July 21, 2021 9:13 PM   Subscribe

So my local grocer (the fabulous HEB) carries bulk spices, which are phenomenally cheaper than the jarred kind. (Seriously, if yours does too and you've never checked out the price difference, you will be astounded.) As a result, though, I've accumulated 25-30 small plastic baggies, that I've been keeping just in a rectangular plastic bin, which means they tend to spill out everywhere when I"m searching for a particular spice, which always seems to take way too long too. Has anybody run across or invented an elegant solution to this dilemma? (I don't want to re-jar them btw, don't really have the room.)
posted by slappy_pinchbottom to Food & Drink (30 answers total) 2 users marked this as a favorite
How much are you buying at once, e.g. how big are the bags? If you could fit them in a couple 3" x 5" card holders I could see using the indexing tabs to label and separate them. If alphabetized you should be able to find them lickety split.
posted by mark k at 9:22 PM on July 21 [4 favorites]

Buy magnetized jars, and then put up a magnet strip on a sideboard in your kitchen, hang them up to save room!
posted by Champagne Supernova at 9:30 PM on July 21

That's too bad that you don't want to rejar them because that's what you have to do.
posted by Marie Mon Dieu at 9:34 PM on July 21 [33 favorites]

Yes, jars are the most elegant solution invented for this problem that I know of. Maybe you can get some particularly small ones, and/or a dedicated rack for them that will fill an empty space on a wall or the side of a cabinet, or the magnetic idea Champagne Supernova suggested.
posted by Artifice_Eternity at 9:50 PM on July 21 [1 favorite]

Yeah, rejarring is probably the best in the long run, especially for things you find yourself actually using a lot of. And also better for ones you don’t use very often because jar are more airtight than an open baggy…

But I did read the whole question, no jars because space concerns. The Container Store has a variety of divided containers specifically for packet storage. I bet if you brought some of your spices to a store you could find something that would suffice. Then use index cards or slips of paper to further divide things if needed.

You might also look into money envelopes, which you could slip baggies into and label. Sometimes you can find really cute mini envelopes at places with fun stationery like Daiso. I found some with capybaras! Anyway, the problem there is then you just have a pile of loose envelopes, so a recipe box or something to keep those corralled would be needed.
posted by Mizu at 10:04 PM on July 21 [5 favorites]

I cut the tops off of them horizontally, so they are neat amd tidy. Then, I roll the tops down in small increments, and I rubber band the resulting "roll" closed. The label on the front usually stays visible for easy identification.

I store all these rolls in a large wooden box, arranged neatly. It's easy to find and store them.

Like you, I don't like the idea of storing these in separate containers, for a variety of reasons. This system works great for me.
posted by aquamvidam at 10:28 PM on July 21 [4 favorites]

What I would do is order them alphabetically, then divide them into groups of five, then put each group into a larger ziplock bag with a label at the top (ANISEED - CARAWAY, CINNAMON - FENNEL, etc.), then put the larger bags back into the container in order.
posted by ManyLeggedCreature at 2:20 AM on July 22

Or for more space savings;
Cut a piece of 1/4" thick plywood to fit on the back of a kitchen cabinet door (or I bet even sturdy cardboard or foamcore from the 99 cent store would work). Make sure to cut it so that the door closes fully.

Using a hot glue gun, attach mini pins appropriately spaced apart.

Once all the clothespins are attached, mount the board to the back of the cabinet either using short screws or strong velcro in several places.

Pin the bags of spices on the board.


(I've got all my spices on mini racks on the back of my cabinet doors and it's sooo much easier than digging through a cabinet)
posted by newpotato at 2:43 AM on July 22 [4 favorites]

I know you said you didn't want jars, but if you keep spices in relatively small quantities tic tac
containers are much smaller than regular spice jars and work quite nicely. And because they are rectangular they sit next to, behind and on eachother with little difficulty and doesn't leave a bunch of empty space.
posted by AlexiaSky at 3:48 AM on July 22 [3 favorites]

