In the last installment of Spice Hunting, I gave some tips on how to clean out and reorganize your spice cupboard. A great discussion brewed up in the comments on different tools available for organizing spices—a topic I think is worthy of a post all its own.
If you're unsatisfied with your current spice storage system, here are some methods to consider. I don't think there's such a thing as a perfect system—so much depends on your needs, your spices, and available space—so rather than recommend one approach, I've listed pros and cons for each.
The Jar Approach
Storing spices in variably-sized glass jars is probably the least elegant solution, but it's also the cheapest, most adaptable, and is pretty helpful if you have strong locational memory.* You can buy jars in a range of sizes, or just hoard your jam and peanut butter jars.
* You can also have tons of fun when a guest reaches for your candied ginger only to discover smoked paprika.
- Cheap and adaptable to a range of storage situations
- Easy to add new spices
- Accommodates a variety of sizes for large and small amounts of spices
- Hard to access everything at once
- Unstable stacking increases risk of spice avalanches
Wall-mounted Magnetic Tins
A popular choice with readers of kitchen design blogs and the like. Tins magnetically cling to a sheet mounted on a wall, often with plastic windows on the lids for easy reference. Pretty, isn't it?
- Attractive way to store, show-off, and easily locate spices
- Exposure to light degrades spices
- Hard to add new tins
- Only accommodates fixed amounts of spices
- Tins can rust/fall off mounting
- Really expensive
- Basically, I can't recommend these at all
Stackable Twist-together Jars
Commenter Vakreiter shared these food-grade plastic jars that screw into one another in stacks. Stack jars as high as your cabinet space allows, then unscrew an individual jar as needed. This is one of the most clever storage solutions I've seen.
- Neat, efficient way to store lots of spices in a small space
- Cheap jars come in multiple sizes
- Stacks far less likely to topple than glass jars
- Time-consuming to get out more than a few spices
- Locks you into a single storage system
If you have extra drawer space, you may want to consider a deep drawer for spices. You can store jars and bags upright, or lie them on a set of inclines with a drawer organizer.
- Easy access and visibility to a large amount of spices
- Saves cabinet space for larger items
- Drawer organizers only accommodate small jars
Old School: Masala Dabba
Indian cooks may be familiar with the masala dabba, a flat tin or container that holds smaller, open containers of spices inside. These are ideal for spice blend supplies, as they're essentially a kit for frequently-combined spices. You can have masala dabbas for different classes of spices: Indian, specialty salts, or East Asian.
- Easy to group related spices
- Allows easy refills from bulk spice containers
- Unmanageable for larger spice collections
Some General Spice Storage Tips
No matter what system you go with, there are some general guidelines to follow to get the most out of your spices. Keep them away from light, heat, and excess air, which can all leach or damage spices' essential oils. That means your spice storage shouldn't be near the stove, oven, or other source of heat, at least not for long periods. But more importantly, make sure all your spices are visible to you. If you can't see 'em, you won't cook with them.
So how about you, serious eaters? How do you store your spices?
About the author: Max Falkowitz is a proud native of Queens, New York. He'll do just about anything for a good cup of tea and enjoys long walks down the aisles of Chinese groceries. He is known to make ice cream on occasion. You can follow his exotic spice- and ice cream-based ramblings on Twitter.