1. Empty Your cabinets
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
- 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
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.
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.
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:
- If you know exactly what you want, shop around for the best price with these Top 5 Online Herb and Spice Vendors.
- If you're starting from scratch (or don't know where to start!) try a Penzey's crate or purpose design spice kit.
- If you're buying in bulk from a spice market, consider buying some spice jars to fit your new storage and keep your seasonings fresh.