My spice rack

Many areas of my life are not at all organized. But I do have a bit of (undiagnosed, probably colloquial in nature rather than clinical) ocd. When the world is falling apart, I get some relief from having certain things organized. Alphabetical books in the bookcases. Pens organized by color. Clips in their appropriate bins by size. Silverware, stationary etc. separated by type and organized in appropriate places in their appropriate drawers.  When I went into work and the supply cabinet was kept stocked, I would make sure the teas were organized by type (caffeinated one shelf, greens together, etc… after one botched restocking, I explained to the student workers the system I had put in place. Luckily they like me!). Many of these things are things you can’t see and maybe it doesn’t matter that I have piles of work papers all around me optimistically organized by vintage (newest stuff on top).

One of the things that must be organized alphabetically (and that makes me yell “Who has been messing with my system?!?” when it gets out of order) is my spice rack. Back when we were living in an apartment, spices lived alphabetically on set of cheap shelves in the living room because our kitchens were tiny (or, for two years, shared). When we moved here, I decided I wanted a rack like I’d seen on the backs of doors. Our pantry has enough room that we didn’t need to put it on the back of a door– this is screwed into the wall. I picked out wire rack modules at Home Depot and DH installed them.

Here are the top few shelves (currently I don’t have any little spices sticking out on top– we used up a few of the containers we had duplicates of [like Northwoods seasoning which is my favorite replacement for spice mixes like Emeril’s, blackening, cajun, etc.] so I was able to spread things out.)  The holes in the wall above the spice rack pre-date us.  I’m not sure what the previous owners had here because whatever it was they took it with them.  (They used the walk-in pantry mostly as alcohol storage!)

Here are the bottom three shelves where we keep bagged spices, also in alphabetical order.  It’s mostly Penzey’s but they were out of ground cardamom when we needed it (cardamom is one of my favorite spices) so I got some from  (In the jarred spices we’re mostly Penzey’s but I don’t mind having different jars so long as they’re about the same shape/size and, importantly, everything is in alphabetical order.  We have mostly Penzey’s not because I need all the yellow labels matching but because they have excellent quality spices at reasonable prices.  We are not getting paid to say that and they don’t know we exist.  It’s just a wonderful company in so many ways.  Pick up some of their Northwoods seasoning, and if you like things hot, their Berebere mix. Try their mixed seasonings to make flavored roasted nuts or put them in sour cream for a fun veggie dip.  *love emoji*)

You can see each shelf is connected to the wall by brackets that came with the shelf.

Here you can see that the shelf is modular– it’s composed of multiple sets.  You can also see the envelope we use to list the spices we’re going to need to get on our next Penzey’s run in The City.  Or, since the pandemic started, our next Penzey’s order.

I know these are not very pinteresty pictures– I think I had the light off and the pantry is a bit dark and I was too lazy to play with the lighting, but you get the idea.

To forestall people who question whether we can use all these spices before they go stale:  not always, but I would rather have a spice available and stale (meaning we have to use more of it) than to not have it at all.  We do go through our regular spices pretty quickly.

And… this is not all our spices.  We have a box on the floor to the side that is just different kinds of dried chiles (also alphabetical). On the shelves to the left in between the cereal bars and the crackers I keep different kinds of seeds and fancy salts.  On the shelves to the right between the chocolate bars and candied fruit we keep extracts and waters (and would keep food coloring and cake decorations if DC2 weren’t allergic to red dye).  Cocoa powder we keep in the back shelves with the flours.  Peppercorns are shelved, oddly, in front of the chocolate bars, but I think that’s just because it’s really easy access.  But still, a place for everything and everything has its place.

How do you keep your spices?  How do you self-sooth when the world is going crazy?


28 Responses to “My spice rack”

  1. Leah Says:

    Penzey’s!! We love them too. Have you tried Ruth Ann’s? That’s our favorite for veggies and chicken. Northwoods fire is great too, their smoked paprika is lovely on roasted Brussels sprouts, and I’m in love with their cinnamon. I just ordered California pepper (pepper with dried bell peppers, onion, and garlic) for the first time, and that’s a keeper.

    We have a large, shallow drawer where we keep spices. We have the spice drawer inserts from IKEA. Our spices lay flat. We have the refill packets in a plastic basket in our cupboard. Sadly, we have no pantry here. I miss having a pantry. Our last place had a fabulous one. Our kitchen here is much bigger but has less storage.

    How did you determine DC2 is allergic to red dye?

    • nicoleandmaggie Says:

      We have not tried Ruth Ann’s.