If you are adverse to jars or other hard storage, you could try to set up a file-like system. Resealable plastic baggies (as heavy duty as possible), stored upright in tray, labeled toward the top. I don't know of an off the shelf product that does this, so you'd need to find a good match for bags/tray -- but it sounds like it would be a good space saver.
posted by voiceofreason at 4:00 AM on July 22

A variation on ManyLeggedCreature's suggestion of grouping in larger bags, instead of alpha order, you could group by frequency of use, or by category (warming spices, 'hot' spices, etc).
posted by SemiSalt at 4:24 AM on July 22 [1 favorite]

Save up those little plastic clips that close bread bags (or use clothespins or any other kind of clip that works). Glue or tie them to a nice piece of string at regular intervals. Hang the string, and have easy access to any bagged spice, as well as easy visual scanning. Use two or more strings if you don't have enough vertical space for all your species.

Laugh at those who keep saying you need jars even though you said you're not doing jars. Enjoy your awesome HEB spices!
posted by SaltySalticid at 5:24 AM on July 22 [1 favorite]

I would look at storage for arts & crafts supplies or hardware. There's a type of box with removeable dividers, like this one from ArtBin or this hardware organizer, that works really well for weird-shaped objects like baggies, can be tucked into a drawer or cabinet, and would let you sort them into useful categories. Or if you wanted something that could sit on a counter, a small parts organizer for hardware could work well.
posted by fifthpocket at 5:58 AM on July 22 [2 favorites]

First make sure you have enough rectangular bins so they actually all fit in the bins and don't stick up too far and fall out. Also make sure your bins are tall enough that they don't fall out too easily.

Then get dividers that stick up a quarter or half an inch higher than the spice bags so that you can see the top of them. Stiff plastic is the right idea, foam might be too soft, but you could try the foam trays that produce or cookies are sometimes packaged in. Use the dividers like index tabs in a recipe box. You won't need one divider for each bag, as you can figure out a grouping system that will work for you, either putting spices and condiments you use together side by side so you know that the garlic powder is in front of the onion powder, and that cloves, nutmeg and ginger are the three bags after the blue divider, or by putting the spices in alphabetic order.
posted by Jane the Brown at 6:32 AM on July 22

I also buy spices in bulk at HEB (or Central Market, they have a better selection). You said "no jars" but jars is the correct answer. You want glass containers because they're non-reactive and washable. You can buy sets of small spice jars from your favorite online retailer. You can write on the lids, or write on a piece of tape and put that on the lids. The jars I have can handle 4 tbsp (I have some bigger ones for spices that get used in larger volumes); 25 of these would take up about 1 square foot if you stored them flat; of course there are lots of spice racks, magnetized spice jars, etc, to be more space-efficient.
posted by adamrice at 7:06 AM on July 22

I wonder if you could use a trading card binder or something similar to hold the spices.
posted by music for skeletons at 7:15 AM on July 22

Does a masala dabba, which holds several spices within one tin, also take up too much space?
posted by metasarah at 7:46 AM on July 22 [1 favorite]

If you are tight on space, there are many tiny jars/vials/divided boxes available for storing beads that might be helpful to you.
posted by corey flood at 8:01 AM on July 22

Jars are kind of bulky, but tins would work. There are many sizes available.
Are the bags really sturdy? If not, re-bag the spices.
Get a label maker, or at least good masking tape and a sharpie, make sure they are well labeled.
I have herbs and spices in a small cupboard, and I separate them by blends (curry powder, chili powder, Italian seasoning), or individual(rosemary, Gochugaru, cumin), and baking supplies.
Trim excess plastic from bags and use small binder clips, colorful ones will help you find what you want.
I like the idea of putting an index card in the bag; they'd stand up a bit and could be organized in the bin.
posted by theora55 at 8:16 AM on July 22

I use ikea chip bag clips for my bags of spices. They do a good job keeping the spices contained and not spilling at all, and are really easy to take on and off.
posted by Sweetchrysanthemum at 8:24 AM on July 22 [1 favorite]

Smaller plastic bins, maybe ones sized for school supplies in whatever dimensions your cupboard allows. Then you can divide the alphabet A-I J-Q R-Z and only need to pull one of the three boxes based on what you need?
posted by Exceptional_Hubris at 9:14 AM on July 22

You haven’t told us what we need to know to save your spices, viz., how many months’ worth of each do you buy at a time?

