« Tien Wong | Main | Happy Casimir Pulaski Day! »

February 24, 2011

Spice Cabinet

A Cry For Help Dominic Armato

At the intersection of culinary and organizational obsession.


aahhh, but how often do you use them???

Come on man, nothing wrong with that at all! I think I'm turning into one of Specialty Bottle's best customers :) ... http://egullet.org/p1790110

Karen... I sure hope the implication isn't that my kitchen is all show and no substance :-)

Almost every day!

Impressive. Neat, but how is it organized? Not alphabetical. Frequency? Or is it an organized mess?

I'm impressed...and a bit envious.

jh... some frequency, some logical groupings... herbs, chiles, curries, etc. I'm sure I'll rearrange it at least a dozen times.

Mostly I'm just amused by how easy it is to get sucked into spice organization. The realization that I could buy my own bottles and make everything uniform was a dangerous thing.

Very nice. Obviously you have wide, low and deep cabinets.

I suppose I'll eventually be this uniformly organized, but I'm still clinging to my grandmother's antique glass stoppered spice bottles. But that's only good for about a 1/4 (at most) of the spices/herbs, so the rest are in randomly shaped/sized containers on multiple lazy-susans. Seeds. Baking/sweet stuff. Herbs. Spicy stuff. Plus overflow.

my only thought - expiration or refresh dates?

well, my only thought after THAT IS SO AWESOME.

That is not a cry for help, that is pure inspiration!

For your next quickfire challenge, randomly select 5 spices and make a tasty dish in 45 minutes. Your time starts...NOW!!!

And people think Richard has OCD. No wonder you love the guy.

Will you come organize my spice cabinet? :D

But seriously, where did you get the jars and stacked shelf?

My one regret is that you don't have it linked to a full sized version. I'm curious to see what spices you have :)

That is very pretty. But, I'm a little bit with Andrew: expirations? Even as much as I cook, there are certainly some infrequently used items that may not be at the peak of freshness and potency after a period of time. I mean, how often do you use fenugreek, as an example?

Also, no Raz al Hanout? That should be next to the Sumac, I would think. A major hole. ;)

And, do you buy in bulk or at a specialty vendor, or do you by the little bottles and pour them in your nice jars? (I realize this answer depends on the spice.)

Awesome and frightening, all at the same time.

Dreamboat... jars are from Penzey's. As are about half of the spices. They're really nice jars, they're on the large side so there's no overflow if I'm transferring bottles, and they have about six different sizes and shapes, all uniform design. These are the shelves:


Bart... uhhhh, I might be able to make that happen :-)

Anon Man... they're not expiration dates. They're when I bought the spice. I'm not somebody who's going to refresh every year or something like that. But I figure this way, I can weed out the ones that are getting into the 3-4 year territory. At that point they've really degraded, but you don't notice it until you smell it next to a fresh bottle. At least I don't. I just replaced a bunch of these and it was like, "Man, I've been cooking with this for the past year? How did my food taste like anything?"

Some bulk, some bottles... of course. Penzey's is awesome.

And raz el hanout is off-camera, front row, far right, next to the annatto :-)

yes, very impressive- I was teasing, but also, I have spices I don't use nearly enough-i.e fenugreek that I see you have. It takes skill and a committment to stretching ones self I believe, to regularly use such a wide array of spices.
Good job!

I can barely type through my jealousy. My spice cabinet is a mess.

With all the talk of Richard having OCD, I've been working hard to not launch into a tirade about the misuse of mental health diagnoses.....now I'm going to have to tape my fingers down! :)

Plus, it would be OCPD, anyway.

Nice work, looks awesome!

You have a curry labeled "Malay Muslim Curry" lol.. i'm impressed. Back home we just call it curry. And fish curry powder for the same spice + fennel.

I don't understand people's concern with the freshness or expiration of dried spices. Dried spices are precisely dried for the purpose of preserving the flavor and aroma for a long time. It surely disintegrates after a while, but since ancient times, spice trade ruled and lasted through the caravan and maritime journeys. It doesn't really go bad, it just loses potency. To which, if you use spices often, you'd be able to judge how good they are yourself.

Whole spices also last longer than ground ones.

Dom, I think you need a database. There are commercial programs that let you print your own bar codes, which you can then scan into the database so that you always know when one of your spices is reaching the end of its shelf life.

