HOME > Chowhound > General Topics >


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?

  1. Click to Upload a photo (10 MB limit)
  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 -- http://www.rei.com/product/798283/gsi... -- 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.

                    2. I have two different categories in my spice cabinet. On the right side are herbs and spices. Whole, ground, whatever but of single type. On the left is blends. Cajun, taco, Italian, Old Bay, etc. It's fairly easy. You could break things down from there.


                      1. I go alphabetical and haven't had a problem.

                        Now my chile pepper collection is a different story. I've got at least 20 different types and they're all hopelessly jumbled together. I need more cabinet space.

                        1 Reply
                        1. re: Perilagu Khan

                          Mine is *mostly* alphabetical as well. The large galley kitchen I have in my condo has slightly less cabinet space than my old apartment, so I have fewer "turney-go-rounds" in them. I put just the herbs/spices I use frequently in the kitchen cabinets. Everything else goes on hanging wire shelves inside a pantry closet (formerly a coat closet, but I use it as an overlap space for dry goods), and in my pie safe in the dining room.

                        2. I have 3 of these things (they stack), and put my most commonly used ones on the top, lesser on the bottom. And then I still have the cabinet shelf full of a bunch of other rarely used ones, but because they're rarely used, it doesn't bother me to have to root around.


                          1. I'm challenged for space, and had to separate my herbs/spices into the use them all the time group, and the less frequently used group. The 18 most frequently used herbs/spices live in a rack on my counter top, labeled and alphabetized. Everything else goes in a shoebox size plastic bin in the kitchen cabinet. Things in the shoebox are labeled, but they are not uniformly packaged, and are not organized in any specific way.

                            1. I have lidded plastic boxes for most. They are grouped:
                              Baking spices
                              Peppers (stays in the fridge)
                              Savory A - M
                              Savory N - Z

                              I also have a tiered shelf inside a small cabinet which holds spice blends.
                              Extracts are grouped together in a basket which lives at the top of a cabinet.
                              Seldom used spices which tend to go rancid live in the fridge, ex. mahlab.

                              My cabinets are oddly sized and very few spice rack systems will fit in them. It took a while to find a good balance which worked with my space and my cooking style. Now I love having them in boxes. So easy to locate what I need without sorting through dozens of bottles.

                              1. I have a shallow drawer filled with short bottles that I bought specifically for the purpose of storing spices. They are all labeled on top and arranged in the drawer alphabetically. I love that I always know where everything is, although this system doesn't work for things that I use in larger quantities, such as chili powder. I have the few things that need larger containers in a cabinet above - they're not organized, but there are few enough of them that it's easy to find what I need.

                                1. I have a spice rack with jars that hangs on the wall. It holds those I use most often. In a drawer I have spices divided into two containers--one for "baking" spices, the other for Asian/Indian. Not perfect, but space is limited.

                                  1. 4 nine inch lazy-susans, single tray, on 2 shelves:
                                    1 - baking spices
                                    2 - peppers and paprika
                                    3 - dried herbs
                                    4 - common dried seasonings, i.e. garlic pdr, onion pdr, salts, etc.

                                    1 expandable spice rack that takes up 1/3 of another shelf
                                    Here I store herbs and spices according to cuisine

                                    Beside this rack is an antique wooden box that holds larger amounts of spices that I've bought in bags rather than jars. They're stored alphabetically.

                                    1. By the way.....have any of those lovley McCormick spices that are in metal boxes? Or even glass bottles that list the compasny as Baltimore MD? Those are AT LEAST 20 years old!

                                      And.um.guilty as charged, your honor.maybe I'll throw them out on the next go-around

                                      2 Replies
                                      1. re: FriedClamFanatic

                                        Oh, keep the old metal boxes! When I buy tiny amts of spice from the health store bulk bin, I just pour it into my old metal boxes. Some of those old McCormick tins still have the paper price sticker: 89 cents. What spices can you now buy for 89 cents! (And what happened to the cents key on the keyboard?)

                                        1. re: pine time

                                          since a penny now costs about 1.045 cents to mint (or more!) I suspect it has been retired. alt $ brings up a pound sign ...........opps!!!!!!!!!!!!!! no it doesn't....don't try this at home folks!

                                          Gone the same place as penny candy, I guess

                                      2. Ones I use regularly are on a lazy susan on the lower shelf of my spice cabinet. Ones I use less often migrate to the back of the upper shelves. Excess quantities of little used ones languish in boxes in the pantry.

