ATK at Home

Test Kitchen Tips for Organizing Your Spices

Now is the time to take back your spice collection.

Published May 12, 2020.

Alexxa Benson

What’s your spice collection like? In most kitchens—including mine, until recently—they’re in indistinguishable bottles that are nearly impossible to decipher, especially in the middle of cooking. For me, organizing my spices was one of those projects I thought of tackling every time I impatiently lifted every spice in the cabinet trying to find the right one, but also something I always pushed to the backburner because I never thought I had time. 

As a member of America’s Test Kitchen’s Kitchen Operations team, part of my job is making sure the Test Kitchen is organized. So with my extra time at home, I decided to apply some of the strategies we use in the Test Kitchen to finally tackle organizing my spices. These are a few tips and tricks that I've learned from the Test Kitchen that I have implemented in my own kitchen.

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Practice Smart Storage

To keep your spices fresh, store them in a spot in your kitchen that is cool, dark, and dry. If possible, choose one that’s in close proximity to the stove or where you prep your food, for easy access during cooking. 

In the Test Kitchen, we store the spices in our dry ingredient area in a large, airy storage space a few steps away from the main kitchen, along with flours and pastas. At home, this could be a cabinet, a drawer, or even the back of a door. For me, that place is the backside of my basement door. I live in an early 1900 home with limited cabinet space and no pantry, but my basement door happens to be adjacent to the kitchen and within a quick reach of my stove.

Alexxa's spice storage

Test for Freshness

Before moving your spices to their new optimal location, go through the spices to check if they are past their prime. So how do you know if your spices are good or on their way out the door? 

At the Test Kitchen, we say as a general rule of thumb, jarred whole spices are typically at their best for two years, while ground spices stay fresh for about a year. If you have no idea how long ago you opened your spices, you can check their freshness by crumbling a small portion of the dried powder or herb between your fingers and taking a whiff. If the spice releases a lively aroma, it’s still good. If the aroma and color of the spice have faded, it’s time to restock.

Break Out the Labels

An easy way to keep on top of your spice freshness is by labeling the spice with the date you opened it. You can do this by writing the date on a label and sticking it on the jar, or by just marking the container with a marker, or—my favorite—using a chalkboard marker. It’s like arts and crafts for adults.

And for those spices that come in a bulk bag, I transfer those to a mason jar with a chalkboard top so I can easily write the name of the spice and the date opened with a chalkboard marker. Then I just wash off the marker when I’ve emptied the container.

Find the Right Organization Method for You

There are a few different ways to organize your spices. The most common is organizing by alphabetical order, which might be the best method for you. 

For me, the best way to organize my spices was the same method we use in the Test Kitchen: breaking them up into five categories and storing them in those groups. (In the test kitchen, we also place a colored sticker on the top of each spice bottle that corresponds to the category for quick visual reference. This is a great tip especially if you will be organizing your spices into rows in a cabinet.) 

  • Warm Spices = Yellow
  • Peppers = Red
  • Dried Herbs = Green
  • Whole Seeds = Blue
  • Miscellaneous = Orange

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