5 Smart Spice Storage Tips
They say variety is the spice of life, and that’s also true in your kitchen. Whether you’re a keep-it-simple sort or a devoted gourmet, an assortment of dried spices is a must for every pantry. A few pinches of the right seasonings make the difference between dull and delicious.
But a jar of thyme can quickly become three in a disorganized stash of spices, while once-fragrant herbs wither in dark corners. Professional organizer Kathi Burns saves her clients from making such missteps. "We’re chef wannabes at my house, so we have every spice possible," says Burns, CPO of San Diego’s Make Space in Your Life! "I’m always testing new organizing solutions." We’ve got the dish on the best ways to keep your spices fresh and at the ready.
1. Stock up on versatile staples. Start with black pepper, salt’s better — or at least healthier— half. Popular all the world over, it adds essential bite to countless culinary styles. Purists will insist on whole peppercorns and a grinder, but ground pepper serves the same purpose. Other home chef favorites include ginger, cinnamon, nutmeg, allspice, bay leaves, dried bay leaves, chili powder, oregano and cumin.
2. Figure out the best storage option for your space. If you can spare a cabinet shelf, a single three-tier spice rack should be plenty for the average home cook. Mounted pull-down spice racks make even the back row easily accessible. "It’s old-school and it works," says Burns. Stylish new storage options continue to surface as well, such as sleek magnetic wall strips that hold sealed spice cans right where you need them. Just keep them clear of direct heat and light.
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3. Organize your spices by cuisine. "Indian spice trays are one of my favorite things for the kitchen," says Burns. The most common version features a round metal tray, seven small containers, a tiny spoon and a lid for the whole thing. Modern variations can be found everywhere from Etsy to Williams-Sonoma.
"I have several clients who cook specific kinds of food, like Lebanese or Hungarian," adds Burns. "These containers help them keep everything together." The spice trays also make fantastic gifts, especially with a corresponding ethnic cookbook.
4. Do an annual sweep of your pantry. Spices have a limited shelf life. Some experts claim six months is the rule of thumb, but others say that’s way too conservative. Stored properly, ground spices (nutmeg, turmeric) and ground herbs (thyme, sage) might stay fresh for two or three years. Whole spices like cloves and cinnamon sticks can last up to four years, as can some seeds.
By checking yearly, though, you’ll know what needs to be refilled and what probably should be tossed. When in doubt, give it a whiff. If spices smell stale, they’re done. A rancid scent is also a clear sign to throw it away. Marking open dates on new additions will help you determine freshness down the line.
5. Experiment in small doses. Cooking a new type of cuisine at home often requires purchasing several new spices. You may love Ethiopian food, but will you ever need berbere again after your first — and only — attempt at doro wat? If you’re unsure, try to buy the spices from a specialty shop, where you can pick up small amounts from bulk containers.