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How to organize your spices

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organizing spices
If you are like most casual cooks, your spice cupboard is a jumbled mess. If you can't find the spice you need, how can you use it? Consider taking the time to clean up and organize your spice collection.

Those with severe allergies would find it beneficial to reduce the risks of cross-contamination by knowing which spices are where (i.e. that the gluten-free spices aren't next to the "regular" spices). You don't want to grab the wrong spice by mistake.


Discard old spices

organizing spices

First, you should sort through the spices to remove anything that is no longer fragrant. If you can't smell it, it probably won't add much flavour to your cooking. If it has been stored long enough that you don't remember when you bought it, discard it. General rule is to discard dried aromatics after one year. If nothing else, you probably don't want dried herbs sitting around to collect dust!

Discard anything that causes a reaction

That goes for anything you just plain don't like. If you hated coriander the one time you used it, why keep it? If you only use fresh parsley, why keep the jar of dried parsley? If you are allergic to cumin, it needs to go. Remove anything that won't be used in your cooking.

Decide on an organization system

How would you like to sort the remaining spices? Do you have baking-only spices? Would it be easier to find things if you sort them by cuisine (Thai, Indian, Italian, etc.)? There is always the option of alphabetical order ("Salt, fine" before "Salt, Hawaiian").

Select appropriate containers

While it may be tempting to keep spices in their original jars, it is more difficult to store different-sized jars without wasting a great deal of space. Uniform jars will generally make the best use of the space you have.

Consider the available space when choosing a jar size. I find four-ounce jelly jars a good fit for my drawers, with the added bonus that the lids and bands can be replaced when they wear out.

Fill and label your containers

Many spices look alike, so label your jars as you transfer the spices to the new container.

Since I place my spice jars into my kitchen drawers, I put the label on the lid so it can be seen easily when I open the drawer. By using a label maker that allows waterproof labels, the labels will last longer and hold up better to their use in the kitchen. (The lids can even go through the dishwasher without losing the labels!) I don't recommend the chalkboard-type labels since the writing comes off so easily when handled.

Put the spice jars into their new home

When you are done filling your containers, sort them according to your desired system and put them away. Remember, you can always sort them differently if the current system proves too complicated.

Let's talk spices

A quick guide to spicing up your dishes.

You will have to experiment a bit with each spice to see what you like in which dishes. The important thing is to start small and taste as you go. You can always add more later if it isn't enough. This is especially important when it comes to salt. Do not oversalt your food.

Many spices will need to be ground as needed. Get a spice grinder, and clean it thoroughly between spices. A special grinder or grater is needed for whole nutmeg, depending on how much you need. A grater is probably sufficient for most home cooks, though.


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