have enough room between the height of the basket and the shelf above it so that I don't need to pull the whole thing out to grab one bottle at a time. I do wish I had room for more than 40 jars, as I like to have a wide array of spices at my disposal. However, this would necessitate a deeper shelf to accommodate a bigger basket.

                                I store overflow spices in plastic ziploc bags (apparently not the ideal method, however, as someone noted above) that I keep in a metal bin with a lid (from Ikea) and decant into the jars as needed.

                                1. Living in NYC, space is at a premium. I don't really have room for a spice rack or a spice drawer, and I don't like to clutter up my counter with things. My cabinets are packed with other stuff. So I keep my spices in small tins that are attached via magnets to the fridge. No waste of space. Spices are within arm's length of my prep area. Right now, the tins have windows so I can see what the spices are. I know it's not the best protection from light. I want to cover the windows with labels but just haven't gotten around to it yet.

                                  1. I'm currently storing my spices in clear, plastic screw together containers. The kind where the bottom of one is the lid for the next one. I think I purchased them at a craft store years ago. I group them into stacks of about 5 or 6 spices (coordinated by flavor profile) and then let them roll around in my drawer or put the most frequently used spices in the cabinet next to the stove. I like that you can grab several spices with one hand and that they take up relatively little space on the counter when you're cooking. If you're really organized, you could screw together the spices for a dish in the order that you'll be using them before you begin the actual cooking. And if you decide to give up cooking altogether, they're great for storing pushpins, paperclips, screws, etc...

                                    ETA: Here's a pic of the kind of container I'm talking about: http://www.garrettwade.com/product.as...

                                    1 Reply
                                    1. re: soypower

                                      This is starting to tray back to spick rack territory. I really don't want to buy anything new, just find a way to organize spices either in their original bottles or bags. Actually, I kind of want to see if my spices do get sticky if I leave them in bags as reported above. I haven't had that experience and I want to see it happen.

                                      Those look really cool though. I just have been so burnt by special bottles or tins. I always loos tops ... the dishwasher eats them I suspect ... or they crack ... and usually it is difficult to replace.

                                      You mention you bought yours years ago and that is the problem for specific bottles or tins ... sometimes they stop making them.

                                      If I had a really small kitchen area (as in the past), I might consider the magnitixzed sutff that sticks to the fridge mentioned a nmber of times. Who knows where life will take me in the future. Always good to keep in the back of my mind.

                                    2. Over the years, I've accumulated numerous little Spice Islands jars from supermarket spices. Once I used up the spices, I soaked off the labels and reused the jars to hold spices bought by weight from my health food coop (scoop the spice into little plastic bags, empty the bags into jars when I get home). The jars are labeled with a label maker and stored in a dark cupboard on cheap plastic carousels. I group things roughly by type or intended purpose (European spices on one shelf, Indian on another, baking supplies on another). I keep a few heavily-used spices in larger containers (za'atar, amchoor).

                                      The plastic carousels are cheap and last years. The glass jars are reusable. It's no big deal to open up the cupboard, rotate the carousel, and pull out the spice I want.

                                      If you have a drawer rather than a cupboard, you could just fill up the drawer with spice bottles with labels on top.

                                      1. OK, well, I'll chime in again about bags. I've definitely seen that happen, where a spice will go all sticky in a baggy. As I recall, it took a little while, but seemed to be a combination of humidity and a flimsy, weak, cheap, thin plastic bag, plus my carelessness in not making certain it was folded over well and clipped shut.

                                        I lost some cumin, chili powder, and curry powder that way at one apartment. However, for various reasons they had also ended up in a cupboard above the sink, and were regularly subjected to rising moisture as a result.

                                        There is a school of thought that bags are sometimes better than bottles because one can squeeze most of the air out easily, air being a primary enemy of preservation, hence the nifty pump&seal gizmos for wine bottles.

                                        Oxidation, perhaps? Are the spices losing their savor, or essentially rusting? Has anyone done a study of optimal spice storage?

                                        Other than the companies that make spice racks, that is? 'Cause I'm getting more cynical all the time about these things.

