I have one of those mothers who keeps everything. I love to dig through ancient personal care products whenever I visit her house: Calgon bath beads that melted together decades ago; boxes of sanitary napkins with faded photos of smiling women with feathered hair. (I was briefly tempted to photograph these items and start a Twitter feed called “Shit My Mom Saves,” but never got around to it.) I wonder what deep-seated issues are behind my mother’s hoarding. Could it be a bomb shelter mentality? Does she have a fear of suddenly falling into poverty?
Step 1: Wake up and smell the allspice
Unfortunately, I’m in no position to judge. I have the same problem — in the kitchen. My spice rack is crammed with historical artifacts. There’s a dusty bottle of celery seed that was likely purchased during the Clinton administration. At some point, my dill weed’s label lost its adhesiveness and was taped back on. If, like mine, your spice rack is in need of a purge, read on.
Step 2: Eyeball those expiration dates
Unlike wine, spice does not improve with age. Start by looking for an expiration date on the bottle. Older bottles don’t have one. If you’re not sure if the product is past its prime, check the texture. If it’s crusty, toss it. If the color has changed, toss it. Take a whiff; taste a bit. If it seems off, throw it out.
If you have at least a vague idea of when the bottle was purchased, the recommended shelf life for spices is as follows:
- Seasoning blends: 1 to 2 years
- Herbs: 1 to 3 years
- Ground spices: 2 to 3 years.
- Whole spices: 3 to 4 years
- Extracts: 4 years (Interestingly, vanilla extract is said to last forever.)
McCormick brand spices can be checked using their handy dandy expiration date checker.
Step 3: Spice storage
Try to keep all your spices in one place, preferably away from sunlight and moisture, since bottles scattered throughout the kitchen or stacked at the back of cabinets are sure to be forgotten. I recommend something modular, so it can expand with your spice collection. Are there any unused walls in your kitchen, or even around the corner in a hallway? My husband and I have pretty sweet modular shelving for our spices already, thanks to our mutual enthusiasm for container stores. We keep our spices on these Elfa racks, which can be mounted on a door or wall. This space-saving rack system can be found at the Container Store for a little more than a hundred bucks.
If you think you have all the spice bottles you’ll ever buy, and know exactly how big your spice rack will be, Fante’s Kitchen Shop in Philadelphia has a great selection, and who’s going to take spice storage more seriously than Italians?
If money’s no object and you have some counter space to spare, check out this super cool Dean & Deluca spice rack.
Step 4: Taking spice care to a whole new level
Soon I’ll need to access my slightly OCD side and alphabetize the spices. I’ll stash a Sharpie in the spice rack and write the date of purchase on new bottles. Since ground spices lose their flavor quicker than whole ones (like peppercorns), I’ll buy more whole spices in the future and grind them myself with a mortar and pestle.
So what did my pre-org spice rack say about me? What were the issues behind my pack rat behavior? Was I was rejecting traditional gender roles, avoiding what I perceived to be overtly domestic activities? I’m not sure it’s even possible to draw an accurate psychological profile from a spice rack. I’m hoping that I simply take after my mom.