Seeking classy spice storage ideas.
September 3, 2005 7:31 AM   Subscribe

What's the best system to store spices that is neat, allows for easy identification, doesn't use up a lot of space, and is elegant?

Of course, there's always the ubiquitous spinning spice rack, but those are definitely not space-friendly or elegant. Any ideas? There's gotta be something out there that looks good and works well.
posted by theNonsuch to Food & Drink (19 answers total) 3 users marked this as a favorite
I've always liked the magnetic spice racks. Here's a store with a whole bunch of different sizes, but they're all over the place.
posted by fionab at 7:37 AM on September 3, 2005

Fionab beat me to it. Magnetic is the way to go.
posted by schoolgirl report at 7:53 AM on September 3, 2005

I'm a fan of the spice drawer. It's a good use for a shallow-ish drawer, the kind you usually end up tossing random kitchen tools and utensils in to. You can buy dividers to keep things in nice rows, and either label the tops of your containers if you buy in bulk, or lay store-bought bottles and jars down so the label faces up at you. I use the top drawer nearest my stove, so it's always handy. Oh, one last thing - many "hot" spices, like cloves or tumeric should always be put in glass or tin containers, as they can melt plastic over time.
posted by donnagirl at 7:58 AM on September 3, 2005

Most spices aren't sunlight friendly or heat friendly so those are what you want to avoid. I keep mine in a box in a drawer, but that doesn't exactly meet your other criteria.

The magnetic spice racks that Fionab recommends are pretty, but they mostly encourage you to have your spices on your countertop which is exactly the wrong place to have them. Though, the flat boards mounted on the inside of a cupboard door would work very well.

They also don't offer any obvious place to label things, and while that's fine if your spices are as neatly diverse as the ones they show on the site, I keep two kinds of cinnamon around - am I supposed to be able to tell them apart with no labels?

Personally, my preference would be for something like this, where the spices are kept in a drawer, out of light and heat.
posted by jacquilynne at 8:06 AM on September 3, 2005

I typically keep 35 or more different whole and ground spices and herbs on hand, so sensible storage, easy refills and quick access is a big issue for me. I'm using zippable little plastic bags, a labeller and trays stored in a cupboard a few steps away from the heat of the stove. I no longer have the problem of itsy spice bottles out on display that are a bitch to fill from the spilling mounds of plastic spice bags I get from the local bulk store. It's elegant in the geeky sense, rather than the home decor sense, but I'm a spice Nazi and don't think spices should see the light of day anyway until the moment you cook with them.

1) I use no-name ziploc-style snack bags that hold no more than 1 cup. The wide opening makes it easy to fill and measure out spice. In most cases, I only keep about 1/2 cup of spice in each because I dump any unused spice after 6 months or even earlier if it fails the sniff test. If I top up the bag before the 6 months is over, any leftover spice is dumped into a bowl and put in the top of the bag after the new spice has been added.

2) I use a Brother labeller that I had anyway to make neat labels for each spice bag, but you can always write out sticky labels by hand if you prefer. Choose large enough labels so that you can write the name large and clear.

3) The spices are divided into two groups: sweet/savoury/hot spices (whole and ground cinnamon, anise, star anise, coriander, chilis, etc.) and green herbs (basil, bay leaves, even fennel seeds -- they smell green). I use several plastic boxes from the dollar store to hold the bags in alphabetical order, and put the greens in one stack and the hot/savoury/sweet spices in another inside the cupboard.

Benefits: fast, cheap, easy. The whole thing cost about $1 for all the bags, $6 for the boxes from the dollar store, and the cost of a few labels. Keeping the spices in the dark at all times helps them last longer. When I cook, I pull out the trays to a nearby counter, measure and use, then stick them back in the cupboard.

Drawbacks: Plastic does allow some air to penetrate, so the spices fade a little faster than if I used glass or metal containers. But they seem to be lasting at least 6 months anyway. On preview: no "melting" problems with hot spices here over the past year.

If you want visible and elegant, I recommend those little metal tins you get from South Asian shops. In Toronto, I can't get those for less than $2 each, so that wasn't economical for my huge collection of spices, but if you have few spices or more money, labelled metal tins stacked on a series of little shelves at the back of your klitchen counter (not next to the stove!) may be just right for you.
posted by maudlin at 8:14 AM on September 3, 2005 [1 favorite]

I've used a rotary system that works pretty well -- it fits in most cupboards and resembles a large cylinder. Various "slices" of the cylinder contain spices, and can be removed (having labels, little dispenser slits, etc). Each unit is stackable, although I'm not sure each "slice" is as airtight as I might like.
posted by aramaic at 8:17 AM on September 3, 2005

Following the link that jackuilynne provided I ended up on this page and even if it's not elegant I think the concept is.
posted by Ferrari328 at 8:20 AM on September 3, 2005

Response by poster: Visibility isn't critical (i.e. they don't have to be out in plain sight), but ease of access and quick identification is pretty important.

