Organizing spices can cause people a lot of grief. If you have a collection of spices that’s been building for several years, it’s probably because you’re trying to avoid the pain of a one-two punch of being wasteful with money and food. We can get stuck convincing ourselves “it’s still good” because there’s still a faint smell.  (You just have to get your nose deeper in the jar. So deep that everyone watching turns away in disbelief not wanting to think about the contents of your nose potentially being in the contents of the dinner they’re expect to eat.) The spices kinda smell like they should, they’re a few bucks a pop, and no one likes to throw away food that seems, you know, good. So back into the cupboard the duplicate and triplicate spices go, and you try to ignore the fact that with the four thymes of various eras and containers (metal, glass, cardboard, and plastic!) this is not the spice drawer, this is your personal spice museum.

But here’s the thing:  I’ve never seen a recipe from a top chef that calls out using the finest aged spices you have in the back of your cabinet. 

It’s also worth remembering these four points: 

  • It takes more time to cook when your spices are not well organized. 
  • You’re more likely to end up with duplicates when your spice area is not organized.
  • Duplicate spices mean space is wasted in your kitchen.
  • Many spices and herbs lose their best flavors after 1 year.

In other words, you can save time, money, and space, AND make yummier food by having well-organized spices. If you’re ready to choose these benefits over having your neighborhood’s largest spice museum, you’ll need to bite the bullet and toss out your golden oldies.

Here’s how you check their condition. Use the nose test, but not the deep dive described above: just a quick above-the-rim whiff. When you sniff the opened jar and take a good inhale, it should completely and intensely smell like the spice listed on the label. 

Picture 1. Yes! sniff test. Picture 2. Is better saved for wine tasting.

If it doesn’t, it’s probably best to toss it. Remember, if you’re going to make something from scratch, you want it to taste its best.  It most likely won’t if the spices are old enough to go to school. 

Our next two blog posts will focus on strategies to prevent a repeat performance of spice drawers gone wild, while also keeping the cooking adventures going.