7 Brilliant Organizing Ideas to Steal from These Spice-Shop Pros

published Oct 13, 2021
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Spices and various cooking ingredients organized in pantry
Credit: Joe Lingeman

Many Kitchn readers have an enviable spice collection — with caraway seeds, sumac, and saffron, along with plenty of other seasonings to shake up daily dinners. But, try as we might to make attempts at organizing all of our spices, the most well-intentioned displays tend to return to chaos just after a few weeks. What to do?

We went straight to the pros — employees and owners of spice stores! — to learn how they organize their own spices. We had a feeling that experts who work with spice displays would have a few secrets worth learning. Here are seven of the very best spice-organizing ideas of all time. Let’s take a look!

Credit: Sarah Crowley

1. Reuse old salsa or pasta sauce jars to store spices.

The best storage container for storing spices is an airtight glass jar, says Jamie Aragonez, a customer service team member at Seattle’s World Spice Merchants. Plastic is too breathable, and most tins don’t have proper sealing lids. In contrast, glass jars with a screw-on lid hit all the right marks. 

If you’ve got a collection of Mason jars kicking around, those will work, says Aragonez — but if not, you don’t need to invest in a whole new set. “Empty pasta sauce jars and salsa jars work great,” she explains. Plus, they’re readily available and help cut down on waste. Even better, they’re tall enough to hold big ingredients, such as vanilla beans, cinnamon sticks, and whole chilies. 

2. Skip the stickers and labels — write directly on the jar.

Here’s a major insider tip: Aragonez says that all the staff members at World Spice Merchants label their spices at home with permanent marker. Instead of dealing with stickers or labels, they write directly on the jar. When you’re ready to fill the jar with a new spice, use rubbing alcohol to wipe the glass clean — the marker will come right off. “That way, we don’t have to deal with gum or glue left over from the stickers,” she says. Aragonez explains that this trick also works on metal lids, but will stain plastic — so there’s one more good reason to choose glass jars. 

Credit: Jennifer Chase

3. Keep your spices away from the light.

“The main thing is to keep your spices away from direct sunlight and heat, so not in front of a window or above the stove,” explains John Beaver, who owns Oaktown Spice Shop with Erica Perez. Although it’s convenient to store spices close to the range, the heat generated from cooking will rapidly degrade the spices’ quality.

And while it can be tempting to shelve your jars in an Instagram-worthy display on your counters or on a wall-mounted rack, this is a mistake, according to Aragonez. Especially if you have a well-lit kitchen, or live somewhere hot and humid. “Cool, dark, and dry: Those are the ideal conditions for spices.” Instead of leaving your spices out, turn to a pantry, cupboard, or drawer. 

4. Use a pull-out storage system.

It’s maddening to have to remove every jar in order to grab the one thing you need at the back of the cupboard. Pull-out units eliminate that problem, and the options are endless: Beaver shared this vertical spice rack, noting that it’s best for tall, modern shelving (newer kitchens tend to have taller cabinets that can accommodate vertical racks.

Aragonez is passionate about using a metal rack, which she has in multiples at home and stacks on top of one another. Alex Wilkens, of The Spice House, notes that a simple box can be useful — especially if you store your spices in bags or “flat packs,” rather than jars. People who shop in bulk and don’t want to bother with decanting spices will find this pull-out box technique to be super convenient.

5. Store your spices like wine bottles.

Beaver also shared this brilliant wine rack-inspired organizer. The spice jars are stored horizontally, at a slight inward incline, just like wine bottles. “You would need to label the caps,” he explains, because the only visual part of the jar is the top. Each jar nestles snugly into a holder. The racks come in two sizes — for 30 or 60 jars — and are standalone units. You could store it on your counter if you’ve got the room: The jars won’t be exposed to light. Or you could use this rack in a pantry. 

6. Group your spices according to flavor profile.

“I had intentions of organizing my spices alphabetically,” says Aragonez. “But I have anywhere between 60 and 80!” Instead, she groups them according to flavor profile or region of origin. “All of the sweet baking spices go together, and all of the chilies go in another section.”

Not sure which categories your spices belong to? Here are some categories Beaver uses at home: aromatic roots and seeds (such as cumin, turmeric, and coriander), specialty salts and peppers, dried herbs, and garlic and onion products. You could alphabetize each mini section, but these simple groupings will help you find what you’re looking for — fast. 

7. Use a riser for smaller collections. 

For smaller spice collections, Aragonez has a smart, space-saving tip: “My brother has maybe 12 spices,” she says. “So he can keep all of them on a step shelf.” Cooks with large collections can buy multiple step shelves and easily group them according to region. The important thing is that the tiered steps allow you to quickly see everything at once — no shuffling through a row of jars. Store it in a cupboard or pantry to extend the spices’ lifespan!

How do you store your spice collection? Share your tips in the comments below.