                                        [Plastic cutting boards, for example, weren't tested until long after companies began touting them as more sanitary....sadly the testing revealed bacteria can live a long, long time on plastic, but is absorbed by wood almost immediately, through an unknown mechanism, I believe they said. A lovely study--one the manufacturers of plastic cutting boards did their best to bury, obviously.]

                                        Capitalism, eh? Can't live with it, can't live without it.

                                        Back on topic: I still keep a lot of my spices in the original bag, all the bags different types.

                                        You know those cheap Mexican bagged spices? 4 ounces of cumin for 60 cents or so? Those bags are pretty impermeable, and I can clip them shut with the binder clips and free chip clips that wander into my life. The large binder clips, by the way, are GREAT! Worth blowing a buck at the dollar store. Plastic chip clips lose a lot of oomph over time. Binder clips can still cause serious pain after a couple of years.

                                        Otherwise, I refuse to spend money on spice storage, or food storage. Too many containers one can recycle, also more environmentally friendly. Unnecessary plastic uses up a frightening amount of petroleum and takes forever to biodegrade.

                                        Besides, a spice I use a lot is going to be gone so fast it won't have time to go stale or sticky, which must be true for other folks out there as well. Less used spices can easily be obtained in tiny quantities, to avoid waste.

                                        And if they need to be used up before they expire? I make chili. You can put pretty much anything in chili and get away with it. Some of the resulting versions have been positively inspirational :-)

                                        To rworange: p.s., i had the coolest idea for self-storing spice bags, but unless you have a free source of small Flexies, retractable keychains, and/or talking dolls, it would involve having to spend money. Still, I'll work on it. [second gin and tonic]

                                        1. I have to say, what you're describing in your OP, different systems for different containers, would drive me bananas. If I have a system for like items, I want them to be in like containers so they can be treated the same way. Having two or three systems, depending on the container, wouldn't work for me. So if you have some spices in baggies and some spices in jars, then in order to use the same system for both, you'd have to buy more baggies or more jars and transfer your new spices to whatever the chosen storage solution is. But, it sounds like that's not what would work for you. That's what I would do, though. (And I'd opt for tins because I have a magnetic solution that works for me, but that's me, not you.)

                                          I have been through many organization systems and, yes, spice racks, and here's what works for me. Get 3-4 of those shallow plastic shoe boxes and organize your spices by cuisine, since you tend to use all of those spices in concert with each other anyway. I have a Vietnamese box and a Chinese box and a Mexican box. I keep my two Asian boxes in the fridge because I also put my oils and vinegars and pastes in there. My Mexican box just goes in a cool, dark cabinet. You can re-use these later for cosmetics or shoes or whatever.

                                          Then my day to day spices just go in the cupboard, though I could but them in a shoebox of their own, I suppose. I have a little tiered spice "staircase" in my cupboard that sort of works for just this handful of everyday spices. It still gets jumbled and has to be occasionally re-arranged, but it's not completely out of control because I'm not having to dig through my everyday spices to find my more special-purpose spices.

                                          I know you don't want to buy anything because of your temporary housing situation, but if a lot of your spices come in tins (think, Old Bay or McCormick) or you are willing to systematically acquire tins over time towards a long-term solution, a sheet or strip of magnetic paper mounted on the fridge (on a convenient but not highly traffic-d side of the fridge, if such a location exists) or in the inside door of a cabinet is super convenient (once you're settled for the long-term). Just slap your spice in its tin on the magnetic sheet and you're done. Organize it in whatever order you want, if you want.

                                          I use a grease pencil to mark my tins/bottles/jars with the date and the name of the spice. I use my grease pencil for a lot of other things, too, marking jars etc.

                                          I hope something in here helps.


                                          2 Replies
                                          1. re: The Dairy Queen

                                            Your box system has a lot of merit. What I like best about it is the fact that it will accommodate spices in varied packaging.

                                            This thread and the fact that I'm moving soon (mentally rearranging my new kitchen hourly) has resulted in thinking about spice storage a bit. I had a big "duh" moment when I realized that the variety of packaging is what causes the storage issues for me. I have little zips from the co-op, tins, bottles of all sizes, giant bags from Penzeys and odd sized containers of salts and rubs. Usually when I organize the theory of "like with like" works for me. With spices it has always been hard to figure out a system that works with my brain, my cooking style, my kitchen and perish-ability aspects.

