How to Organize Your Herbs and Spices
You Can Save Space and Time in Your Kitchen
My mother has this problem: She has a lot of herbs and spices, since she loves to cook, and she has a lot of little bottles, jars, and packets rattling around in her kitchen. She pulls out bottle after bottle, looking for something in particular, and the bottles fall over. But there's a way to not only eliminate all the space and hassle, but to keep your spices fresher, too—and not only that, but the solution to this problem is cheap, easy, and saves a lot of space in your kitchen. And, best of all, you'll be able to find any herb or spice in just seconds, because you'll know precisely where to look! So, let's get started on organizing those herbs and spices right now!
You'll need just a few supplies, most of which you probably already have handy, and about an hour or two of time to get completely through this project, but it should make everything much more accessible and organized, and you won't accidentally knock over any glass jars and break them, as has happened to so many cooks, time and time again!
How many jars of herbs or spices (or both) do you have?
What You Will Need
I started with one of these labelers, and I still use it when I am going to be away from the computer.
If you're going to be doing a lot of labeling, I highly recommend this labeler. I got one for a Christmas present years ago, and it's still going strong (and everything in my house is neatly labeled, too)!
If you choose to alphabetize your spices, these dividers make it ridiculously simple to find any of your herbs or spices in mere seconds!
Make sure you match the size of your plastic shoe box with the size of your alphabetized dividers and the size of your snack bags!
If you're the no-nonsense type and don't want to mess with a labeler, these labels will do the trick. Since they come in four different colors, you can still use them for color-coding very easily.
The first thing you must do is to pull all those herbs and spices out of whatever nooks they are hiding in and make a complete inventory. If you have four half-used jars of the same spice, throw away any stale spices (this will be the last time you have to do this). When you have finished, combine partially-used jars or packets of fresh spices or herbs together, so that you can see how much you have.
Next, take a box of sandwich-sized or snack-sized plastic zipper bags. One spice or herb at a time, make a label (don't write directly on the plastic bag, because you can compromise the integrity of the bag—a permanent marker contains chemicals that will eventually degrade the plastic) for each one, then put it on the plastic bag, and carefully empty the spice or herb into the zipper bag. If you carefully press out all the air you can, you will keep your spices fresh much longer, because the air will not oxidize the spices, as happens when you leave them in the original jars. (The air inside the jar will make the spices stale, even if it is only a very little air.)
Now you have a bunch of plastic zipper bags, it's time to alphabetize them. Then place the alphabetized bags into a plastic shoebox, and use plastic file dividers to mark the alphabetical divisions.
If you cook a lot, it's quite possible that you will fill much more than a single shoe box. Simply use as many shoe boxes as you need to get the spices in. Try to leave a little extra space, or "wiggle room," in case you find a new spice or spice mix you wish to add to your collection!
Now that you have finished, label the shoe boxes. Arrange the spices in whatever order makes the most sense to you. Some cooks will want to divide them into sweet and savory, others into spices or herbs, and others into different categories. The great news is, it doesn't matter. Arrange them in whatever way makes sense to you, and if that doesn't work well, you can keep improving your method until you are happy with the result. My spices are alphabetized, because that is what works for me. Simply pull the labels on the shoe boxes off and replace them with new labels!
Now stack your neatly labeled shoe boxes on your pantry shelf, where the spices and herbs are protected from light and heat. When you need a particular spice, herb, or spice blend, simply pull out the shoe box that is required, open the snack bag, and dip your measuring spoon in to fill it. Be sure to press the air out of the bag afterwards, and your herbs and spices will stay fresh, organized, and easily accessible for everyone!
If you live with roommates, or in a house with multiple cooks, each of whom wants control over his or her own stash of spices and herbs, simply color-coordinate the labels and shoe boxes, so that each person knows what belongs to them. From now on, you'll be able to avoid all the arguments about who got into whose Vietnamese cinnamon! If, like me, it works best for you to keep everything alphabetical, you can also use color-coordination to identify blends, sweet and savory, child-friendly (not expensive and not too hot), or those extra-spicy condiments that need careful supervision. In any case, let your imagination run wild and eventually you will discover what arrangement works well; with this flexible system, you can experiment until you find exactly what works best for you!
If you want something a little more decorative than the labelers can make, why not try using some of these charming labels?