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How to Store Spices & Keep Them Organized

Display of spices in glass jars stored horizonally on slide out rack

Whether you like to cook or simply enjoy flavorful meals, spices are probably a critical element in your pantry. One of the basic ingredients in nearly all recipes, spices are an important part of the food experience. They season our favorite dishes and bring out hidden flavors in other foods. But it's essential to store them properly and use them with their recommended shelf life if you want to reap the benefits. That means proper storage and organization so that they're readily available when you're cooking. Learn how to store spices and keep them organized. Your taste buds will thank you for it.

Keep Spices Fresh Through Proper Storage

Every foodie knows that for the best culinary experience, you need spices. And the seasonings need to be fresh, or you may as well not bother. That's because spices lose their flavor and go bland over time. You can expect them to last anywhere from six months to five years. That's a broad range. The amount of time you'll get out of them depends on the particular spice, whether you have whole spices, dried flakes, or ground seasonings, and the way you have them stored.

No matter which type of spice you have, it must remain free from moisture, away from heat, and sealed to prevent oxidation. Exposure to air, particularly at high temperatures, allows essential oils in spices (the part with the flavor) to combine with oxygen molecules in a way that causes them to lose their potency. This is particularly problematic with ground spices because they have a greater surface area. Spices are also hygroscopic. This means that even though they are dried, they will interact with the moisture in the air. They soak it up to the point where they are not really dried anymore and will start to clump. mold, and change flavor. Heat exacerbates the oxidization and moisture problems.

Remember these rules when storing spices:

  • Always store spices in air-tight containers. This will limit much of the air and water problems. Glass jars work better than either plastic (which is more porous) or metal tins which conduct heat.
  • Keep your spices in a dry place and use a natural desiccant like dried rice if you open them frequently. This will help eliminate any problems with exposure to humidity.
  • Keep dried spices away from heat to limit damage caused by oxidation and moisture. Be careful not to place your spices too close to the stove. You want the spices to release their flavor during the cooking, not before.
  • Keep your spices in a dark space away from direct sunlight. Light creates heat, releasing the aroma and flavor out of the stored spice. Inside a cabinet or drawer works best.
  • Purchase whole spices and grind them yourself when it's time to use them. Whole spices that haven't been shredded or ground will last longer. Some, like whole nutmeg, can last up to three years. They have the smallest surface area that could be affected by air, heat, light, and moisture since most of the spice is sealed inside. Ground spices have the most surface area and thus last the shortest amount of time. They only last six months or less. Grind the whole spices yourself when it's time to use them with a spice grinder. (Coffee grinders also work well for this).
  • Salt is also a type of spice because it is used to season food. Salt will last forever without losing flavor. And you don't need to worry about buying it pre ground — but only if you keep them away from moisture which can cause clumping. Put a few grains of dried rice in your saltshaker if humidity is a problem.
  • Purchase your spices in small quantities. It may be tempting to save money and buy spices in bulk but don't do it. The spices usually end up going bad or losing their flavor before you can use them. Purchase smaller amounts more often from a reliable grocer with frequent turnover in his spice department so that your spices are always as fresh as possible.
  • If you are unsure of whether a spice is still viable, give it the sniff test. Spices should be aromatic. Heating them, as in cooking, will force them to release more scent and flavor, but sometimes an old spice is simply too bland to do anything. You may as well get rid of spices in this condition. Although they can't hurt you, they aren't worth storing because they can't add any zing to your cooking.
Dried spices in small bowls

Organize Spices So They Don't Go Bad

No matter how you store them, your spices will eventually go bad if you don't use them. That's why it's important to keep spices organized. A jar of spice lost at the back of the shelf for years on end will become bland before you find it again. Or disorganization might lead to duplicates. You could end up with multiple jars of the same spice, each with just a little bit gone and every jar going bad before you can finish it off. That's why you should take the time to organize your spice collection.

Each container of spice needs to be clearly labeled and positioned in/near the kitchen so that you can readily find it when needed. There are options in organizing spices. One tried and true method is to label and line them up alphabetically. Others find it better to separate spices into sections with baking spices in one area, Italian in another, etc. Other cooks set up their bottles by size. Use whatever works for you. In my own home we use a hybrid of alphabetical organization, with baking and savory spices separated, and large jars of seasoning salts and other frequently used spices on their own shelf in a cabinet.