                                        1. pickling spices-bay leaves, juniper berries,cardamon,allspice,nutmeg,mace,cinnamon,dill, fennel,tumeric,mustard
                                          chile-dried jalapeno-combinations of chile, etc
                                          pepper, etc-grains ,of paradise, long pepper,szechusan,

                                          1. Wow - so many great responses. I am new to Chow and quite impressed by the active community. I'm still thinking though. I have this, admittedly odd, vision in my mind of labeling my spices without using words but rather just symbols (my spices are in aluminium containers, so I really need some label. At the moment, it is just the name of the spice). I'm thinking something like 4 symbols (circle, triangle, square, line) and four colors that make-up a 'spice code'. What do you guys think? Would this work?

                                            4 Replies
                                            1. re: lovespice

                                              I think it overcomplicates...if you know what's in that container, you know what it does.

                                              1. re: lovespice

                                                Unless you don't want anyone else to know what's in each container, I suspect just the name of the spice will work best! '-)

                                                1. re: lovespice

                                                  I would spend more time translating from my cheat sheet - my brain would never memorize a system like that. I can see why you are drawn to the idea though!

                                                  I could see incorporating symbols or colors into the label to designate groupings. Color would work well with Will Owens method of grouping sweet to fiery. Start with one end of the rainbow and end at the other. (paint chips and a punch!) Symbols could work too. You would need to put some thought into how you most naturally group your spices. I tend to group by sweet, savory, and heat. Others might group by ethnicity.

                                                  BTW, welcome to Chowhound! There is always something new to learn here and it is a very passionate, sharing community. Jump in and enjoy!

                                                  1. re: meatn3

                                                    good idea. and if it is from one spectrum to the other (like hot to fiery) one could even represent this by increasing size/saturation

                                                2. I've just got the bottom shelf of the wall cabinet by the cooktop, as the next two up are pretty well occupied with other pantry items, except for the right end of the second shelf where I keep herbs and spices that're in bags and Baggies. I did some actual organizing a while back and decided to start with sweet and baking spices to the right, graduating towards savory in the middle, and then blending into hot on the left. Mace, coriander and the like at one extreme, sage and thyme in the middle, cayenne at far left. I make no distinction between herbs and spices, seeds or leaves or bark; it all has to do with flavor.

                                                  1. As you can see, I use two methods. The primary one is alphabetized, the other one is by bottle height. Works for me...!

                                                    5 Replies
                                                    1. re: Caroline1

                                                      It must be such a pleasure to have your spices so visible and accessible! My kitchen two homes past had a spot where I could store my spices similarly. I loved it. I find I use a smaller repertoire when I have to search for them.

                                                      1. re: Caroline1

                                                        looks like lots of fun. agree with meatn3 - if they are stored away, then i use a smaller repertoire

                                                        1. re: lovespice

                                                          meatn3 and lovespice, I really lucked out! The builder left this big vacant wall only a half a step from the island that has my cooktop in it. Besides spices in easy reach, I also have a cluster of items right next to my cooktop: 5 cruets of oil (evoo, light oo, peanut oil, rice bran oil, sesame oil, and truffle oil), plus ghee, 3 cooking wines (Shao Xing, sake, Noilly Pratt), sugar and flour casters, salt mill, pepper mills. I HATE having to search for things once I start cooking, and having anything and everything within easy reach makes it so much more fun! The shelving cost under $75.00, including paint. Now, if I only had a place to hang a ceiling rack for my pots and pans! I guess there is no perfect kitchen...

                                                          1. re: Caroline1

                                                            Love your system Caroline! I may have to incorporate something like it in my kitchen redesign!

                                                            1. re: jujuthomas

                                                              Here's a "spice rack" to die for! It's the "Flavoring Shelves" of the now defunct El Bulli restaurant in Spain. I think they're still cooking, just not as a restaurant. Anyway, when I win the lottery, I'm going this route! But if I never get them it's okay. I'd just outgrow them in a couple of years. There is no such thing as enough room for ALL of your spices! i

                                                      2. All my baking spices are in the pantry, and most of the rest are laying in a 24"wide drawer next to the stove. The small jars are in a wooden cutlery divider on their sides, and the taller ones lay randomly about wherever they can squeeze in. Basically, popular kids to the front, and the wallflowers end up in the back of the drawer. I replaced the drawer with a nice full- extension style, so everything is accessible all the way to the back.