If only a month or two, it doesn’t matter that baggies are terrible preservers and a system that makes all of them easy to get to also exposes all of them to destructive light, oxygen, humidity. You’ll use them up before they get bland. If you buy more than that, especially if they’re pre-ground, it’s a false economy to buy them cheap but then let them fade before you taste them. In that case, adding airtight cool storage for back stock, and refilling the quick access packets, might be the win but it takes space and planning.
posted by clew at 9:31 AM on July 22 [3 favorites]

I have a side-by-side refrigerator/freezer which has shallow shelves in the freezer door, with a bar around each one to hold things in place. Each shelf contains a gallon-size freezer zip-lock bag, the type with an actual zipper slider. My bags of dried herbs and spices are organized into these by color: green herbs (basil, thyme, oregano, fenugreek leaves, dill weed, etc.), red and orange (powdered ancho chilis, chili powder blend, cayenne pepper, hot curry mix, etc.), and white (granulated garlic for breading mixes, ground ginger, etc.), plus one for whole herbs and spices (cinnamon sticks, whole cumin seeds, whole coriander seeds, makrut lime leaves, star anise pods, etc.). Herbs and spices last dramatically longer in the freezer, if sealed in a sturdy plastic bag.

But I also keep jars with small amounts of many of the above, ready to hand in the spice racks, so I don't have to drag a lot of different stuff out of the freezer while I am in the middle of cooking. I refill these from the freezer bags as needed.
posted by metonym at 9:48 AM on July 22 [1 favorite]

How much are you buying at once, e.g. how big are the bags? If you could fit them in a couple 3" x 5" card holders I could see using the indexing tabs to label and separate them. If alphabetized you should be able to find them lickety split.

There are 4x6, 5x8 and 6x9 card boxes as well. Seems likely one of these sizes is going to be the best bet.

Knowing the dimensions of the bags would be helpful.

Or maybe the idea is something more like apothecary drawers?
posted by snuffleupagus at 12:20 PM on July 22 [1 favorite]

I use 8 oz deli cups like these, labeled with masking tape, to hold nearly all of my spices. They stack beautifully and take less space than you'd think.
posted by mosst at 1:24 PM on July 22 [1 favorite]

I used binder clips to group together our too many sample bags of Adagio teas. It's unclear how large your bags are, but here are some other ideas including some Google Image and Amazon (sorry!) links at least for inspiration:
Seed storage organization (including similar answers to above such as photo albums, hardware boxes, drawers)
Ways to store seeds (more of the same)
Tea bag storage
Tea bag organizer
Tea storage chests
Adjustable cubby shelf
Cabinet door pocket organizer
Countertop card rack
Multi tier/clip hanger
Zip n Store for fridge
posted by eyeball at 1:33 PM on July 22

man I was excited for this thread but... not yet seeing anything that would solve the problem for the size of bags I get (sadaf brand usually.) My inelegant solution is I secure the bags with either a rubber band or a binder clip, and put them all in a gallon ziploc. (It's getting tight in there tho and I do like the above idea of expanding to alphabetized groupings.)
posted by fingersandtoes at 2:11 PM on July 22

I keep my seeds in alphabetized envelopes in airtight index card boxes in the fridge. Very good germination for years. Less frequent access than spices get, but airtight in a cool corner of a kitchen would be okay too.
posted by clew at 6:30 PM on July 22

I put small amounts of spices in pill bottles, which take up little space. But if you really need to keep them in the bags, I like the suggestion above for putting the baggies inside paper envelopes in a filing box. Or, a plastic box designed to hold spoils of thread might work well for bags with the tops rolled down.
posted by The Underpants Monster at 11:32 PM on July 22

My pharmacy puts my meds in these green bottles that have a top you can flip over to make them non-childproof. They’re airtight and it’s easy to put a label on them and peel it off if needed. The lids would allow them to stack easily.

These screw-together stacking containers could be another option.
posted by bendy at 10:13 PM on July 24

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