It drives me absolutely nuts to be in the midst of cooking and then have to start digging through bags and containers of spices trying to find the one I need.

The magnetic concept definitely looks great. I could see it working with some kind of labelling system on the tops of the canisters.

Maudlin, I have two of those South Asian cup thingies you mentioned - I have no idea what they're called, but it's a round, clear covered metal container with these small metal cups inside. The only problem with this is the cups themselves don't have covers, so you can't put a label on top of them.

I live in Toronto also, so maybe I'll head out to Little India this weekend and see what I can find. We have spices all over the place in our kitchen and I'm determined to clean up / throw out / organize the crap out of them...
posted by theNonsuch at 8:40 AM on September 3, 2005

Response by poster: Hm - this looks interesting:

Make a Magnetic Spice Rack
posted by theNonsuch at 8:50 AM on September 3, 2005

What's wrong with McCormick and their brethren? Like many others I keep the spices clustered together, and have had to resort to writing the names of the spices on the top of the jars using a laundry marker. Of course now they're coming out with black caps. sigh Thankfully some of the gourmet spices label their jars on top.
posted by rolypolyman at 9:01 AM on September 3, 2005

I use these. You can get three or even four rows of spice bottles into one cupboard and all is visible.
posted by CunningLinguist at 9:56 AM on September 3, 2005

Also, if you're in the States, Bed Bath and Beyond had very cheap knock offs of those magnetic containers so don't get sucked into buying hundred dollar sets.
posted by CunningLinguist at 9:58 AM on September 3, 2005

Yeah, I didn't even look at the prices of the ones to which I linked, but they're exorbitant. There are indeed knock-offs everywhere, and I haven't been able to see much difference between them.
posted by fionab at 10:23 AM on September 3, 2005

Best answer: theNonsuch, you can get little metal tins with proper individual opaque metal lids separate from the covered mother container. Check Kensington market: there's an independent K-Mart style store (can't remember the name) that has a lot of the tins, plus optional wooden stands. From Dundas just west of Spadina, go north on Kensington, then left at the first side street. It's on the north side.

You can also check Fortune Housewares on the west side of Spadina a couple of blocks south of College. They have a variety of tins of different sizes near the front of the store, opposite the cashier.

CunningLinguist, I love those shelves. Ikea may have something similar.
posted by maudlin at 10:28 AM on September 3, 2005

Ahh -- this is similar to what you can get at the Kensington store, apart from the handy pre-drilled niches for the tins. The shelf is 2-3 tiers, wide and low and untilted. This local version goes for about CDN$35 for 12 tins, IIRC.
posted by maudlin at 10:36 AM on September 3, 2005

Alton Brown puts them in little metal tins, labels the lids, puts velcro on the bottom, and attaches them to a strip of velcro running up and down the length of the inside of the kitchen cabinet door.
posted by matildaben at 10:43 AM on September 3, 2005

I have always liked the Dean & Deluca Rack...seems elegent to me....albeit a tad bit pricey...

Spice Rack
posted by keep it tight at 3:03 PM on September 3, 2005

The Container Store has a lot of spice racks to choose from that aren't $140. But I can't recommend a specific one.
posted by quadog at 8:30 PM on September 3, 2005

My friend's mother had the most amazing spice storage system - I wish I could link to a picture.

It was like a small shallow wood cupboard screwed to the wall, only with small drawers (maybe 4" by 3"), about 4 rows of four. Each drawer was labelled on the outside with the spice or herb, and they went alphabetically from top left to bottom. They stored the spices in the little bags you get from spices in from bulk places - I thought it was the neatest and most efficient system I had seen. Up, away from the counter, easily accessible, no bottles to loose or break, well-labelled, and none of the spices or herbs exposed to light.

I don't remember exactly how many drawers, and maybe only 16 or 20 wouldn't be enough for some people. But I really liked it.

Also, they may have made this or converted it from something else. But I really want one one day.
posted by jb at 9:29 PM on September 4, 2005

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