How can I make spices the most packable?
December 4, 2013 3:23 PM   Subscribe

My brother is a vagabond ski-bum, who lives in a tree house in the summer, cooks on a camp stove, and lives off of oatmeal, rice and beans, ramen, cans of tuna, and PB+Js. He does not like "owning things." I'm going to civilize him a little bit by sending him a selection of spices for Christmas. BUT they need to be able to kept in a backpack or in a shoebox or something, take up very little space and weight. Any suggestions on A. How to package them? and B) Which herbs and spices you think I MUST INCLUDE?

Right now, I'm thinking a selection of small ziplock baggies--like what you'd buy weed or beads in--but I'm not sure how to keep them together, or if there is a better way I'm not thinking of?

Bonus points for suggesting the most packable way to store Sriracha.
posted by Grandysaur to Food & Drink (24 answers total) 4 users marked this as a favorite
OH! And yes I've seen this travel spice kit, and it's my last resort, but it's a bit too cutesy, and kinda not utilitarian enough. And I would like to be able to pick out the spices I include.
posted by Grandysaur at 3:31 PM on December 4, 2013

For packaging, camping stores often will have containers that hold 3-5 spices, kind of like this. The other suggestion I've seen in backpacking circles is to package them in old tictac containers, which gives you more flexibility in terms of number of spices.
posted by vytae at 3:33 PM on December 4, 2013 [2 favorites]

REI has a camping spice rack that looks pretty neat.
And there are a lot of DIY sites that have used those day-of-the-week pill sorters as an all in one spice kit.
Notions storage kits could also be useful.
And I buy my spices in bulk and use these nifty little plastic mini jars that I bought at Storables in the bathroom section. The bases twist onto the caps so you can have a line of little jars. I don't see a link on the website, but I bet they still have them.

As for the spices - garlic powder, onion powder, cayenne pepper, chili powder, cinnamon (or pumpkin pie spice mix), turmeric, maybe a good pepper blend, poultry seasoning.
posted by brookeb at 3:34 PM on December 4, 2013 [1 favorite]

Try googling "backpacking spices". There are a lot of backpacking articles about how to carry spices and which spices give you the most bang for your culinary buck.

FYI, here is a container that stores six spices that a friend of mine owns and likes. Utilitarian and it gets the job done, which might be all your brother wants.
posted by warble at 3:34 PM on December 4, 2013 [1 favorite]

By packable do you mean small and lightweight? They make spice containers for camping that are pretty good (I own the first one). Ziploc baggies will work (and might be the best solution for cost + lightweightness) but will wear out and be annoying after a few weeks of opening and closing them. I used a set of aluminum cases to store spices for years when I was in college and moving every 4-8 months. That worked excellently, and had the advantage of looking nice as well (they have glass lids, and you can put labels on the bottom). (On preview, I see that this is pretty similar to the set you linked on amazon)

I can't help you with the sriracha too much, because I usually store it in a 15mL tube when I go camping.

In terms of which herbs and spices, it depends how many we're talking and what your brothers tastes are, but I would suggest spice blends to simplify things a little. Maybe chili powder, curry, herbes de provence?
posted by quaking fajita at 3:35 PM on December 4, 2013

We use daily pill containers you can get from wherever in sizes from weekly to monthly. Compact and you can even write on some of them.
posted by thebrokedown at 3:35 PM on December 4, 2013 [1 favorite]

i would not get him too many spices. instead, i would get three or four spice mixes. one could be mexican spices (cumin, cayenne, onion, garlic), another lemon spices, etc. i camp a fair amount, and everyone time i go, i take two spice mixes. when you are cooking on a camp stove, you are not opening more than one spice jar per meal. so, a good mix of spices in the jar is perfect.

i also would not send large containers. i would containers that are maybe 3oz in size. tiny. when you are camp, you are not going to devote much space in your bag to spices.

if three tiny jars of spices is not enough for christmas, then do the gift as spice of the month club. each month mail him new containers.

he is not going to open lots of jars. and he wants the smallest jars possible.
posted by Flood at 3:36 PM on December 4, 2013 [6 favorites]

