Keeping spices handy when you cook

Organizing and Storing Spices

by Dollar Stretcher Contributors

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How to Organize and Store Spices

As I cook more, I'm using more and more spices. I'd like to find a way to organize and store them. How can I keep them organized so I know what I have and maximize their shelf life?

Know the Enemy

I am on a low sodium diet and have been for a long time, so I tend to use a lot of spices and herbs to make up for the flavor. Here are my tips for storing:

  • Do not store in the fridge or freezer. Moisture is spice's number one enemy.
  • Do not store on a rack that is close to your stove or a sunny window. Heat is another enemy, causing the oils to degrade faster.
  • I've found the easiest way to store is in like-sized glass jars. There's no need to go out and spend $30 or more. Old racks with bottles can be found at thrift store and yard sales for a few bucks. I use cheap white office labels to let me know what's inside, and I store them in a shallow pull-out utensil drawer away from the oven. My drawer holds three rows of ten bottles, which is exactly the amount I need for the spices and seasoning blends I use!
  • Buy in the smallest amount possible, so that what you are using is always fresh and nothing goes to waste. I use a lot of oregano and garlic powder, so I purchase those in quantity. Conversely, the oils in sesame and poppy seeds will cause them to turn rancid quickly, so I buy those on a per-recipe basis (and I store the leftover in the freezer!)
  • Invest in a spice grinder and buy what you can whole. Fresh-grinding releases oils and aromatics you just cannot get from pre-ground. Cloves, coriander, star anise, nutmeg, cinnamon sticks and peppercorns work wonderfully with a grinder.
  • There's no need to buy bottles of Chinese five, apple pie, or pumpkin pie spice. There are plenty of recipes online that help you create the ones you use most often.

Ali K in Mesa, AZ

Group Them by Cuisine

One easy way to store spices is to group them by the type of cuisine they usually enhance. For example, I keep oregano, basil, garlic, and thyme next to each other because all of them are used in Italian and other Mediterranean cooking. Similarly, I keep sweet spices like cardamom, cinnamon, ginger, and nutmeg together because they are often used in baking. Spices like star anise, Chinese peppercorns, and five-spice powder are also together in my spice rack because they are all used in Asian cooking.

How you choose to group your spices is up to you. The most important thing is to be consistent.

However you group them, I suggest that red pepper (cayenne) is not stored next to paprika. My mother mistook the two once, resulting in a very hot Thanksgiving turkey.
Barbara in SC

Alphabetize Spices

I keep my spices on spice racks and arranged alphabetically like it is done at the grocery store. The racks are not very expensive, and by having things in alphabetical order, I can quickly find my needed spice and also keep up with the quantity remaining.

Sweet or Savory Use?

Separate them for sweet and savory use and then put them in alphabetical order. I put curtain tension rods in the back of my lower cabinet and rest the jars on and against the back wall. These two rods are placed high enough above that I can see them over other items on my cabinet shelf.
Dee Bee in Naples, FL

Easy Access with Bins

The best way I have found to store spices is in a drawer or bin and write the name of the spice on the cap. I usually group them by category: spices for baking, spices for seasoning meat, etc. You can store the bins on a shelf and pull out the entire bin when you start to bake, etc.

Date Your Spices

To organize our spices, we use a two-tier turntable that fits on a shelf in our cabinet. We keep the spices in alphabetical order, which makes retrieving the ones we want much easier than if randomly placed. If there are more spices than can fit in a single row around the two levels of the turntable, we keep the least used ones in the middle near where they fit alphabetically.

Over the years, we have accumulated quite a lot of the spice bottles (expensive name brand spices), and we continue to use those bottles. We are lucky now to have a store nearby that sells bulk spices, and when our supply is getting low, we buy usually less than a dollar's worth of whatever we need and fill the same bottle. If we no longer use a spice, we wash that bottle for a new spice we may want to try. We also put a label on the bottle with the date of the new supply or when a new bottle is opened. This seems to work for us. I'll be interested in seeing what other systems are being used.
HJ in Delaware

Simply Organize Alphabetically

I've found that simply organizing spices alphabetically has worked the best for me. I've tried organizing by frequency, brand or size, but it never worked out. All the little glass/plastic containers are on one shelf and my bulk spices that are stored in mayonnaise jars are also alphabetical on a completely different shelf.

Store Spices in Canning Jars

I buy the spices I need in the ethnic department and sometimes in the produce area in cellophane bags. I then store in four-ounce canning jars. I write the name of the spice on the lid with a permanent marker. It washes off when I use it for another spice or use. These little jars stack nicely. They are cute, and they don't take up much space.

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From One Good Cook to Another

Herbs and spices have limited shelf lives, so they should be tagged with purchase year. Shelf lives (plus other good information) are available online at The best storage is narrow, deep shelves that will accommodate the cans/jars. Most of mine are shelved in my basement stairwell that remains dark and cool. I use old spice racks that I bought at yard sales or thrift shops or make your own and use adjustable strips for height adjustment. No basement stairs? Try the back of a door. Alphabetize the containers. For items used daily or several times a week, I have circular spin shelves in my corner cupboard. I've had these spin shelves for years! I can't alphabetize these, but because I use them so often, I can identify by the size and shape of container. Nothing says "good cook" more than the subtle addition of flavor beyond salt and pepper!
Sharon in Amherst County, Virginia

Use a Kitchen Drawer and Labeled Bottles

I was looking for this same thing on the internet. The best solution is probably to use a kitchen drawer and identical bottles you can label. I happen to have a couple of slide-out panels with plenty of room. I use jelly jars to store spices instead of constantly trying to refill tiny bottles. This works out because I buy in bulk. Whatever doesn't fit in the jars I keep in a tub on a high shelf for when I run out.

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