From Agar-Agar to Xanthan Gum…
In the spirit of spring cleaning, I decided to re-organize my spices. When it comes to creating a free-flowing workspace in the kitchen, I am a firm believer in the merits of alphabetizing spices. It makes it so much easier to find what you need and not spend extra time and hassle shuffling through bottle after bottle.
However, the multi-tiered spice rack that I had could only hold so many spices, and I had outgrown it. So I hit up T.J. Maxx to check out their kitchen section and to pick up a larger multi-tiered spice rack. Since I already have so many spices, I didn’t need or want one that came with filled bottles. Besides, one never knows how long the spices have been waiting in those bottles anyway… (Side note: T.J. Maxx is also a good place to look for organic and vegan specialty snacks. They often have some surprising foods that are hard to find and/or more expensive elsewhere.)
Since I’d outgrown my previous spice rack, various extra bags of spices from the bulk spice section and elsewhere were spilling into three separate bowls. So every time that I wanted to know if I had a particular spice on hand, I had to look through the spice rack and then go through each of the bowls. On occasion I’d missed one and then end up with yet another bag of coriander seed or fenugreek, wasting time, space, and money. By having things clearly organized, there’s less of a chance of buying the same thing twice.
Also, there were some spices that I picked up on travels, put them in a bowl in the cupboard, and promptly forgot about them – out of sight, out of mind. By placing them in clear glass jars, front and center, I have been reminded to use them more often and not save them for some unknown special occasion.
I counted my extra spices, and to fill the spice rack, I needed 20 empty jars to fit on them (along with the jars I already had). I looked at clear spice containers online and in stores, and the cheapest ones I found that would fit the best on my spice rack were from Bed, Bath & Beyond for 99 cents a bottle. I know it may seem odd to save money by buying from the bulk bins but then spend money on a bottle, but price-wise it still works out to be less money. (I do still have some old bottles from when I would buy bottled spices, and I just re-fill those as needed.)
Whenever I get bulk spices, I fill the jars by using a funnel. I recommend pouring slowly, so that the funnel doesn’t get stopped up and to tilt the bag and funnel slightly, as if you were pouring beer into a glass and didn’t want it to foam. Not that patient? A long skewer can help clear any stuck spices in the funnel.
I label the jars using a permanent marker. I’m sure if you did some Pinterest searching, you could find some cuter methods of labeling the jars, but this method works and is fast. Then when I finish the jar and want to replace the spice with something else, I merely have to scrub the marker off with a scratch pad.
Next, I made a couple of other sections in the cupboard – one for seasoned salts like various smoked salts and kala namak.
I also like to keep my most-used spices separate. Obviously those spices would be different for each person, but for our household the spices we use most often are cumin, coriander, paprika, Ancho chili powder, oregano, and turmeric. There’s no reason to seek them out all the time, when they are the spices I reach for the most when making tacos, burritos, tofu scrambles, etc.
It feels so good to have an organized spice rack, and over time you know where everything is by instinct. It’s like finding your way around the house in the middle of the night. You just know where all of the light switches are, even in the dark. With an organized spice rack, your hand can go from basil to thyme effortlessly.
Why buy spices in bulk?
1. It’s a great way to save money and insure the freshest herbs and spices. Whether you’re just getting interested in cooking from a new cuisine that requires spices outside of your usual repertoire or if you’re buying spices where a little goes a long way, by buying from the bulk bins, you can save money by getting just the amount you need. You can buy a tablespoonful for one recipe or a big bag full if it’s something you use all the time. It’s not unusual for me to pick up spices and spend less than 50 cents on the amount I need.
2. Herbs and spices become stale over time and shouldn’t just sit on a shelf indefinitely. (After a while, they get a kind of dusty taste.) By buying only the amount you need, you won’t be stuck with a big bottle of something for $5 or $6 that is hard to finish.
3. Since lots of other people are also buying from bulk bins, stores have to keep putting in fresh spices, helping your odds that what you are getting is fresh and hasn’t been sitting on a shelf for who knows how long.
But I have to say, as happy as I am to have everything in its place where it’s easy to find, there were two folks in our house who were even happier about the purchase of new spice bottles…
FYI: There aren’t any affiliate links in this post. These are just things that I bought that worked for me.