Right now, I'm thinking a selection of small ziplock baggies--like what you'd buy weed or beads in

This is actually how I store my most commonly used spices in the kitchen, with labels stuck to them, alphabetized in a little box. It works great! And if he doesn't want "stuff", this is the way to go.
posted by something something at 3:37 PM on December 4, 2013

Plastic bags will eventually leak if shoved in a backpack unprotected. What about empty tic-tac containers? Or visit a beading store and get a small multi-compartment bead box.
posted by embrangled at 3:38 PM on December 4, 2013

Penzeys sells their spices in plastic zip bags.
posted by raisingsand at 3:39 PM on December 4, 2013

How about the Mobile Foodie Survival Kit? Compact and gift-worthy. I'd swap out the dill in that set for chili powder or maybe (more) ginger, but it's a great basic selection.
posted by divined by radio at 3:45 PM on December 4, 2013

How about a key ring with a bunch of keychain pill containers on it? You could get the name of each spice engraved on the pill container, and/or use various colored ones. These things are what i'm talking about. They're waterproof, hard to damage, and pretty small. They come in different sizes, so you could get larger ones for spices that you use a lot of and small ones for spices used more sparingly. A flexible wire key ring like this instead of a regular solid round one might make it easier to pack away in a backpack.
posted by duckstab at 4:01 PM on December 4, 2013 [3 favorites]

If you want to make a DIY version of the Mobile Foodie Survival Kit that divined by radio suggests, you could use stackable tackle jars. They cost about $5 for a roll of six and come in a variety of sizes.
posted by rhythm and booze at 4:03 PM on December 4, 2013

I love these for carrying backpacking spices. They come in larger sizes for things you may want more of, like sugar. I would use those, and include the following:

Montreal Seasoning or an equivalent
Cayenne or Chipoltle
herbs de provence or an italian spice blend

If you want to get christmas-gift-ey, throw in a tiny bottle of truffle oil. Oh, and a squeeze bottle of a high heat oil, like canola or sesame.
posted by craven_morhead at 4:08 PM on December 4, 2013

I'd order small bags of spices from The Spice House; they sell many of their spices in those tiny bags, and they'll be pre-labeled. I'd order from them rather than Penzey's because they're a much smaller business and in general slightly more friendly and less expensive (they were also founded by the parents of the guy who founded Penzey's!). You can get ideas from some of their gift sets-- and you might even be able to call them and ask if they could do something like one of their gift sets but in bags instead of bottles.
posted by dizziest at 4:43 PM on December 4, 2013

I was going to suggest stackable screw-together pill bottles I've seen just like the tackle jars that rhythm and booze mentions. Having ones that lock together like that seems much better than multiple individual containers to juggle.

I would propose getting him a bunch of the super-fancy instant noodle packages from an Asian market, which usually come with all kinds of crazy spice and oil mixtures in little packets. Perhaps this will encourage him to experiment with the spices using ramen as his palette.

I'd also say you ought to include a little can of Thai Massaman Curry paste if you can find it. Makes almost anything taste incredible.
posted by XMLicious at 4:51 PM on December 4, 2013 [1 favorite]

Individual packets of Sriracha. You could get that whole box and then mail him some every month.
posted by Houstonian at 4:52 PM on December 4, 2013 [3 favorites]

Thebrokedown'd pill container idea upthread (large size) is brilliant and dirt cheap. I went to Michael's Craft's Store and bought the smallest clear plastic containers they sell for beads and such. They come in a clear plastic box. But the large-size pill box beats all if you're camping. I wish I'd thought of it.
posted by Elsie at 6:13 PM on December 4, 2013 [1 favorite]

You can buy spices in "bulk" (or in small amounts) at most co-op or whole foods type stores.

Those containers with several separate compartments can be good for backpacking, but not for what your brother is doing. He's not filling it all up at home before going off on a short trip. You want something that won't have a lot of empty unused space that is difficult to use for other things when one type of spice runs out. A bunch of small containers is more useful, and makes it easier to add new spices to the collection. If you want to do ziploc bags, putting them in something like a clear plastic makeup bag (you'd probably want what's sold as a small or medium size) would hold them together, protect them from getting torn, and allow space for tubes of Sriracha. Get one that has a little extra space in it so he can add other small cooking things.

