The Kitchn Cure Day 12: Our Spice Rack, Ourselves

published Sep 22, 2015
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(Image credit: Henry Chen)

The Kitchn Cure Day 12: Clean and organize your spice rack.
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Today is going to be a nice day; a bit of a treat for the senses after a couple of weeks inhaling all-purpose cleaner and vinegar. Today we’re going to play with — err, clean and organize — our herbs and spices. In the process, we may also get a glimpse into our own inner workings.

How big is your spice area? Do you have a rack on the wall with a handful of the basics, or are you like me with drawers full of jars and sachets and little packets of mysterious-smelling, beautifully hued powders? Is it alphabetically arranged or a hodge-podge? Do you keep your spices separate from your herbs? Is everything carefully labeled, or do you end up having to guess which is the basil and which is the marjoram?

It’s an old cliche, but our spice shelf often offers a glimpse into who we are and what kind of a cook we hope to be: adventurous, cautious, organized, carefree, impulsive, methodical, very organized, creative, experimental. It reveals our likes and dislikes — the presence or absence of strong flavors and hot chilis, for instance, or a leaning towards a particular regional palate, such as Indian or Mediterranean — or our family history. Our Spice Rack, Ourselves.

If your spice organization and selection is giving you grief, this is a good time to create a system that works for you. In order to do this, you may need to purchase specific jars and a labeling system or a special rack. Or you might decide to just arrange by cuisine or how often you use them. And if you are prone to a strict alphabetical order, I suspect that they’re already neatly lined up, labels facing outwards, and in tip-top shape!

Pay attention to their location, too, as herbs and spices do not do well when exposed to air, light, and heat. If you’re like me and enjoy having herbs and spices visible (otherwise they’re out of sight, out of mind) then keep a few small jars of favorites close by and store the bulk in a cool, dark cupboard. And try to keep them in glass jars or metal jars if possible, as they need to be airtight. Plastic absorbs odors, so be careful there.

Most importantly, enjoy this spice and herb cleaning time. Notice what it reveals about your cooking, your aspirations, your intentions. Be ruthless in discarding what has grown stale and useless, and pay attention to what you don’t use. But most of all, remember to be present for and delight in the scents and colors and textures this task brings. Play with your food!

Today’s Assignment

  1. Remove all your jars and various packets onto the countertop.
  2. Wipe down your spice area with a clean, soapy cloth and allow to dry.
  3. Sort through your herbs and spices. Unless you labeled them with their purchase date or they are in their original jar, you may not know how old they are. To test for freshness, open the jar and take a sniff. It should smell fresh and very strongly of what it is. If your mind doesn’t immediately identify what you are sniffing, it is likely past its prime. Reach in and take up a pinch and rub it a little to release the scent. Again, the scent should leap up into your nose if it’s fresh.
  4. Discard old spices, making a note on your pantry list of what you want to replenish. Remember, if you are tossing a spice because its unused, then maybe you might want to hold off on replacing it, or only buy a small amount.
  5. Place all loose herbs and spices into airtight jars. Label everything. Wipe down jars with a damp cloth.
  6. Return your spices to their cupboard or rack, arranging them in the way that works best for you.

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(Image credit: Henry Chen)

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