How to Clean Out & Organize Your Spices

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    kitchen with glass spice bottles

    I love organizing. And remodeling my kitchen was a great excuse for everything to get a good clean out and refresh.

    Cleaning out and reorganizing my spices was embarrassingly fun for me – we’ve been doing a lot more dehydrating and I was able to buy containers with wider mouths to fit all the dried leafy spices. I’ve also been using my mortar and pestle more frequently, so wider mouths on my spice jars made it easier to start buying dried whole spices (which are more frequently available in bulk at my food co-op) and just grind them as I’m cooking.

    Cleaning Out Your Spices

    Throw out old spices

    Your first step to organizing your spices is a good clean-out. Although most spices don’t expire the way produce or fresh spices do, they can lose their flavor and potency over time.

    How long do spices usually last?

    In general, McCormick suggests that the shelf life spices is:

    • Dried whole spices: 3-4 years
    • Dried ground spices: 2-4 years
    • Dried leafy herbs: 1-3 years

    When do different spices expire?

    The below ranges are estimates and can change based on how you’re storing your dried spices. You should always evaluate your own spices to determine if they can still be used.

    • Allspice (dried, ground): 2-3 years
    • Basil (dried, ground): 2-3 years
    • Bay leaves (dried, whole leaves): 2-3 years
    • Bay leaves (dried, ground): 2-3 years
    • Black pepper (dried, whole peppercorns): 5-6 years
    • Black pepper (dried, ground): 2-3 years
    • Cayenne pepper (dried, ground): 2-3 years
    • Chili powder (dried, ground): 2-3 years
    • Cilantro (dried, ground): 2-3 years
    • Cinnamon (dried, whole sticks): 4-5 years
    • Cinnamon (dried, ground): 2-3 years
    • Cloves (dried, whole): 4-5 years
    • Cloves (dried, ground): 2-3 years
    • Cream of Tartar (dried, ground): 2-3 years
    • Cumin (dried, ground): 2-3 years
    • Dill (dried, ground): 2-3 years
    • Garlic (dried, ground): 2-3 years
    • Mint (dried, ground): 1-3 years
    • Mustard (dried, whole seeds): 2-3 years
    • Mustard (dried, ground): 1-2 years
    • Nutmeg (dried, ground): 2-3 years
    • Oregano (dried, ground): 2-3 years
    • Paprika (dried, ground): 2-3 years
    • Parsley (dried, ground): 2-3 years
    • Rosemary (dried, ground): 1-3 years
    • Sage (dried, whole leaves): 1-3 years
    • Sage (dried, ground): 3-4 years
    • Salt (kosher, sea, or table salt): Indefinitely
    • Thyme (dried, ground): 3-4 years
    • Turmeric (dried, ground): 3-4 years

    How can you tell if your spices are expired?

    If you crush or rub some spice between your fingers, you should be able to easily smell them. If you can’t smell your spice or it smells dull you should toss it!

    What’s the Best Way to Store Spices?

    Glass jars and bottles look nice and organized, but you may lose some spice when you transfer your spices to different containers, especially if it’s a spice you use frequently.

    However, if you buy your spices in bulk or dehydrate your own spices, it makes sense to have your own bottles or jars so that you can use the same storage solution for everything.

    How to Organize Your Spices

    spices sorted in alphabetical order
    Image source: The Kitchn

    Organize spices in alphabetical order

    This method works best when you only have a single row or layer of spices (as opposed to a drawer or shelf where you might have several rows of spices behind each other) – if you organize your spices alphabetically, it would quickly become tiresome to reorder them.

    Image source: Ikea

    Categorize your spices by theme

    This method is totally dependent on your definitions of themes or categories – you could group by region or cuisine like Italian, Mexican, or Mediterranean, or separate baking spices from savory spices.

    kitchen with butcher block countertops

    Organize spices by frequently-used favorites

    This hack for organizing your spices is a bit like turning hangers around in your closet to see what you actually wear. Start out with another organization method, but as you use spaces, make sure you keep the spices you use most often in a specific area or keep them where they’re easiest to reach.

    I use a combination of organizing my spices by type/cuisine and by favorites – each shelf is loosely split up into different categories, but I keep my favorite spices near the front so they’re easy to get to!

    Label your spices

    No matter how you organize your spices, you need to label everything so that each spice is easy to find.

    If you don’t want to hand write your labels, there are plenty of options like labelmakers, custom stickers,and pre-printed labels so you can stay organized without having to worry about cramping your hand (or reading messy handwriting)!