When “spring cleaning” comes to mind, the re-organizing of a room or a closet is likely the project prioritized, perhaps. But what about the humble spice cabinet?
Yes, we’ve all been there, keeping various-sized containers of spices in our cabinets for years on end because we bought too much dried oregano or don’t use enough cumin. By the time we find the long lost garlic powder or smoked paprika in the back of the cabinet, it’s become flavorless.
Let’s all start treating our spices with more respect—here’s how to clean your spice cabinet and keep it better organized.
Take all spices out of the cabinet and sort based on flavor profile, type, or use.
You can separate spices into those you use in savory applications and those in sweet applications. However, if you’re a cook who uses traditionally sweet spices in savory dishes, this organization method may not be for you.
Instead, you may sort your spices based on type: Peppercorns, chilis, seeds, barks, etc. You can also simply sort by flavor profile: Sweet, spicy, floral, herbaceous. However you decide to sort your spices, follow your gut and do what will be most functional for you.
Look for expiration dates
Now that you have your spices sorted, look for expiration dates—especially if you have multiples of the same spice. If you can’t find an expiration date on the container, take a pinch of the spice between your fingers and smell. If you can smell the spice clearly, keep it. If it smells dull or stale, get rid of it.
Many spice companies have guidelines on how long certain spices last in your cabinet; chefs and food writers have their own customs. They can all be pretty tough to remember, so I want you to remember this simple rule of thumb:
“Ground spices last a few months; whole spices last a few years.”
Label the spices you have with today’s date
You’ve got your handful of spices that have survived the hunger games—great! Now, before you put them back into your cabinet, grab some labels or masking tape. Label each spice container with today’s date. That way, you know in the future that on the listed date, you knew the spices were still good.
Here’s a great opportunity to get creative with design and organization. If you want a spice cabinet that will be an asset while you cook and will wow your friends who love the simple pleasure of a tidy kitchen.
Some last bits of advice to achieve spice cabinet mastery
Moving forward, here are my tips for getting the most out of your spice cabinet.
- Buy whole spices if you can and grind them right before use. Your spices will last far longer this way.
- Buy small amounts of spices. Yes, you may have to go back to the store more times, but your spices are guaranteed to be fresher when you adopt this practice.
- Buy single-origin spices. Look for bottles that state where the spice comes from on the label. The resulting whole spice or powder will be far more vibrant and complex in flavor.