      Re: red food dye, we don’t know it for certain. Zie gets hives or throws up when eating things that have red food dye, but there are other things that are coterminous. The allergist we took hir to said that of the list of ingredients in the bubble guppies toothpaste that was causing hives, red dye was the most likely culprit, but there was no test for it so we couldn’t be sure, but to assume it is red dye in the absence of other evidence. Still, whenever zie accidentally ingests something like a hot-dog or soda that has red dye, zie tends to throw up sometime after. Poor my sister learning that some brown sodas have red dye in them the hard way. We keep thinking that maybe zie will have outgrown it since hives have been a lot less frequent but then zie accidentally eats something and throws up. We haven’t tested it since quarantine started though.

      • delagar Says:

        This is how we diagnosed the kid’s corn syrup allergy. He’s probably not allergic to corn syrup at all, but to something used in the manufacturing of corn syrup; but we just kept him off of it, since whenever he eats anything with corn syrup he gets horrible belly pain.

      • nicoleandmaggie Says:

        Right– it’s like, everything that has red dye or corn syrup in it is probably something we shouldn’t be eating anyway (and I personally do not like hot dogs), so there’s no harm from keeping them from it. And people who think we’re making it up can just deal with the vomit if DC2 doesn’t catch the problem first. (Seems a bit unfair to DC2, but a good lesson for such people before they give someone else an anaphylactic reaction. I was more worried when hir face would get covered with hives, from toothpaste or frosting etc. but throwing up is less scary.)

  2. nicoleandmaggie Says:

    Also… something feels different today. Like a great weight has been lifted.

    • Lisa Says:

      I agree! I was unprepared for the depth of gratitude and relief I felt back in November when it became clear that Biden/Harris had won the election. Today it’s even better! Although I’m a little sad they did the oaths earlier than I expected, I turned on the TV to watch just a minute before noon EST and it was already over.

  3. Jenny F. Scientist Says:

    My spices are stored in a random array of often-unlabeled jars, which drives my spouse bananas since he doesn’t know what they all are. We tend to get, like, a pound of fennel seed at a time, so it doesn’t usually work to put them all in the same size jars. Maybe that needs to be my next project (I need a project).

  4. teresa Says:

    Spices live in a mostly-dedicated cupboard. The easiest-to-reach shelf has the most commonly used spices arranged by use: a column of extracts, one of more baking/sweet type spices (cinnamon, cardamom, nutmeg, etc), two of cooking/savory types (cumin, coriander, dried herbs), and one of spice mixes (curry powder, chili powder, berebere). Bags of bay leaves and dried chiles and some things that are randomly in big containers on the shelf above and less-used spices (whole spices/seeds) and homemade mixes on the shelf below, and least-used things plus bags/jars of refill spices on the shelf I need a chair to reach. (re putting things in the same size jar- I started ordering larger bags from penzey’s and using those to refill the more uniform jars for regular use, and I’m planning to get some blank/empty jars with my next order for homemade mixes so they can be more orderly)
    And thanks for reminding me I need to make Penzey’s order now!

  5. Debbie M Says:

    My spices are in a repurposed CD/DVD wire rack designed to go over a door, but we just attached it to a wall in the kitchen. At a glance, I would have thought you’d done the same.

    I like my spices organized alphabetically, in bottles, with the spares in the pantry. Our spice shopping list is on the same envelope magneted to the fridge (with coupons inside) as the other things on our list. I get most of my spices in bulk from the local grocery store. My bottles are not all the same size, though. But there is room for tall things there, and I’m cool with that.

    That’s the ideal. My roommate uses infinite spices, and although they all must be in the freezer at all times to keep them fresh, they seem also to be all mixed in with mine, and then stuffed into the spaces between the spice jars and the shelves above them. They are in bottles and bags, even though we have plenty of spare bottles he can use. Sometimes when I walk past, something catches on my clothes and falls off.

    Occasionally we declutter the spice rack, but instantly there are so many new spices he simply must have. So, my spice rack is not a source of soothing for me. For that, I read good books and sing along and/or dance along to music I like.

  6. Revanche @ A Gai Shan Life Says:

    I’m in awe of your spice collection! I have a very mismatched set of spice jars because I buy our more-commonly used spices in bulk and save glass jars from pickles, salsas, and pastas to store them in. It’s all over the place size wise but I am very proud of getting them into jars instead of leaving them in messy packets everywhere.

    Penzey’s gets our business now after hearing you talk about them so much :D I’ve never heard of berebere before, what do you make with it?

    • nicoleandmaggie Says:

      Berebere is super spicy. I think you generally use it on meats, but we like to sprinkle it over popcorn and make flavored nuts with it. It’s got flavor in addition to the pain and it’s the kind of thing where it is hard to stop eating.

