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« The Year of Jam | Main | The Transatlantic Tomato Chase »

All Spiced Up

Years ago, I told you about my spice bowl. You remember, that big glass bowl I stored my collection of spices in for the better part of seven years; the bowl that I was too embarrassed to show to any of my friends, and which filled my kitchen with a thick cloud of nose-tickling spice dust whenever I opened the cupboard it lived in? Yeah, that one. The one that was - despite the inconvenience of never being able to find what I was looking for, and of poorly-closed bags of cinnamon and sesame seeds slowly leaking their contents into the bottom of the bowl, and of frequently opting to buy a new bag of something rather than go through the effort of seeing if I already had it - the best system for storing and organizing spices I could find.

The problem was - and still is, as far as I can tell - that people who design spice racks aren't actually people who cook. If they were, they would certainly know that a measly sixteen or twenty bottles aren't going to cut it. I mean, I have single recipes that call for that many spices! My bare-bones minimum, the number I couldn't even think of living without, is probably somewhere around thirty, and once you start adding the esoteric ones - the berbere, sumac and kalonji seeds, for example - well, you can see the problem. I suppose I could have bought three or four spice racks and stacked them side by side, but not only did I not have the space to do that, I didn't want to financially support those clueless spice rack designers by buying their products in the first place.

When we moved back to the US, though, I was determined to find a better solution. I was sick and tired of that stupid bowl, but I was afraid that if I didn't find a dedicated storage device the problem would just migrate to a drawer or shelf somewhere. My first thought was one of those trendy magnetic racks - you know, a set of clear-top magnetized tins that stick to a sheet of metal on your wall, which in theory can expand to accommodate as many tins as you need - but after nearly fainting dead on the floor of a well-known Seattle kitchenware shop when I looked at the price of one, I decided I was going to have to keep looking.

The solution I finally stumbled upon took some lateral thinking, a lot of scouring the internet, and few days of crossing fingers that everything I found would actually fit together, but in the end it is the most utterly perfect spice rack imaginable. And did I mention it only cost a fraction of what a comparable magnetic rack would have? The rack itself is an old printer's tray from ebay, you know, one of those that used to hold type blocks for the press. The trays come in all shapes and sizes, but the one I was lucky enough to find has fifty-five - count 'em, fifty! five! - uniform rectangular compartments, each of which is just about perfectly proportioned to hold one of these four-ounce square tins. The fit is not exact, of course, and the tins stick out nearly an inch beyond the edge of their compartments, but a little foam tape here and there has filled the major gaps and seems to do a good job of keeping everything snug and tight - snug enough, even, for me to hang the whole thing on the wall, an arm's length away from the stove, where every night I'm rediscovering the joy of adding pinches and smidgens without needing a half-hour's advance planning.

In fact, it's working out so well that I'm tempted to open a spice-rack design business myself and start producing them to order. Hmm, do you think there'd be any takers?

p.s. Surely I'm not the only one to hit my head against the wall for so long about spice storage - what do you guys do?

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  • Response
    Response: Organised spice
    As both a wanton foodie and cook and a woodworker who specialises in cabinets and containers there aren’t many things I am more passionate about.

Reader Comments (97)

I love your solution. I'm in rented accomodation so I can't stick anything on the walls anyay-so I've got my spices in old jam/pesto jars that I soaked to get the labels off. I love finding a pretty jar that I can repurpose for my spices, and I love the look of them all through the glass-so pretty. They're all on a shelf in my cupboard that's divided by one of those shelf divider things you buy from organisational shops so I can find them easily. But your system seems more organised, and those printer trays are beautiful.

October 16, 2008 | Unregistered CommenterSian

I bought a ton of watchmaker's cases from Lee Valley Hardware - I forget which size, maybe F? and superglued magnet rounds from HD to the back. The side of my refrigerator is exposed, so they all live there.

It's a nice handy & cheap solution, but yours is prettier.

October 16, 2008 | Unregistered CommenterMorfydd

i peak in on your blog often and could not resist commenting this post. i have the sorriest excuse for a spice cupboard--very narrow and tall and shoved into the most awkward corner of my tiny kitchen. i can't reach into it while the stove is one for fear that i will light the hem of my shirt on fire. i would most definitely be in the market for a usable spice rack. definitely.

October 17, 2008 | Unregistered Commentercindy

I just wrote a post for NUTMEG sugar cookies - in which I explained that I was playing favourites when it came to my spices. I should really have no excuse when it comes to organising my spice rack, at least that is what the contractor who installed the 'spice cupboard' in our kitchen would say.... however he is CONFUSED!!! The rack is only 5cm (2.5 inches) deep, which means there is no room for error when it comes to the size of the spice container. It is also placed directly over the stove - so there have been several close calls of spice jars falling out of the cupboard and almost into my cooking!!!
This is all to say thank you for this wonderful solution, it is very much appreciated.
Have a nice weekend

October 17, 2008 | Unregistered CommenterErika of SWEET PEA blog

That is the spice rack of my dreams! Well, maybe I'm just fawning over the sheer size of your spice collection...but that dark wood with the labelled tins is very attractive in itself.