                                                        And welcome to CH, lovespice! (cute moniker, by the way)

                                                        1. New member woud also like to add, that by classifying by cuisine type, is also very helpful; for example: Italian, Spanish, Greek,, French etcetra ... There are some spices or herbs which are Mediterranean and very commonly used in more than one type of Mediterranean cuisine.

                                                          Hope this assists.

                                                          4 Replies
                                                          1. re: foodeditormargaux

                                                            For me, that's not helpful because there are so many spices that are common to many cuisines. Cumin is a good example. I use it in Mexican, Moroccan, Middle Eastern, and several other ethnicities that don't pop to mind at the moment. Alphabetizing works best for cases such as this. At least for me.

                                                            1. re: Caroline1

                                                              As always, we're sharing the same mind, Caroline...if I had to file all my spices strictly by ethnicity, I'd end up with a half-dozen jars of each, all filed in a separate place!

                                                              1. re: sunshine842

                                                                And think of how much more shelf space that would take up...! Alphabetizing allows me to cook in any language without resorting spices! '-)

                                                                1. re: Caroline1

                                                                  I don't have enough shelf space for ONE of each....(I swear, spices breed when I'm not looking)

                                                                  It does give me one idea, though -- to put a strip of colored tape or something around the lid of my most-used spices -- then I can grab them out of the cabinet without the step stool or resorting to colorful language.

                                                                  (I tend to re-use empty bottles if they haven't absorbed a lot of odors...I put a new label on them, but my brain sometimes forgets what bottle something is in...)

                                                          2. categorizing them by general culinary purpose or basic form makes the most sense to me.

                                                            i've never been satisfied with any commercial spice rack option, so this time around i "built" my own. i installed several lipped floating shelves on a bare wall, bought screw top metal tins into which i transferred all my seasonings, and created custom color-coded labels for them.

                                                            the categories:
                                                            - herbs
                                                            - spices
                                                            - peppers
                                                            - salts
                                                            - seeds
                                                            - blends
                                                            - baking/misc

                                                            each category is a different color, and the tins are grouped by category and alphabetized within each group.

                                                            it's not quite finished yet - i ran out of tins (and could actually use one more shelf), and i also realized i should really magnetize the tins since they're stacked 2 or 3 high per shelf and i live in earthquake country - i have visions of them toppling off the shelves when we have a good shake. but thus far it's the most comprehensive & satisfying method i've ever used, and IMHO it looks terrific.

                                                            1. alphabetize on a lazy susan but two categories - general cooking on top baking on bottom - also rarely used items or boxes go on bottom - only thing I just bought cinamon for a pork brine so spices or baking shelf?? also have a tray on the counter with ones I use regulary or weekly, the spices roatate by what I am cooking for the week. I just wish I had a bigger kitchen so I could have spice shelves. Low on spices right now since i am growng fresh herbs.

                                                              1. I have a wonderful drawer beneath the cooktop element with slanted shelves, which holds my alphabetized, most commonly used spices, plus a deep section at the back for oversize stuff. Counted: I have 42 "units" in there. However, other spices (mostly Indian, not used every day) are on a lazy susan in the cabinet, counted: 36 more items there. Not beginning to count bags of chilies, idli mixes, etc. Yowsa.

                                                                1. I have opted to store my spices in vintage spice racks and hang them visibly on my kitchen wall. So much easier than going through the pantry and kitchen drawers. I buy organic spices that are bottled and as well like the Watkins spices that are in metal cans. I store by type,e.g. savory, baking, and by type of cuisine. I have 3 spice racks in total.

                                                                  1. I have one big and one small SpiceStack - an organizer for store bought spices that sits in the cabinet. I keep all spices alphabetized and labeled - this just seems to be easiest for me. I recently reworked my spice cabinet and was amazed at how many duplicates and OLD spices I had. It hurt my soul to toss so many spices, but ultimately, it's easier to find what you need when you have a system in place and one of everything.

                                                                    1 Reply
                                                                    1. re: Greenygirl82

                                                                      Wow that picture is inspirational. So organized.

                                                                    2. I have found a clever way to sort my spices without taking up a large amount of room. I transfer my spices to pint size storage bags (I use the zipper type) and use a label maker to identify each one. These are then filed alphabetically in a plastic clear shoebox. I have four of them. 1 for Baking Spices and 3 for everything else. When I pull one out to use I put a bookmark in the place I pull it out of and don't have to seach to long to re-file. It keeps them more manageable and easier to locate. The boxes are then stackable.