a drawer for spice

The first project I thought I’d share is a rather easy one – storing and organizing your spices. Ah spice! If variety is the spice of life, then what happens when you have a large variety of spice? Oh the possibilities of wonderful flavours and aromas!

I grew-up without being exposed to many spices. I imagine this is the case for many people, and I would say that’s unfortunate, except that I feel I have an enhanced appreciation for spice now – I don’t take it’s amazing abilities for granted. So, how can you get from there to here? (I’m no spice goddess, but think I’ve come a long way!). In my case it was a slow transition: being exposed to spices by different friends and in new recipes; slowly gaining confidence in how to work with each one; lots of testing and patience. I really think that a starting point is key though – either the experience of someone else who can teach you, or by following recipes and gaining a sense of reasonable quantities and combinations of spice to go with certain foods.

In my case, I love cooking, and almost always use some amount of spice. I try to avoid buying small jars of spices that I use often and instead buy those spices in larger bags (a great way to save money). Did I mention that I love baking and making Indian dishes? Both can require a great deal of spice, so the cheaper the better, but there is one corner I never cut when buying spice: the bulk bin.

Though I frequent bulk bins for many pantry items, I actually avoid them for spice. Simply, spice can very easily lose its potency if exposed to the air for long periods of time, and many do not fair well when exposed to light for long periods either (the exact conditions of many bulk bins!). These are good things to keep in mind when storing spices: air-tight containers, out of the light.

I was keeping many of my spices in the bags they came in, and was trying to keep those tightly wrapped. As a result my spices were messily stashed in several different drawers and cupboards around my kitchen. Sound familiar? I decided that a dedicated spice drawer would save me from hunting in 5 different locations for a certain spice. Of course, the bags would not all fit into this one small drawer, so I decided to keep some of each spice in small containers to have on hand, and the rest of the bags in one bin in my pantry.

But, what to store the spice in? In keeping with my love of making things from scratch (using what I already had in this case), I searched my apartment and found a box of small mason jars. The short, squat ones with lids and collars. A box of 12 that I bought years ago when I thought I would try making preserves. I imagine that my studies (I was in undergrad at that point) got in the way, because there the box was, still unopened. Perfect! They were air-tight, easy to see through to the contents, and just the right height to fit in the shallow drawer (where they could be in the dark).

A note on how to keep spice fresh:
There is another advantage to keeping your spices in several smaller containers instead of one large one. Each time you open and close the container you let air in which reacts with the spice. The larger the container, the more often you will likely open it, and the more air will sit with the remaining spice. So, a small container for frequent use, and an airtight bag that you can push the air out of for longer term storage might be your best system. Regardless, keep in mind that many spices are only at their optimum freshness for 1-2 years even when kept in the best conditions. Try to buy freshly ground spice, and only in the quantity you may need over the next year or so, if you want the full effects of the spice.

[and now back to the spice drawer…;) ]
I filled each container with a spice and used the labels provided with the mason jars to write the name on each. You could also write directly on the containers with a permanent marker or use stationary labels. It’s also a good idea to include the date that they were purchased / placed into the container so that you know when they might be too old (1 – 2 years typically).

The remaining spice I kept in the original bags with a zip bag around each, and placed all bags in a bin in my pantry (any cool, dark, dry location will do). In the end, I even had room for the few small spice jars I have, and for my spice tin (used to keep small quantities of everyday spices).

Hopefully with an organized spice collection and your spices kept at their freshest you’ll be more inclined to incorporate spice into your everyday cooking!

[I’d like to acknowledge a great book that I learned many of these tips about spice from:
The Spice and Herb Bible, second edition, by Ian Hemphill and Kate Hemphill.]

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