October 17, 2008 | Unregistered CommenterJenna

How fantastic! I've always loved the idea of having my spices in actual containers and not just the ugly bottles they come in so I will have to keep this in mind. I think you have indeed found the perfect solution. I would completely invest in that venture ;)

October 18, 2008 | Unregistered CommenterThe Flying Quiche

I couldn't agree more. I am not as fortunate (clever?:)) as you are, and have yet to find a solultion to my problem. Your shelving looks visually attractive as well as being completely practical. I can't begin to tell you how far below par my current storage system is.......

October 20, 2008 | Unregistered CommenterCoby

My spices are all gathered in a cupboard above my stove. It's terrible! There's no fan, so steam rises up and gets in the cupboard and ruins everything. I've had 'reorganize spices' on my list of things to do since I moved in May. I was thinking of putting them in a drawer with the labels on the lids to keep track of them better.
I wish I could put up a spice rack, but there's no good wall space for it! Yours looks beautiful, though!

October 20, 2008 | Unregistered Commentermargaux

i store my spices in no order whatsoever above my stove in a cabinet i can barely reach. so collecting one is precarious as i'm usually leaning over the burner or i drop it in the soup. i love your spice rack. and would definitely invest in one.

October 21, 2008 | Unregistered CommenterLainey

Hi Melissa:
I don't know if you received my e-mail, however, you have been awarded a Smile Reward. Please see my blogspace for more details.

October 21, 2008 | Unregistered Commenterpurpleflowers

Spice Organization is a MAJOR problem in most kitchens as evidenced by your posting and the number of comments. My family likes to cook AND designed a better spice rack for that exact reason. We came up with the SpiceStack...

SpiceStack stores 27 store-bought spice bottles in your kitchen cabinets where they stay dark, dry and fresh. The patented drop-down drawers allow home cooks to easily and quickly find the spice they need while cooking (no more digging through cabinets, bowls, lazy susans, etc.). The current unit sells for $29.95 plus $6.95 S&H but tomorrow we are introducing our new, stackable Spicestack that holds 18 bottles and sells for $24.95 with FREE S&H. The smaller size will allow for people to purchase more SpiceStacks as their spice collection grows. Check it out at SpiceStack.com.

I hope this is helpful to some of you out there who are struggling with your spices! Happy Organizing.

Lauren Greenwood, President, SpiceStack Inc.

October 21, 2008 | Unregistered CommenterLauren

I love the spice jars and thin wooden shelf that you get at IKEA. I have 60+ spice bottles. I put the shelves inbetween my top cupboards and the backsplash on the countertop. It doesn't take up much space, it's expandable, it's cheap, and makes me look like an amazing cook!

October 21, 2008 | Unregistered CommenterRebar

Wow! I'm a brand new visitor to your site (linked from Amy Karol's blog) and I love the fact that the first post I see is amazingly perfect. I basically don't cook - I live alone and am just not much of a foodie. Heating canned soup on the stove qualifies as cooking for me! However, I have a friend who does like to cook a good deal and be experimental with things in the kitchen, and as we're approaching the holiday season (two months away but tell that to the department stores!) I've been desperately trying to think of a good gift for her...and I think you've solved my problem! I'm now going to embark on an internet journey to obtain the materials. Thank you so much! :)

October 22, 2008 | Unregistered CommenterAlison

me, I prefer the ubiquitous glass containers, the one which Martha Stewart has on her cupboard.
Just dropped by to say hi!


October 23, 2008 | Unregistered CommenterBob LaGatta

My spice problem is solved... for now. I too am getting more and more into Indian cooking, and it's swelling my spice collection hugely.

I bought 3 sets of stacking spice racks - each one holds 12 spices, and they have a little clicky dial on each container that allows you to empty out 1/4 teaspoon with each click. Saves me the trouble of measuring spices, however I can't fit any more racks in my kitchen and having more than 36 spices in my collection they're migrating to cupboards, the pantry, the fridge.

I would love to have a beautiful solution like yours.

October 24, 2008 | Unregistered Commenterminibrutus

Well come on then young lady, what are you waiting for?! Start the business up and get selling!! Looks like you've got your first 65 customers right here in front of you.

Well done for solving the perennial and world-wide (I'm sure) problem of the Spice Rack, and thank you for sharing your solution, I'll be trying to cobble something like this together myself.

October 24, 2008 | Unregistered Commenternibblescribbler

Hi guys! Wow, I had no idea the issue of spice storage would hit such a nerve. It's funny how there is obviously such a big need to be filled, and yet so few products out there even attempting to fill it. Maybe I really should consider going into business! Hello, investors?

p.s. To those of you who've asked about a source for the tins, there is a link in the text which should be visible now - it apparently wasn't showing up to users of Internet Explorer before because of the positioning of the html tags. Sigh...

