Homes and Garden Journal

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The Ins and Outs of Spice Jars and Spices

Have you ever been in the midst of cooking a meal and not been able to find a spice that you need?  Or, have you searched high and low through your spice jars for that one essential spice, only to find that you have run out of it! It happens to me fairly often, to the point that I decided I had to do something about organizing my spice containers and figuring out a system whereby I could keep track of what I needed to buy.

Types of Spice Jars Available

First, I decided I needed to decide how to store my spices.  Some of the spices I buy come in glass jars and my tendency was to keep the spice in the container it was bought in and pop it up in a cupboard, where it would inevitably get mixed in with all of the other spices I had. Some jars were tall, some were short, some were square shaped others were round. Some were in jars and some were in spice tins. It really was quite a mix-match set of spices. My first task was to buy a set of containers to store my spices in.

I like glass spice jars and kitchen canister sets. You can easily see what is inside and it is also usually fairly easy to tell when you are getting short of one type of spice. However, I also found the stainless steel spice jars very appealing too. I looked at a stainless steel set but then decided that I would not be able to tell how much I had left. There were some great jars that had glass lids; it made it easy to identify what was in the jar but still I would not be able to easily see how much I had left.  There was a great set of porcelain spice jars as well, however knowing how clumsy I am in the kitchen–especially when I am in a hurry to get a meal ready–I decided against those. They would look nice on display of course and glass is also breakable, but somehow porcelain seems quite a bit more delicate than the thicker glass spice jars.  I skipped over the plastic spice jars as I have found when using plastic kitchen canisters that they tend to absorb odors and they do not keep the spices fresh as well as glass or stainless steel jars do. I opted for plain glass spice jars.

My next decision was whether to go for round spice jars or square spice jars.  Most of the spices I buy from the supermarket are in round jars; however I have found that storing spices in square jars is much easier as they stack against each other so much better than glass jars do. Space in my kitchen is limited, and square jars left me with less wasted space.

Finally I needed to decide what type of lids I wanted on my spice jars. There were several alternatives to choose from:

  • Screw lid: Self explanatory. The lid screws on the jar.
  • Locking lid: This was mainly for larger spice jars, such as those that would store larger items such as cinnamon sticks. I did not really consider this option as the jars with these types of lids were quite a bit larger than I was looking for.
  • Wide sealed lid: These jars had lids that with a seal around the outer perimeter. I liked the fact that they were very air tight and easy to use.
  • Shaker lid–flip or twist: Great for spices that you need to shake out of the jar. The only problem I could see with this type of lid was that it would be difficult to label as it either flips open or you twist the lid around.

I decided on jars with a screw lid. I also made sure that the lid and the opening of the jar was wide enough to fit a small teaspoon in, as that is so much  more convenient, especially when measuring spices by the teaspoon, than trying to shake the spice out into a teaspoon (and getting half of the spice around the spoon, rather than onto the spoon!)

Where Should You Store Your Spices?

Did you know that spices and herbs should be stored in a cool, dry, dark place–not left out on the kitchen counter or in a spice rack?  When I heard this I decided against using a spice rack for spice storage even though it does look lovely and decorative. Spices and herbs will last up to two years if they are stored properly; while I use up some spices very quickly, there are others that I use much more infrequently, thus storage was an important factor.  Believe it or not, a refrigerator is a great place for many herbs and spices; particularly spice blends such as cheese blends, fine powdered spices and any spices that contain oil.  If your refrigerator is as crowded as mine you probably do not have room to store many herbs and spices, however I did put a few on a shelf in the door of the refrigerator.

Spices stored in a cupboard can quickly become disorganized, unless it is a special spice cupboard. If you do not have a spice cupboard in your kitchen it may be possible to either build one or to convert one of your existing cupboards into one.  The basic guideline for a spice cupboard is that it should have shallow shelves, just room enough for one spice jar to sit on the shelf, and it needs to have dowels along the front to hold the spice bottles in place. There are some great examples of this type of cupboard online, and instructions on how to construct one if you have a handyman husband.

Another alternative is to store your spices in a kitchen drawer.  You can either lay them down so you can see the label on the front, or if you have tall enough drawers you can actually stand them up and label the lid of the spice jar so you can see at a glance what is inside.  If you run out of a spice, simply turn the jar upside down so the lid is facing downwards–that way you will know at a glance what needs refilling or purchasing.  For those who really want to get organized, why not set them on a metal plate that is inserted inside the drawer and put magnetic tape on the bottom of the jar; they will really stay firmly in place then and will not move about even if there are some jars missing from the drawer and you will have your very own, home-made set of magnetic spice jars at a fraction of the cost of buying them.

Organizing Your Spices

Once I had bought my spice jars I realized that I also needed to buy labels for the jars. These are readily available; I went with round labels that fit perfectly on the top of the spice jar as I was planning to stand them upright in a tall drawer.  You can buy round or rectangular spice jar labels–rectangular are great if you want to label the spice jar itself. I chose plain white, but there are many different colored labels too.  I was planning on actually printing on the labels, as my handwriting leaves a lot to be desired, so I chose some that could be run through our laser printer.  You can also buy already printed labels but I did not think it was worth the extra cost just to buy something that I could replicate fairly closely using a word processor and a printer.

Next, I needed to decide how I was going to actually organize my spices. There are several different ways of organizing spice jars. You can simply organize them in an alphabetical fashion, (though is cayenne pepper sorted under ‘c’ or under ‘p’?)  You can also organize them in different categories; such as sweet and sour cuisine, or organize them according to what you use for specific recipes.  I decided against the last two options, and opted to simply organize them alphabetically. (And the cayenne pepper was a ‘c’ not a ‘p’!)

Finally, I decided that I would buy the more commonly used spices in packages rather than in jars as first of all it is a hassle, and it seems a waste, to transfer spices from one jar to another.  Also, I could keep the packaged spices in our cool pantry and simply fill up the bottles once a week or when they were  getting low. Remember, I turn them over in the drawer when they run out so it is easy to see at a glance what needs to be refilled.  Whenever a package is empty I immediately jot it down on my shopping list.

The result: A perfectly organized spice drawer with labeled spice jars, organized alphabetically so that anyone can find anything they need quickly. And a system whereby I can tell when I am getting short on an item and either refill it from storage or buy more before the last of it runs out. And best of all, a happy, unflustered cook!

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1 Comment

  1. Looking for spice jars. And prices please.

    Thanks
    Elize Malan