My spice cupboard is a hodgepodge of little unmatched jars, some of them classic supermarket brands, some of them old anchovy jars, well-washed and filled with spices from the bulk department. A very eclectic mishmash of colors, sizes and shapes. Does this sound like your spice cupboard, or do you have a different approach?
In my cupboard there are also a few of those tiny jam jars that come with room service breakfasts, filled with fennel pollen and cayenne pepper, as well as the occasional vintage jar I've found here and there.
My friend Peter does it differently. He has one of those step risers that fits into a drawer and all of his jars are the same shape and size. With a label maker, he has neatly and consistently labeled all of his spices and (as you may have already guessed) arranged them in alphabetical order. When he purchases refills (also from the bulk department) he carefully dumps out the older spice, fills the jar with the newer spice and tops it off with the older spice.
If your spice cupboard style in more in line with Peter's, there are dozens of sleek and uniform options out there for you neat and organized souls, from tiered spice shelves to test tube racks.
And then there are the folks like me who like things a little more mixed up and organic. Like Peter, I try to rotate my spices so I'm using up the old before dipping into the new. A little label with the date affixed to the bottom helps me to keep track of freshness. Luckily for us, Peter and I live near a store with an amazing bulk herb and spice department (hurray for Rainbow Grocery!) so that we can pick up any amount of spice we need — from one tablespoon to several ounces.
But beyond organization aesthetics, our spice cupboards also say a lot about who we are and how we cook. Among my jars you'll find several kinds of chili powder and some spices that have never seen the inside of a Safeway, which I believe point to a sense of adventure in my cooking! Oregano, basil, fennel, marjoram all speak to a Mediterranean palate. Three jars of cinnamon suggest someone who is busy (or forgetful) and can't be bothered to check her spice cabinet before going to the grocer.
What about you? What do your spices say about you? A tin of something exotic hints at a well-travelled individual. Specific spice groupings speak to our cultural backgrounds: Curry mixes or za'atar or cinnamon and cardamon. And then there's the lone, dusty bottle of Italian Seasoning or no herbs and spices whatsoever!
How about you? Hodgepodge or uniform? Well-labeled or lucky guess? Za'atar, black cardamom and harissa — or garlic powder and poultry seasonings?
Quick Guide to Every Herb and Spice in the Cupboard
(Image: Dana Velden)