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Organizing Spices 3: Buying Spices

A lot of time when we’re organizing people’s homes, we have to talk about habits that got people into the situation they’re in.  If we don’t, we’re not helping. Staying organized with spices starts with buying quantities appropriate to your use.

  • Know your cooking habits, and the shelf-life of herbs and spices you use. Whole spices are good for 1-3 years, ground spices and herbs are good for about a year. If you use ¼ teaspoon of ground cloves once a year at Thanksgiving, it’s probably best not to buy it at Costco unless you’re intending to be your neighborhood clove dealer.
  • Buy spices from the dry goods section of a co-op grocery or health food store.  Many health food stores and co-op grocers like San Francisco’s beloved Rainbow Grocery sell spices by weight. So you can get just enough to make the recipe twice and not pay that much.
  • Second best smaller spice option: the little green cardboard spices you can find at Whole Foods from Organic Spices Inc. 
  • If you’re going through spices quickly, specialty grocers are a great option for getting larger quantities of fresh spices at fair prices. But note, the larger quantities can quickly over fill your kitchen and cause disorder for a novice home cook who is recipe globe trotting. 
  • Sometimes, the best solution is to not buy a spice.  Instead, ask a friend or neighbor who you know cooks a variety of things (or better yet, has roots in the cuisine you’re exploring) if you can raid their spice cabinet for the one-off dish you’re working on. In return, share some of the yummy food with them, and have a sense of humor when they tell you how you did. Who knows? Maybe they’ll even give you some helpful tips. My friend Shayesta once told me about toasting certain spices in oil to make them more fragrant before adding onions and garlic. I think I was asking for a pinch of fenugreek seeds, but I also got a great cooking lesson that makes food taste better.  

Being careful about what you buy not only saves you money and reduces waste, but helps you keep your kitchen organized and efficient. 

Bon appetit!

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