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Spice Cabinet Clean Sweep

What To Toss, Where To Replenish, & How To Store & Organize Your Herbs & Spices

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Herbs and spices are cooking essentials, but without a good system, it's tough to keep all those little jars in order -- and very easy to let precious seasonings go to waste. If you've got spices all over the kitchen, can't find the oregano, have 4 open vanilla extracts, and 8-year-old star anise, it's time to get that herb and spice collection under control! And contrary to popular belief, spices do have a shelf life, so even if you possess a perfectly organized kitchen, a twice-yearly reassessment of your seasoning situation is smart. When it's time for spring cleaning, don't neglect your spice cabinet!

1. Empty Your cabinets

Spice Cabinet Mess
© 2009 Miri Rotkovitz

The first step to getting control over an unwieldy herb and spice collection is to gather everything in one place. Empty your spice cabinets and spice racks. Grab seasonings from drawers, countertops, the fridge, or wherever else you've got them stashed. Gather everything on a clean table or countertop, so you can see what you've got and start to take stock. While you're at it, you might want to give that empty cabinet a once-over, and clean up any spills or messes.

2. Divide and Conquer

Sorted Spices
© 2009 Miri Rotkovitz
Here's where the fun begins!

  • Get those jars in order. Sorting by herb and spice is a smart way to go, because it's easy to see duplicates.
  • Check for freshness. Use your senses: Are colors vibrant, or do herbs and spices look wan and washed out? Do herbs feel brittle and crumbly? Are spices still aromatic? If you happen to have McCormick spices, you can also try McCormick's Fresh Tester to see if your seasonings are keepers.
  • Toss expired herbs and spices and any that have lost their color, texture, or aroma, or that are clumped or smell musty. Recycle the jars, or save them if you're sure you'll reuse them.
  • Consolidate if you have open duplicate jars of fresh spices. Salvage the seasonings in near-empty bottles by making impromtu blends.

3. Take Stock

Spice Wish List
© 2009 Miri Rotkovitz

Assess what you've got, and what you need. Which herbs and spices do you use most? Did you toss spices you like, and wish you'd used? Are your seasonings in useful form (I once got rid of some ancient ground oregano, because I only used fresh or dried leaves.)

  • Make a list of the spices you have, and what you need.
  • Are there recipes you pass over because you don't have the right seasonings? Have a favorite ethnic cuisine, but lack the spices to make it at home? Add them to your wish list.
  • Not sure what's available, or what to do with certain seasonings? Check out this Herb & Spice Gallery for ideas.

4. Choose The Best Storage

Spice Stack Drawers
Photo Courtesy of PriceGrabber

Think about your storage needs. Do you want your spices out of sight, or on display? Where do you have room to store all or most of them? Did your old organizing system work or need an overhaul?

  • Count your spices: How many jars need storage? Are they uniformly sized? How many spices are on your wish list? Consider picking an organizer that can handle your collection as it grows.
  • Dedicate a storage space, and make sure it protects herbs and spices from light and heat (in other words, skip the windowsill or the drawer beneath your cooktop). Measure to make sure the space will hold your spices, and whichever organizer you choose.
  • No two cooks or kitchen are alike, so check out your organizing options and pick what works for you.

5. In With The New!

Online Spice Shopping
© 2009 Miri Rotkovitz

Now that you've gotten rid of stale seasonings, and gotten organized, it's time to replenish your herb and spice supply. If you're lucky enough to live near a spice market, definitely check it out. Or, take to the Internet:

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  5. The 5 Step Spice Cabinet Clean Sweep - What To Toss, Where To Replenish, and How To Store and Organize Your Herbs and Spices

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