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Get it done / Streamlining the spices

Photos courtesy of author


Has this ever happened to you? You find a great recipe for Taco Tuesday but even though you swear you had cumin, it’s nowhere to be found. So, you fork out the five or six dollars for a new bottle, and, when you get home, you put it in your spice drawer…right next to the other bottle of cumin that has magically reappeared. This scenario repeated itself regularly for at least the past six years, almost every time I needed a spice other than my big four (cinnamon, garlic powder, chili powder, and Italian seasoning).


For Home, I decided to come up with an organized system that would not only make it easier to find the spices when I needed them but also solve a few other issues:


• Making all spice containers large enough to put in a tablespoon and pull it back out again (to prevent all kinds of spice waste from methods employed with too small containers).

• Making all containers visible, so I know when my spices are running low and can plan accordingly, “Alexa, add ground ginger to my shopping list.”

• Keeping track of how old spices are.


Armed with my list of needs and wants, I fell into the black hole that is Pinterest for a good hour or three, looking at all the various DIY spice racks, magnetic spice racks, special order spice drawer inserts; a plethora of ideas for organizing spices.


I decided small metal tins with clear tops would check all the spice drawer boxes for me. Most of the metal containers I saw were round, and, although they looked cute, I decided on square tins to use more of my rectangular space. I wanted to keep my project under thirty-five dollars, if possible, so while I found a set of spice tins on Amazon that would have worked great, at about forty dollars for twenty-four tins, it was over budget. With a bit of research, I found specialtybottle.com, where I was able to order twenty-four tins for about thirty dollars, including shipping and tax.


When my tins arrived, I pulled the spice jars—all sixty-eight of them—out of the drawer, and began sorting.  It’s embarrassing to admit that fifty of those jars were past their expiration date. Fifty! The oldest was from 2006!


Unless you’re practicing for the next season of Top Chef, no one needs sixty-eight spices. Granted, three of those were all cream of tartar (when do I ever use cream of tartar and why did I have three jars?!) but no one needs sixty-six spices either. This was the perfect time to pare way down. I made a list of the top twenty spices I use, replenished the ones that were no longer good and transferred them all to the cute tins.


They look fabulous, are all clearly labeled (I found adorable label templates by Emily McDowell on the WorldLabel blog website by searching for “spice jar organizing labels”), and not only can I see into them easily to tell when I’m running low, I can also fit a tablespoon into the tins with room to spare. A dry erase marker (which I now keep in the spice drawer) works great to write the purchase date on the bottom of the tin. All problems solved in a matter of hours.



Useful Info: To keep or toss?

Spices don’t really spoil but they lose their potency and, therefore, their effectiveness. Shelf life varies:

• Whole spices: four years

• Ground spices: two to four years

• Leafy herbs: one to three years

• Seasoning blends: one to two years


How to tell it’s time to toss:   

• Look for the expiration date. If you can’t find one, that’s your first clue it’s way too old. Most seasoning brands have been putting expiration dates on jars for at least the past five years.

• Is it a McCormick spice in a tin can? Other than for black pepper, McCormick stopped using tin cans in 1985.

• Sprinkle a bit into your hand and rub it around for a couple seconds to release the scent. If you can’t smell it, you won’t taste it in your food.


Are there any pantry products that don’t expire?

Yes, as long as they are stored properly, refined sugar, honey, pure vanilla extract, salt, and cornstarch are good to use indefinitely.—R.R.W.


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