There was a time in my not too distant past when I harbored dreams of opening a tea and spice shop. I had great branding ideas and researched various ways to open such a shop in our town. Not long after my idea started brewing (pun intended) someone else opened a lovely tea and spice store in our cute little town. Now, this town wasn’t big enough for the both of us, so I let my dream go. In the meantime, however, I learned a lot about buying and keeping spices. Here’s what you need to know:
Like coffee and tea, spices lose their scent and flavor profiles when exposed to light, air and heat. To maintain freshness, they need to be kept in airtight containers in a coolish spot behind closed doors.
Spices do expire, it’s best to throw them out when they don’t smell or taste good. Sesame seeds or poppy seeds may become rancid, so test before using and toss them if they’re off.
Buying whole spices like nutmeg or peppercorns and grinding just what you need is a great way to store and keep things fresher.
Some red colored spices like chili powder or paprika might last longer in the fridge. I still keep mine in the cupboard as I tend to use them up.
So today, in honor of my former tea and spice selling dreams, I cleaned out my spice cabinet. I hadn’t done this in years and when I started I thought I’d just clean the spice shelf. Well, since I was already into it, I decided to clean out the whole cabinet. It was worth it, but sheesh. It took about an hour to clear everything out of the cabinet, wipe down the shelves, discard everything that was expired and put everything back.
My kitchen is actually pretty small and lacked an appropriate area to store spices. (I think inside a drawer is an ideal set-up.) Roland created this stair-step system out of wood we already had in the garage. It works well and I’m always happy when I can use something we already have on hand.
That’s a lot of spices! Out of these I culled five or six that were expired. I consolidated jars of the same spices and I cleaned the outside of the jars. I even took some time to re-label several jars whose contents were in question.
Behold nine varieties of salt. Pink Himalayan sea salt, black Hawaiian sea salt, wild garlic salt, wild mushroom salt, oak smoked salt, flaky natural salt (eye-roll), that workhorse Mediterranean sea salt grinder from Costco and ordinary table salt. All of these have a purpose, but I tend to forget I have them on hand. I always, always go back to the Costco sea salt. I might set a New Year’s resolution to start experimenting with fancy salt.
These were among the items I tossed. They were all expired along with rancid sesame seeds, some old Vindaloo curry, allspice, sumac I never used and pink peppercorns my kids can’t have because they are a nut product (related to cashews) and my kids are allergic to all nuts. Those chia seeds were expired in 2015. Yikes!
I am a big fan of the cabinet-door chalkboard. This is where I write my Costco list or spices that need to be replaced. I currently tend to buy my spices in the bulk spice section at Fred Meyer. But I also like to place an order at Penzeys from time to time.
And voila! Everything is clean and well labeled and ready for use. Instead of alphabetizing my spices, I put my least-used ones toward the back and my most used ones closer to the front. Short jars get to hang out in the front row so I have easier sight lines to everything in row 2. Notice the new labels on several jars. I really do love my label maker. On the middle shelf of the cabinet, I use a lazy Susan for oft used baking supplies like baking soda and powder, corn starch, etc. The small basket holds dried fruit and tapioca while my honey and larger spice containers hang out to the right. Top shelf holds crackers, baking mixes, cocoanut oil, almond butter (just for me) and ice cream sauce. We also have another larger shelf for cereal and other baking goods including flour and sugar and a pantry in the garage for most of our dry goods.
Are you going to tackle your spices this week? Let me know how it goes! Bonus points if you send me a photo of your progress.