Organizing Challenge: Spice Collection

Okay! We’re going to stay in the kitchen for this next Twenty Minute Task:  The Spice Collection!  Maybe it’s in a cabinet. Or a drawer. Or on a rack. Or more than one of those.  But if you don’t regularly review your spices, chances are, there are things worth parting with in that collection.

spice collection

How to take on this challenge:

1) Empty out the cabinets (or racks or drawers) so that all the spices, herbs and seasonings are in front of you.

2) Sort by groupings — spices together, herbs together, etc.  And then find any duplicates within each.

3) Start to review each for expiration date (whether or not the jar was ever opened).  Expired?  Say good bye to them.  Will they kill you? No. They don’t really “spoil”, but they do lose their strength, and they’re not the effective ingredient you want them to be.  And, let’s face it… if it’s expired, you’re probably not using it anyway, so it’s taking up valuable space.  (This means “don’t put a replacement jar on the shopping list”!)

Not expired, or can’t find a date? How long you keep things might be tough to decide.  So you know, here are some guidelines from spice manufacturers on how long things generally last. You may very well know how long some items have been sitting in your cabinet, and can guess whether they fall in these ranges:

McCormick  and Spice Islands  have similar guidelines:

  • Ground spices – 3 years
  • Whole spice – 4 years
  • Herbs: 1-3 years
  • Seeds: 4 years, except poppy and sesame: 2 years
  • Extracts: 4 years, except real vanilla extract – unlimited shelf life!
  • Seasoning blends/mixes: 1-2 years
courtesy of McCormick

courtesy of McCormick

4) Review open jars for look, smell and taste.   Herbs that used to be green… and now are… let’s call that beige, maybe?  Spices that normally have a great bouquet and now make you try sniffing a second time, really deeply this time, to get the scent? Taste a little, and are surprised how weak it is? Remember, this is a food item. If it doesn’t look like it’s supposed to look, or smell like it’s supposed to smell, or taste like you want it to taste, why would you eat it?

5) Determine if there are spices or herbs that you genuinely can’t remember using in the last year.  Sure, it’s not expired, but you honestly can’t remember using it? Then whatever recipe you bought it for isn’t in your rotation enough to consider it a “staple” of your collection.

6) Identify multiples. Are you the person who goes and buys fresh nutmeg every fall because you just can’t quite remember if you have it at home?  (You always have it at home.)  There is no reason to hold onto open older bottles, and wait for the newer ones, which you’ll never get to, continue to age in your cabinet.  Get rid of the open one, and embrace the new one, or consolidate open ones that aren’t close to expiring. And stop buying nutmeg, or whatever it is you just found 2, 3, or 4 jars of in your archaeological dig.

Once you’ve tossed what’s to be tossed, and reclaimed what can stay, go back to where you store your items.

  • First, is it a cool and dry place?  Sometimes, I see people have a rack of spices right next to or over the stove. That’s not a great place for them, since heat can accelerate the deterioration of the spices.

  • Second, give it a good wiping down. For whatever reason, these areas seem to get sticky or messy, despite you swearing that everything was closed tightly when you put it back last time.

  • Third, put things back in a way that makes sense, and that you can find it easily when you need it. For me, I separate out “baking” from “cooking”, and only rarely have crossover ingredients, but I know where one would permanently reside if I needed one from the other camp. (It probably doesn’t surprise you to know I also alphabetize my spices, does it?) I know my mom separates out “herbs” from “spices”, because that’s what makes the most sense to her.  If you’re the primary cook or baker, whatever makes sense to you should work. If you have others in the house that use these supplies regularly, check in with them to make sure you both agree on the method, and both agree to uphold it!

Hopefully, this challenge let you SUBTRACT a little spice from your life!






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