      We have a lot of packets too! They’re on the bottom (and the peppers are in a box not shown).

  7. First Gen American Says:

    Literally just got my latest Penzeys order yesterday. Our spice philosophy is similar but I don’t alphabetize. I do have a whole cabinet dedicated to spices as well as a spice drawer for my frequently used spices. Normally I only need to mail order spices every year or two but this is my second pandemic order. Been doing lots more cooking.

    I rediscovered chipotle powder again. It makes everything bbq taste better.

    • Jessica Says:

      You have so many spices! I just have 2 small shelves, and our space in the kitchen is limited, so it’s ones-i-use-a-lot in the bottom front, which is easier to reach, ones-i-dont-use-much at the top, and sweet / mulling type spices off to the side.

      I will admit that I can’t always find things quickly because I can’t see well past the front! I’ve considered getting a rack for the side of the fridge or something. We don’t have a pantry.

      • nicoleandmaggie Says:

        One of the things I wish I could do for my MIL is to get little spice shelves (like spice-sized bleacher stands) for her spice cupboard so she can see the spices in the back more easily. This is something that is made for these situations and I think you can get at Lowes or Home Depot. The pandemic + Christmas lottery meant it didn’t happen this year, but might be worth looking into for you? (DH’s first wish is to get casters for their dryer because it rattles when it runs and all the guest bedrooms are near the laundry room. If we ever visit again!)

        Back when we were in apartments, we kept the spices on (cheap lowes metal) shelves in the living room (along with our other dry goods)! We also didn’t have anywhere near that many!!

      • nicoleandmaggie Says:

        Something like the tiered one in the above link

        (Alton Brown uses the magnetic ones!)

    • revanche @ a gai shan life Says:

      You’ve just inspired me to start looking into whether we need chipotle powder here. I’m so bored with my cooking and want more / better flavors to work with.

  8. Alice Says:

    My system would probably make you crazy. Our kitchen storage situation pushed me in a different direction. I keep my spices in 4 small bins on a narrow pantry shelf, grouped by flavor/use categories (hot, savory, sweet/baking, multi/misc). I have to pull out bins in order to access any spice, so this arrangement means I usually don’t need to pull more than 1-2 bins per recipe. The spices fit upright in the bins, and I keep the lids labeled for faster finding. The containers are different store brands and different sizes, so no organization within a given category: things are just where they fit after the last time they were used—if I pull a few things out for a given use, everything seems to move around.

    At this point, I’ve gotten enough used to it that I think I’d keep a variation of this system in place even with more storage available. What I would, do differently, though, would be to have standardized containers and something to keep the spices in place within each bin. And better labels. But—I like being able to pull out everything I’m likely to need quickly and have it all out on the counter right away.

    Self-soothing…would probably be reading fiction for which I have scant time right now. I could use some blocks of pure silence and no demands of any sort from my family. There are too many times in which I swear, my husband and my kid both want my attention simultaneously and they both. keep. talking.

    • nicoleandmaggie Says:

      As long as you can find spices easily any system is good. My poor MIL is continually buying new cinnamons because she can’t find the one she already has. Every time we visit I have to restrain myself from “fixing” it.

  9. FF Says:

    My herbs and spices are mostly kept on a two-tiered lazy Susan on a narrow strip of counter next to the wall that isn’t useful workspace. I just reorganized it a few weeks ago when I couldn’t find the coriander seeds that I knew were there. Most of the taller jars are on the bottom and the shorter ones are mostly doubled up on the top, with related spices loosely grouped together, but there is no exact place for each jar. Most are pure spices, not blends. Vanilla and almond extracts (the only ones I use) are also stored there. The few spices in bags are either on the counter nearby or in a cabinet. Like you, the majority of my spices are from Penzey’s–there’s one not far from me with contactless pickup.

    How do I self-soothe? Not particularly well, but I’ve rediscovered jigsaw puzzles during the pandemic, and I find working on them somewhat meditative.

  10. omdg Says:

    Your spice rack is a masterpiece in anality! I could never achieve that. Haha.

    • nicoleandmaggie Says:

      I mean, it’s just alphabetized. Not like I lovingly poured spices into matching jars that I then hand-labeled with a calligraphy pen (not that there’s anything wrong with that for people who like doing that). I think if you had the right shelving and a husband who cooks a lot you could probably handle alphabetizing.

  11. accm Says:

    Two-tiered shelf in one of my cupboards. Like my books, my spices aren’t in an order that would make sense to anyone else, but *I* know where everything is.

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