It’s easy to fall into that predictable culinary routine of relying on salt and pepper to season everything—branching out, maybe, into garlic powder or oregano if we’re feeling especially adventurous. But there’s a lot more to spices than just salt and pepper, and a well-stocked spice rack is an essential component of any pantry.
An Array of Herbs & Spices
So, what goes in your spice rack? Here’s my list in “Spice Selections.”
In addition to those individual spices, consider adding the following spice mixtures to your pantry for ease and convenience.
These combinations of multiple spices in time-proven mixtures are great to have on hand. They make it easy to deftly season your dishes so the flavors are perfectly proportioned.
- apple pie spice
- Chinese five spice
- garam masala
- herbes de provence
- Italian seasoning
- jerk seasoning
- Old Bay Seasoning
- poultry seasoning
- pumpkin pie spice
- seafood seasoning
A beautiful, well-stocked spice rack is a wonderful goal. But how do you get there practically and affordably?
Let’s face it: Spices aren’t inexpensive. And you’re looking at somewhat of an investment if you want to keep a full assortment on hand. Some points to consider when deciding which ones to keep on hand:
Choose What You’ll Use
If you hate garlic, don’t waste space on your spice rack with garlic powder that you know will just gather dust. And while it’s definitely a good idea to experiment with new spices, be realistic about your likelihood to experiment with dozens of unfamiliar spices.
You probably don’t need the ginormous, economy-size jar of smoked paprika if you’ve never used it before. Purchase a small amount, try it out, see if you like it. There’ll be time to invest in the economy size later on.
Don’t Open Spices Until You Need Them
Spices stay fresher longer when they’re unopened, so avoid opening them just for the fun of it. Instead, wait until you have a purpose and a recipe ready to go. Then open the jar and start experimenting!
Mark the Date
When you do open a new jar of spice, jot down the date on the lid, in a notebook, on a chart … wherever is easiest to reference later. Then when you’re sorting your spice rack sometime, you’ll know for sure whether the turmeric was opened two months ago or back in 2015.
Not all spices are created equal! You’ll find spices of higher and lower quality on the market. You may want to experiment with a variety of brands to find your preferred balance of quality vs. cost.
Storing spices sounds so easy! A spice rack on the kitchen counter, right? Ah, but there’s more to it than you might think at first glance. For best results, spices should be stored in a cool, dry place, away from heat and sunlight.
Air and moisture are enemies of spices, which is why we store spices in jars or other containers with lids. But storing those jars near the stove? Not a good idea.
Keeping them in the fridge isn’t a good option either. You’ll want to store them in your pantry or in a cabinet where they’ll be out of direct sunlight and protected from heat and moisture.
But how about organizing spices in the pantry? You could easily have 30 or more in your spice rack. What’s the best way to organize them? Consider the following.
Keep commonly used herbs and spices in the most easily accessible location for speed and efficiency. Cinnamon in the front of the cupboard, dill weed in the back.
This one’s tried and true. When your spice rack is alphabetized, you’ll never have trouble locating the cumin in its rightful place between the cream of tartar and the curry powder. But if your favorite (and most-used) spice is rosemary, it means you have a lot of spices to get through on your way to rosemary’s spot.
Let’s be honest: Spices are beautiful! It’s natural to want to see and admire your spices, even when they’re stored in the pantry. So if you have a large and unattractive container of sea salt, perhaps consider keeping that one in an out-of-the-way place when not in use.
On the other hand, if you have a charming collection of tiny glass jars filled with beautifully colored spices such as red pepper flakes and nutmeg, arrange them in your preferred order and enjoy their beauty every day—even when you’re not cooking with them.
How Long Do Spices Last?
You’ve chosen your spices, you’ve chosen the perfect storage location, you’ve organized them with accessibility and aesthetics in mind, you’re putting them to good use in the kitchen, and all the spices lived happily ever after.
Or do they?
The nice part about spices is that they have a lengthy shelf life. But they don’t last forever. There will be a point (like when you realize you’ve had your jar of curry powder since your senior dog was a puppy) where you’ll want to refresh and replace your stock.
If you properly store your spices, you can generally figure on a shelf life of one year for ground spices and three to four years for whole spices. For instance, cinnamon sticks have a significantly longer shelf life (up to four years) than ground cinnamon (one year).
If you’re serious about frugality in your spice rack, choose whole spices that you can ground yourself as needed for daily use. They’ll last longer in storage and save you some money. (If you have questions, research the shelf life of individual spices for specific, tailored information.)
Home, Sweet Home for Spices
OK, now that we know about the effects of moisture and light on spices, we’ve all agreed not to keep our spices in that handy little row next to the stove anymore, right? We’re going to find a new home for our basil and cumin and thyme, one that’s dry and safe and protected from light.
We could try the following.
This wins for ease of use and accessibility. Keeping your spices in a drawer makes it easy to scan all of your seasoning options at once. A spice drawer liner or insert helps to corral spice jars and keep them in their proper places.
Perfect for a wall in your pantry or the back of your pantry door! A multi-tiered rack provides plenty of space for housing and displaying your spice collection. But it also utilizes vertical space, which is a big help if your pantry is small.
Another space saver—place assorted hooks on your pantry wall and hang your spice jars by string.
Shelves in the pantry! Happy thought, indeed! (Name that paraphrased quote?) Shelves are simple and functional—two definite pros.
If you use metal jars or jars with metal lids, you can install magnets on your pantry wall or a door and hang the spice containers on the magnetized area.
Wire Pantry Organizers
These are inexpensive and super easy to assemble and hang on the inside of the pantry door. You’ll have room for as many spices as you could possibly want. And you’ll still have room for things like vanilla extract, cinnamon sticks and more.
A shelf in a cabinet is an unquestionably easy way to store spices. Without utilizing vertical space, you might not be able to see or locate specific spices as easily. But a cabinet undoubtedly makes a satisfactory storage option.
Spice containers on the go? Store them in a small storage bin and easily transport your spice collection back and forth from the pantry to the kitchen.
Delightful as your spice organization project has undoubtedly been, the best part is yet to come: utilizing all of those varied and unique herbs and spices in your menu in the days and weeks to come. Savor the contributions of each spice as you experiment in the kitchen. Bon appetit!
There’s no reason why you can’t store your spices in their original containers. After all, the containers are designed with long-term storage and freshness in mind.
But maybe you have spices from lots of different sources and they look a little inconsistent in your spice rack together. Or maybe you don’t care for the design and style of the containers from your preferred manufacturer and would like something more streamlined or prettier.
So if you’d like to transfer your spices to uniform containers for aesthetic reasons (“They all match!”), then just search “spice container set” online. You’ll be amazed at the possibilities.
You’ll find clear plastic containers, metal cans, Mason jars and all manner of glass spice containers. Sizes and shapes vary and can reflect your aesthetic and suit your available space.
Lids vary greatly as well. You’ll find cork stoppers, bamboo lids, plastic flip-top lids, shaker lids, metal lids and more.
And don’t forget the labels! For many spice-organizing aficionados, designing or choosing the labels is the highlight of the project. Many spice container sets come with pre-printed or blank labels to affix to each jar. Or you can create your own in your preferred font and design.
This is a simple and fun way to personalize your kitchen and it’s instantly gratifying, too.
This article appeared in Hobby Farm Home, a 2023 specialty publication produced by the editors and writers of Hobby Farms magazine. In addition to this piece, Hobby Farm Home includes recipes, crafting projects, preservation tips and more. You can purchase this volume, Hobby Farms back issues as well as special editions such as Healing Herbs and Goats 101 by following this link.