Now is the winter of our discontent and—due to something happening on Netflix—people seem to be managing this discontent by getting rid of all their shit. I’m into it. I have always been a fan of purging, and this extends to my fridge, freezer, and cabinets.
(I do a fridge re-organisation at least once a week, lest I lose my damn mind.)
But the spice rack is one portion of my kitchen I kind of squint my way through, so as to avoid fully taking in the haphazard nature of it all. Though getting a couple of those stepped spice racks helped, it remains an area that requires constant vigilance.
Marie Kondo doesn’t specifically address spice racks in her show—I haven’t read the book, so maybe it’s in there—but, after watching four episodes, I think I get the gist, and can apply it to my collection of seasonings (and yours!). Here is how you should attack your daunting collection of spices and seasonings, and how to actually use them once they’re organised.
Pull it all out
Just as Kondo has people pile all of their clothing onto their bed, you need to remove every single spice and seasoning from you rack or cabinet. Group them together as well as you can — if you often use chilli powder and garlic powder in concert, place them next to each other, the same (obviously) goes for any duplicates.
Once you have identified the duplicates, consolidate them, perhaps in pretty jars, but definitely in a labelled container. I know some people transfer all of their spices into uniform glass jars, which makes a lot of sense if you buy them in bulk, but if they already come in a container, just leave them in the original.
See what sparks joy (in your nose)
If you cannot smell a spice, you cannot taste a spice. Open up every single jar, and get your nose in there. If you do not smell anything, toss it in the compost. If, like me, you sometimes buy spices from the bulk bin, and leave them in their little bags with nothing but a useless price look-up code as an identifier, give those a sniff as well.
If you can identify it by smell, fantastic, transfer it to a jar and slap a label on it (blue painter’s tape works well). If you cannot identify your mystery flavour booster by smell, to the compost if goes.
Parties are for drinking out of cups, and keeping track of your cup is an important part of that. I have, in my time as a hostess, encountered a few guests who just “aren’t into labels” but, seeing as organisation and order are the cornerstones of a good party, labelled drinking vessels are very important to me. Instead of foisting cute wine charms on people—which always fall off—or trying to shout my guests into submission, I grab a roll of painters tape, and tell them to use fake names.
Store it neatly
Though I love how Kondo makes everyone put everything in neat little boxes, I don’t find that approach works well with seasonings, as we encounter an “out of sight, out of mind” situation very quickly. A stepped spice rack or lazy Susan works quite well, but dedicated shelf space isn’t bad, particularly if you make the tall ones stand in the back. How you group your spice girls and boys is up to you, but grouping them by cuisine or jar size each have their merits.
Now you must cook
It is not enough for your spices to sit there and look pretty (a lesson we all must learn at some point). Your spices are only as good as the food you put them in, but usually these things are bought for a specific recipe, never to be used again. Luckily, there are some strategies you can take to use up those fragrant powders before they lose their magic:
Combine complementary flavours, and use them as rubs: Rubs usually call for a fair amount of seasoning, making them good candidates for excess spices. All four of these rubs use a variety of common seasonings, but you can add a tablespoon or two of almost any spice to a mixture of salt and brown sugar (aim for a ratio of one and a half parts salt to one part sugar).
Add them to sad soups: I have found—and managing editor Virginia will back me up on this—that most soup recipes are woefully under-seasoned. A simple strategy to combat this is just doubling the amount of seasonings called for in the recipe, but don’t be afraid of straying from the written word.
Cumin is extremely good in almost every soup — particularly those of the chilli variety, or anything beef based — and paprika, chilli powder, and red pepper flakes all offer a hit of heat in their own way. I also enjoy adding a pinch of cinnamon to beef stew.
Make better beans: What are beans but a blank canvas on which to paint a flavorful masterpiece? Have you tried Herbs de Provence with big, buttery white beans, or a mixture of thyme and garlic with chickpeas? Spices are particularly useful when you’re working with a can, which can have a more muted flavour—just add a little at a time, taste, and add more as needed.
Have you met popcorn?: Popcorn is an even blanker canvas than beans. Toss excess oregano and garlic powder in the food processor with some cheap powdered parmesan and kosher salt, and you have a brilliant popcorn topping. Repeat with any other spice combination that strikes your fancy.
If none of that is satisfactory for some reason, embrace the internet age and simply Google “whatever-spice-you-need-to-use-up recipe.” It turns out the internet is just full of recipes.