No matter how you separate your spices, you will need some sort of container system to keep them organized. Lining up your spices on a shelf or using magnetic strips to attach them to the refrigerator door are possibilities. However, spice storage will most likely take the form of a cabinet, rack, or drawer dedicated to organizing your many small containers of spices.

Spice Organization Ideas

Spice Cabinets and Spice Shelves

360 Organizer Pantry with spices organized on side shelves
This 360 Organizer® pantry cabinet provides a system of rotating shelves for the kitchen. This one is shown with spices organized on the side shelves. The shelves are quite narrow, allowing small jars of spices to stand one deep on the shelf. A metal fence keeps them in place and prevents falling.

Cabinets are a good way to organize spices because they are dark and usually cool and dry — perfect for spice storage. Organize your spices on cabinet shelves. A shallow cupboard like a medicine cabinet may be able to hold the spices one jar deep so that you can see your entire collection at a glance. However, chances are you will need risers or a lazy Susan mechanism if you keep your spices in your kitchen cabinets. Risers are like stairs for the inside of cabinets. Each row of spices takes one of the steps, with the highest step holding the back row so that all labels remain visible.

As an alternate approach, use a lazy Susan inside your cabinet or on a shelf so that spice jars can be turned to face front when you need them. If you have a walk-in pantry closet, consider a floor-to-ceiling system of rotating shelves in the corner. The 360 Organizer® pantry is a full-height system of rotating shelves that work on a lazy Susan principal. The side shelves are specifically designed to hold small bottles and cans. It eliminates blind corners, organizing all of your spices and more so that nothing ever gets lost in the back of the shelf. In fact, the 360 Organizer® holds so much that you may not need any other pantry storage in your kitchen.

Spice Racks

slide out spice rack for pantry closet
This side-mount spice rack slides out on ball bearing glides like a drawer and is designed to fit pantry closets with standard shelving sections of 18 or 24-inches.

Racks are another way to organize your spices. They have the advantage of providing a separate space for each spice. Some are made to fit specific spice containers that come with the rack. Others let you choose your own jar or use the bottles the spice comes in from the manufacturer. Racks are a very efficient at organizing bottles of spices. Each spice is displayed individually, and you don't have to worry about the labels being obscured by another jar standing in front of the one you're looking for. The most common types of racks are wall-mount or shelf-mount. Wall mount racks hang on the wall like a picture frame. However, without a door to protect the spices, be careful where you position the rack.

Shelf racks for spices can be either side-mount or under-shelf-mount. The under-shelf type can be installed under cabinets in addition to shelves. Either way, these racks are very convenient because they pull forward like a drawer and slide away when not in use. Expect a rack to hold between 16 and 22 jars of spices. Be prepared to purchase more than one if you like to try new recipes or have a large spice collection.

Spice Drawer Organizers

spices laying on their side in a drawer
This shallow drawer is being used for spices.

Drawers are another way to go for spice organization. They're especially nice if you prefer a minimalist look without upper pantry cabinets. The drawers keep your fragile spices out of direct light, away from water, and provide very convenient access.

Shallow drawers with 5-inch-deep fronts work best for bottles laid on their sides. Think silverware drawer. These are the same size drawers used in closets for jewelry organization. Put these drawers them in your pantry if you want instant spice organization. But don't forget to place a non-slip liner inside the drawer to keep the bottles from rolling around. Hint: spice drawers look best when all the jars are the same size and shape.

If you label your spices on their lids, you can also consider standing them up inside a drawer for organization. Whether or not this works will depend on the size of your jars and the depth of your drawers. A closet drawer organizer for lingerie divides a standard drawer into acrylic cubes that can be adapted to separate and organize jars of spices. This might work well with larger jars of spice or for spices kept in different size containers. Use the acrylic divider with drawers in standard 18-inch, 24-inch, and 30-inch widths.

Drawer with clear acrylic drawer organizer inside

Use these tips on how to store spices to keep your seasonings fresh and flavorful. Learn to organize your spices so that you always have access to them and can see what you've got in stock. That way, spices are less likely to go bad and you'll be ready when that next great recipe surfaces that you're just dying to try. Buy whole spices whenever possible and grind them yourself for optimal freshness. Keep them in a dry, cool spot away from direct sunlight. And don't forget, an organized kitchen is always a good idea, whether for spices or other products. Spice organizers are a good start towards that end. Give them a try. You won't regret it. They make meal prep easier. And before you know it, you'll be churning out that next mouth-watering culinary experience with ease.