3 Key Tips for Constructing Your “Spice Rack”

November 2, 2011 § 8 Comments

Happy Wednesday! I must say, I’ve come to enjoy Wednesdays a bit more, as I really love writing this little series and learning about all the wonderful things you guys are doing in your kitchen.  You can check out previous posts from my series on constructing a fabulous and functioning kitchen here.

Now, for this week’s post I’d like to talk about spices, and how to construct your “spice rack.” I use quotes because truthfully, I’m not really a fan of those spice racks that come with the spices. How do you know if you’ll use the ones they give you?  How can you rate the quality? Instead of succumbing to a prepackaged deal, here are my three tips for constructing and maintaining a useful spice selection in your cupboard:

1) The Staples The spices you’ll use repeatedly and thus need to buy will largely depend on the type of cooking you do.  Do you make a lot of Italian food? Is your specialty Indian or Thai?  Regardless of your culinary focus, there are a few key spices (and dried herbs) which I think are necessary for any kitchen and will keep you from running to the store for every recipe.  Here’s my list:

  • Bay Leaves
  • Paprika
  • Oregano
  • Garlic Powder
  • Curry
  • Cumin
  • Cayenne or Red Pepper Flakes
  • Cinnamon (and cloves, nutmeg, and allspice if you bake a lot)

Herbs like sage, basil, thyme, and rosemary I prefer to buy fresh.

2) Smart Shopping  If you think the only way you can buy spices is in those heavily packaged bottles at the grocery store, think again! I hate having to buy a particular spice for a recipe only to use a teaspoon and then have a ton leftover. Though it make sound more expensive, health food or gourmet food stores that sell spices in bulk is actually a cheaper way to go.  You can fill a little baggy with the exact amount you need and avoid paying for all that packaging or more spices than you’ll actually use. I absolutely love doing this and highly recommend you explore this option!

3) When to Renew If your spice bottles are beginning to gather dust or you’re not sure when they entered your kitchen, it might be time to renew.  They do have a expiration date! To check if your spices are still fresh first look at their color. Then take a pinch, rub it between your fingers, and smell.  If the color seems flat, or the flavor and smell seem weak- toss them! To help elongate the shelf life of your spices, store them in a cool, dark place (away from sources of heat like your stove, microwave, etc).

That’s it from me! What spices and herbs do you think are a must for any kitchen?

Photo Credit


§ 8 Responses to 3 Key Tips for Constructing Your “Spice Rack”

  • melissie says:

    And chili powder and celery seed and cloves and ….

    Although I would rather use fresh herbs (I grow them in the summer) I always have some on hand in case the store is out or if they are so outrageously expensive I bulk at getting robbed by the store.

    I always alphabetize and date my spices and herbs as well.

  • Liza M. says:

    Actually, I go through tons of Herbes de Provence. And I agree with Melissie, definitely need chili powder as well. I keep most of mine in a drawer actually. That way they’re not always falling over as I reach for them, or cloggin up a shelf. BTW, love that first pic!

  • Clara says:

    Ladies- good point! Chili powder is often used. I find I’m more often looking for heat rather than chile flavor so I reach for cayenne or red pepper flakes, but all are necessary!

    Melissie- I’m beyond impressed you date your spices! Would be so easy to just write the date on the label in pen. I’m gonna use that tip!

    Liza- I’m in love with this photo too :). Something about it felt so Moroccan..

  • Jim Brickett says:

    Clara: Great ideas – wonderful image and good info – I cook a lot and use a lot of spices. Most of mine don’t get old – but some may be getting there. I just made a dish and used fresh rosemary from the garden and lots of roasted fresh garlic and cracked pepper. Wee Ha!
    I hope you have a wonderful day/ week. Great post!!
    Best Regards

  • Love the photo – I have all of the basics and more on stock, except for garlic powder, I always use fresh. Though I would remove curry, as I always feel it is better to make one’s own curry mixture. I’d definitely add turmeric to that list as well as ground coriander, garam masala and ground ginger.

  • Clara says:

    Jim: Nothing beats fresh herbs from the garden!

    Frugal Feeding: I would love to know how you make your own curry!

  • This is some great advice. With a college student’s limited budget I find myself debating at the grocery store with two spice bottles in my hands: should I buy the oregano or the cumin this week? Haha, guess I should just bite the bullet and stock up or head on over to the bulk section (never thought of that for spices!)

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