If he doesn't already have a GI can opener, that's a nice thing to add. A few cans of something fancier that he likes, some individual packets of hazelnut butter or almond butter, different types of whole grain hot cereals, might help him branch out. Freeze dried berries are a nice treat and super light, but they can be expensive.

He probably knows about sugar, salt, and pepper already.

Don't know if he's cooking beans from scratch or using canned, but spices can be added to either.

I'd put in some of these things, but all of them might be a bit overwhelming to someone who doesn't use spices: cinnamon, nutmeg, coaco nibs, basil, thyme, oregano, rosemary, curry powder, turmeric, at least one type of chile powder, crushed red chile. Some things that are nice but harder to find: dried green chile, thai curry paste, miso, wasabi powder (not paste, and leave it in the original package), furikake (a sesame / seaweed blend).

Get some extremely small jars or tins (half ounce or ounce) for anything powdered or hot, they will get stuck in the closures on the plastic bags. Be careful of pill containers, many of them don't hold things like cayenne pepper well, and getting cayenne pepper everywhere is a good way to make someone hate spices forever.

On preview: Wow, is kit you linked to expensive! You could buy the same spices in bulk for a few dollars.
posted by yohko at 7:05 PM on December 4, 2013 [1 favorite]

McCormick sells small plastic containers of herbs and spices that are a pretty good size. TicTac containers are also good. Cayenne can go in a smaller container - a little goes a long way. Rosemary is great on roasted vegetables. A good curry is delicious on potatoes, especially with a little yogurt. Garlic powder. Chili powder. Italian herbs. And maybe some recipes.

Also, save some of the miscellaneous packets you get with fast foods, like hot sauce, soy sauce, red pepper flakes, etc., and send him a package of them. A little soy sauce in the ramen, some hot sauce in the beans and rice, etc., would be a nice addition.
posted by theora55 at 7:36 PM on December 4, 2013 [1 favorite]

In answer to B)
Shichimi for the rice, beans and ramen. It can stay in the container it is commonly sold in.
Cinnamon or wattleseed for the oatmeal.
posted by Trivia Newton John at 11:34 PM on December 4, 2013

Flabbergasted that I'm the first to suggest my top choice, small Nalgene bottles! That there's a travel kit, but you can mix and match small Nalgenes at any big outdoor store. I'd stick with 2oz or less for spices if he's actually vagabonding about with a backpack. You can cram those anywhere. And he'll be using them long after he eats the contents, because they are durable and leakproof and they have a million uses. If you can find them, there is a wide-mouth version of the small jars too, which opens up the options for re-use to things like a bit of butter or mayo or pickled ginger for the road.

Something else, but not for spices per se, are these squeeze tubes. I don't backpack so much anymore, so I have my bulk wasabi and Spike in mine, just in my kitchen. But they're perhaps more commonly used for things like peanut butter and hummus and such.

Your contents really depend on your brother. A foodie might appreciate some super top-quality-but-also-practical cinnamon and garlic powder, maybe some smoked paprika. Hard to go wrong with good seasoned salt. Maybe Italian seasoning?
posted by AnOrigamiLife at 12:36 AM on December 5, 2013 [1 favorite]

Whatever spices and containers you choose, especially if his cooking is that basic, include some sort of "What Do I Do With THIS Spice?" hints --- it won't make much difference *which* spices you pick for him if he doesn't have any clue what to do with it!
posted by easily confused at 2:24 AM on December 5, 2013

When I go on extended camping trips, I pack spices in ziplock bags and put those into a sandwich sized Rubbermaid container to keep them from getting punctured. I use an assortment of sizes of bags depending on how much of a spice I need. Chili flakes get a sandwich bag. Dried basil goes in a mini bag. Some people might like it the other way around.

I do have a GSI shaker like brookeb linked. I use that for salt and pepper since that's nice to add to taste while I'm eating.
posted by advicepig at 1:47 PM on December 5, 2013

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