                                            I think your box system might just take care of it for me!

                                            1. re: meatn3

                                              Well, the beauty of the "by cuisine" storage solution is that you can store all kinds of containers--baggies, jars--tall or squat, tins, etc.-- together without it seeming quite such a jumbled mess because there's an inherent reason for all of these items to be together. It just feels like a natural order. The drawback is that the optimal storage location for everything may not be identical. For instance, i can't really say if the fridge is the very best place to store spices, but since it's the best place to store most of the ingredients in my Asian boxes, that's where they go. So far, I haven't notice an issue with spoilage or anything like that.

                                              Also, it depends on what your particular storage constraints are. Some people may have lots of fridge or cabinet space, others not. I didn't notice if rworange had any particular constraints about limited cabinet or limited fridge space, but that would definitely affect how you implement the "by cuisine" solution.

                                              I also forget to mention that I don't put the lid on my plastic shoe boxes because soy sauces and vinegars etc. are too tall for that. So, unfortunately, you can't stack the boxes to optimize storage space. Since rworange wants the possibility for everything to be able to be re-used or re-deployed, if she gets the boxes where the lid could just snap underneath, that would be the easiest way to keep everything together if she wanted to use the shoe-boxes for something different in the future.


                                          2. I dont know if this adds at all to the thread but here goes.
                                            First, I keep the spices in jars (if not in original containers), not purpose bought but reused from Jam, olives, etc. Each with a nice, big clear label. Some of these have been in use for 30 years. Extra quantities of spice are kept in their original packing in a big sealed bin or in the freezer, depending on type. I like jars with a wide enough mouth to spoon out of. I dont like baggies - especially the cheezy kind - they bang around and get holes and pests, and get stale.

                                            The best method was the deep drawer with labels on top - very easy to find. Unfortunately my spice collection outgrew the drawer, and the cabinet was tossed out. My spices now fill a three shelf cabinet. Thelowest shelf has one of those step things, decent for smaller jars. But I still have to climb up on a chair to locate infrequently used items.
                                            I am willing to bet your can get sliding shelf inserts to a kitchen cabinet for not much $ that would replicate the very good drawer arrangement. thats what I would do if I had the stomach to reorganize.

                                            3 Replies
                                            1. re: jen kalb

                                              I fear we may have veering into the too spice rack-y realm. It seems to me a discussion of how to handle spices must inherently involve a discussion, or at least setting forth some assumptions or parameters, about your preferred storage containers for the spices themselves. And then what you do with the storage container can either be a spice rack or not a spice rack, but I guess I'm not sure what a "spice rack" is for the definition of this thread, other than something that cannot be easliy re-purposed into something else, or that requires a carpenter. It's an interesting problem.

                                              I do like the idea of storing spices in wide-mouthed jars so you can get a measuring spoon in there. Do you ever worry there's too much air in there and they are going to spoil faster?


                                              1. re: The Dairy Queen

                                                Yes, I think the air is a factor but any half full container has the same problem. I buy most of my spices in Indian stores and invariable the pack size is more than I need so at least initially, the jar is full then it gets more emptly - the extra spices stay in their cellophane packets, pretty tightly packed together with little air - maybe they keep a little better. .The ground spices will get replaced before I use them all up, almost invariable - whole last a good bit longer.

                                                I prefer solutions involving storage in sealed glass in dark locations to those involving paper, cheap baggies,tin, plastic,etc.It just cleaner (doesnt bet dusty) and less likely to oxidize, contract off flavors or get pests. I repeatedly have problems in my pantry closets with meal moths, etc, but my spices except some of the paprika/chiles stay clean. Ive taken to freezing whole dry chiles due to pest issues as well as some indian spice mixes due to staling issues.

                                                1. re: jen kalb

                                                  I've had problems with things getting into my pepper-family spices and started keeping them in the fridge after the last infestation 10 years ago. Have not had a problem since!