Not to press for too many details, but are your jars 1/2 cup or 1 cup? I've been spec'ing some out from Specialty Bottle but I don't have a great sense of which size would be the most useful (since most of my spices are in jars that were sold by weight).

I'd just hire someone to care for the spices, track expiration dates, and freshen the spices as appropriate.

Bart... Here it is.

Karen... I use most of these often enough to have them all on hand. There are some that I use infrequently, but I figure as long as I've got the space, might as well put 'em in there.

Paula... Mine's been a total disaster for years. It just finally put me over the edge. I... um... might be overcompensating a tad.

Khadijah... That curry was a gift from a friend who has forgotten more about various Asian curries than I'll most likely ever know. I've used a little for accents in a couple of things, but I really need to use it the way it's meant to be used before it gets too old. Been meaning to do a post about that for a long time.

You think potency is all that goes? I'm not convinced. I feel like the flavor sometimes changes as well, depending on the spice, though I don't really have any data to back that up. It's definitely a problem for blends, where some of the components age differently than others. I do try to keep whole wherever possible. But with something like cinnamon, I grind the sticks myself for savories, and use that perfect fine commercial grind for things like cookies.

Independent George... You're not helping.

Joanna... 1/2 cup, both shapes.

mncharm... You're REALLY not helping.

LOL - mine won't even go on a step-shelf, they're stacked three deep in what might be the same amount of space. I have my standbys that I use often, but every time I try to throw one out to save space, I use it in something...

I am in awe -- complete awe -- of someone who can keep their spices organized just so for longer than three days. Is this real? Or was the pic taken 30 seconds or so after the new spice rack was set up??

This past winter, I too succumbed to the need for uniformity in my spice jars. Damn Penzeys! My go to supplier. I too arrange by flavor groupings, not alphabetical. Satisfying to gaze upon.

I'd just hire someone to care for the spices, track expiration dates, and freshen the spices as appropriate.

Oooh. An intern. I like that idea. Of course, both of our ideas are not mutually exclusive - maybe we could have the intern key in the database. Yes. The database makes the intern more productive.

I hope you'll forgive some chemistry comments about shelf life.

Most of the essential compounds in spices aren't very reactive and are sometimes quite volatile, which means that they don't "spoil" but do lose their intensity.

From what I understand, keeping your spices either in e.g brown jars or just generally away from light will prolong their lifetime, but again only for reactive compounds. And some spices may have bacteria or other biologically active components (mold) that spoil the spices.

Yes I am a nerd and was looking all this up :)
Saffron in particular - some people wrap it in foil to keep it fresher.

Dom, I am just in awe. Pink peppercorns, white peppercorns, green peppercorns... Mexican oregano, regular oregano, ground cinnamon, Indonesia cinnamon... epazote! I've never heard of that.

You win at life, sir.

The household in which I grew up (aka Mom's house) had a pantry with a shelf full of randomly shaped bottles of spices which stayed there until they were empty. So I was never taught good spice habits.

And that's what I need - someone to make a list of essential spices and the order in which to acquire them (given that I don't have the resources to run out to Byerly's and drop $500 on spices). Not to mention that I live in a small apartment and don't have much storage space. Currently my spices are wire baskets that I have nailed to the wall.

My other problem is when I'm shopping and think I am out of something, but actually am not. I have three boxes of corn starch in my cupboard - which I think might be genetic, because the last time I visited my mom, I saw she had four boxes of corn starch in her pantry.

(Four boxes of corn starch surrounded by 30 - 40 year old jars of spices).

KarenF - corn starch is incredibly useful stuff. You can make oobleck with it and entertain yourself for hours. Ok, you can entertain me for hours.

Anyway, my spice bin (yes, it's a plastic bin that I randomly chuck newly purchased spice jars into) consists of: black pepper, white pepper, mustard, basil, oregano, smoked paprika, cumin, rosemary, dill, bay leaves, tumeric. I also have a tin of curry powder, but I keep that separate from my regular spices. If you chop fresh herbs, you can skip the basil, oregano, rosemary, and dill, and I hardly ever use tumeric.

I hardly ever bake, so I don't keep any nutmeg, cinnamon, or allspice around. I do make ice cream, though, so I always have some vanilla beans (and vanilla sugar).

I don't see any Xanthan Gum.

The comments to this entry are closed.