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Aug 23, 2012 01:42 AM

Spices, so many spices - how to sort???

What would cooking be without those herbs&spices? I'd love to show my appreciation of these little helpers by having some clever classification system for them. There are of course scientific taxonomies but they are not usable for homecooks because no-one but some hardcore botanists has the slightest clue about the sorting categories (Subclass Commelinidae? Order Papaverales? Family Myristicaceae?). So I'm thinking something like 4 or 5 easy-to-grasp categories (e.g. region; shape; color...) with a few values each that would assign a unique place to each common herb&spice. Any suggestions or some other creative idea for the best taxonomy of your herbs&spices?

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  1. What about

    - herbs (dried leaves and flowers)
    - spices (dried barks, roots and seeds) - whole
    - spices (dried barks, roots and seeds) - ground
    - peppers (black, white, sechuan, chili) and salts
    - spice mixes (garam masala, curry powder, Mexican chili powder etc)

    I think that would cover most common spices, but you could also add

    - misc (anything else)

    The only thing I can think of offhand in my spice cupboard that doesn't fit would be the asafoetida (technically a dried resin), whose category is "double wrapped in plastic and sealed in a box".

    15 Replies
    1. re: tastesgoodwhatisit

      This is how I do it. And I keep my baking stuff separate. Thankfully I have a big kitchen as I have 87 spices! I'm a spice addict.

      1. re: chefathome

        At least your not a spice psycho like me. I will never live down the fact that when we moved across several states, I wouldn't let mine go with the movers. I took them in my car, hehe...

        1. re: alliegator

          I did the very same thing! I was more concerned about my spices than many other things. We also take some with us when we go to our Croatia house. I am obsessed!

          1. re: chefathome

            This came to me as a random thought, and it works **brilliantly**

            When traveling to a destination where you'll have access to a kitchen, go to the pharmacy and buy a pillminder with the biggest compartments you can find -- I found a 7-compartment one that holds about 4 tsp of any herb or spice you wan tin each compartment.

            I can write the contents in Sharpie on the lid, then I wrap the whole thing in plastic wrap (to contain aromas AND any spills.) -- weighs nothing, takes up very little space, and gives you a good array of herbs and spices in your vacation house.

            1. re: sunshine842

              This is one of the smartest things I've heard in ages. I am all over it. Thank you so very much!

              1. re: chefathome

                I started doing that about ten years ago -- and I change up the contents, depending on where we're going and what I think we might be cooking.

                And here I've been telling people about it for free....a missed fortune in TV infomercials selling the Travel Spice Companion!


                1. re: sunshine842

                  You are brilliant. Truly. Here I've been using baggies...

                  Any other free ideas??!! ;-)

                  1. re: chefathome

                    You already know to pack a whole package of baggies, I'm sure (both sizes) -- somehow they get used for everything BUT food...but that's okay, too.

                    I have an old eyeglasses case in which I keep a waiter's corkscrew, an Opinel folding picnic knife, and a miniature Leatherman. Has to go in the checked bag, but as soon as we land it goes in my purse -- instant picnic, no matter what. (and the Leatherman gets used a LOT)

                    Lexan wine glasses -- -- weigh nothing, and the stem unscrews and stores IN the bowl -- no snapped stems, and always something civilized for your picnic.

                    (we're pretty avid picnickers, but we insist on a civilized meal)

                    1. re: sunshine842

                      LOVE the eyeglasses case idea! Man. I had not thought of that, either! And we travel a lot. But we take huge Rubbermaid containers over each time filled with house stuff and things have had their place so far. But these ideas are absolutely amazing. Will do this idea as well as the pill thinger as we are going to Paris for my husband's AGM first so cannot take all the extra stuff we usually do.

                  2. re: sunshine842

                    How about a Travel Oil Companion? That's what we need for picnics.

                    1. re: mbfant

                      I haven't managed one that doesn't leak yet.

                2. re: sunshine842

                  That is a great idea! Also, having a house in Croatia sounds like a good idea. I need to tell the mr. to get right on that, lol!

                  1. re: alliegator

                    I'm sure he would be all over it. A house in Croatia is one of the best ideas we've ever had! Tricky purchasing process but so worth it. Only 35 sleeps until we get to drool over our fresh fish, sea urchin, shellfish...

                  2. re: sunshine842

                    I'm a huge Muji fan, and immediately thought of this one:


                    (I use them to store small amounts of beads for crafts projects.)

                    1. re: beachmouse

                      my only caution would be is that those are brittle...and could break if they're not packed carefully. (I've had more busted acrylic items come out of my suitcase -- including wineglasses -- than I could shake a broken acrylic wineglass at)

                      Pillminders are pretty much designed to be dropped regularly-- they're usually a more forgiving plastic.

                      And the nice part is that they're cheap and easy to replace if you need to ditch one for some reason.

          2. I tried alphabetically -- that doesn't work.

            Now it's grouped by mostly by cuisine -- with similar cuisines grouped together. Cumin, for example, goes on the shelf with North African and Latin American/Caribbean, because so many of the spices appear in both.

            Then things like parsley and thyme (the ones I use all the time) sitting up front so they're all to hand.

            (tastesgood, anything that triggers a mind to see "fetid ass" falls under the "why keep it in your house?!" Interesting that it becomes mild when cooked)

            1. I keep my baking spices together on a small lazy susan, and divide the rest up by what type of food they are normally used for--Italian, Chinese, Mexican, etc, etc...

              So far it's worked out pretty well for me, and if there are any crossovers I put them between regions or just get used to where I found them to begin with...

              1. My "system" is purely practical and influenced by the three-drawer rack I store the bottles in. Group 1: herbs and spices I use most often. Group 2: those I use less often but intend to get into. Group 3, oddball stuff that's probably just taking up space. The three groups are about equal. :-)

                2 Replies
                1. re: John Francis

                  I find this to be the efficient method myself.

                  1. re: John Francis

                    I have 4 shelves/groups of spices... recently rearranged after much frustrated searching...

                    shelf 1 - the stuff I use most often

                    shelf 2 - less frequently used but still necessary

                    shelf 3 - rarely used

                    shelf 4 - hot n spicy - and stuff DH uses in bbq rubs.

                    Oh, and all those lovely glass jars are labeled either with a Penzey's label or with one made on our label maker.

                    things are much more efficient now! :)

                  2. I have a box into which all spices and dried herbs are thrown. I am not an organised person.

                    1 Reply
                    1. re: Harters

                      Same here. Although recently I labeled the containers so my other half knew what they were too.