October 25, 2008 | Registered Commentermelissa

I found these square tins with a clear top at a reasonable price http://www.custommagneticspicerack.com/bravada

October 25, 2008 | Unregistered CommenterDenise P

LOVE your spice rack. I too got those containers at specialty bottle. At first, I loved them. Now though, they infuriate. After a few years of use, they stick and I can't tell you how frustrating it is to try to wiggle one open without spraying allspice all over the kitchen when it finally comes free. I'm not sure what my replacement solution will be, as they do make for easy organization - I have mine on a couple of lack shelves from ikea mounted just under the cabinets.

November 2, 2008 | Unregistered Commentergaile

Wow- cool idea! I really like the looks and how functional it is! I have been looking for such a long time to find an arrangement for under my cabinets- this might work for me too! I think you should sell them- I would pay for one. I like all the offering on the link with the tins, but will I luck out and find a typeset drawer? Hmmm, lots of measuring involved- not my specialty. By the way, I am going to try your cardamom pear butter- it really looks good. Thanks for being so generous with the recipes you find that work well for you.

November 4, 2008 | Unregistered CommenterMelissa

Beautiful solution! My kitchen is super tiny (think of a boat kitchen) so I have an assortment of those tins with magnets stuck on the bottom. My spices are stuck to the side of my fridge. The spices do double duty by adding a nice pop of color and easily accessible. It also frees up cabinet and drawer space.

November 5, 2008 | Unregistered CommenterSeattle Tall Poppy

What a beautiful spice rack! Wow. I wish for one like exactly that.

I, too, looked into those metallic spice jars after I saw them being used at the Stash Tea Store. $15 for six of them? Eek! My husband had a better idea, so for now I use one of my precious drawers (I only have three) and I used metallic Sharpies to label the black lids of all my jars. They take up half the drawer, so far, and I use the rest of the drawer for measuring cups and other miscellaneous baking tools. (Must move the grater, though--my fingers tell me it's not a good idea keeping that there, even in the back.)

And I love the idea for your spice rack, but I couldn't put it up in my current apartment. If we get a house, I'd definitely be interested, though!

December 2, 2008 | Unregistered CommenterJena

I have a big rubber tub with a lid and it makes all the spices taste like cumin. I would pay for something like this

December 4, 2008 | Unregistered Commentershayne

please make one of these for me - I would buy it in an instant!

January 9, 2009 | Unregistered CommenterLiza

I really like your spice rack. I noticed that your spice tins are metal perhaps, instead of tape in the cubbies you can use magnets? I imagine you would have to replace that tape after some time. If you glued a magnet to the back of the cubbie then it may hold your tin in place for you? I thought it might be helpful.

January 12, 2009 | Unregistered CommenterMyou

if you were to open a place manufacturing cases like these for this reason, you'd probably do quite well. it's pretty difficult to find a type case with boxes that are all the same size, and even more difficult to find with boxes wide enough to hold even the smallest spice container. yours is quite beautiful.

is there anywhere you'd recommend looking to find type cases similar to yours?

February 26, 2009 | Unregistered Commentermatt

I hear you loud and clear. There's a wonderful farmer's market near my apartment that has an enormous variety of affordable spices, that I've overdone mysrlf a bit. I started out with a lot of spices, and my collection has now grown enough to tack up two racks in a cupboard and a large shelf on the wall. If you did start a business with these, I would definitely make an attempt to procure one.
Great idea!

March 6, 2009 | Unregistered CommenterAdam

I saw this post a few months a ago and have been visualizing it in my dream kithchen.sad I know but heh thats why we read blogs.these things make us happy...thank you for your spice tins

March 24, 2009 | Unregistered Commenterjean

A beautiful solution to an age old dilema - congrats!
I stumbled across your gorgeous website full of fantastic fun foodie things, and this about the first article I read.

It's reassuring to know I"m not the only one who agonises over the best way of storing spices that statisfies culinary curiosity, practicality, style, and taste.

That's a fantastic idea. I'm yet to find the best solution - currently using an ugly, but practical set from Decor (im in Australia). LIttle plastic clear tubs , about 12 to a tray. I have 4 stacked up and counting!

Enjoy your brilliant solution, and thank you for a lovely, stylish and informative site.

April 7, 2009 | Unregistered Commenterpixstix

I just discovered your lovely blog, spice racks are a nightmare! I agree they are definitely not designed by cooks.

I have a few Tupperware spice containers and I love them, I will definitely be getting more. For me they need to be big enough to stick a teaspoon in and stack, I hate the small glass jars that make it so hard to measure.

July 20, 2009 | Unregistered Commenterkazzles

I don't know what to say.....You're lucky to be able to have the ability to design such a Wonderful spice racks! Especially, knowing that you were able to get a BEAUTIFUL printer tray from eBay with 55 box uniquely designed just for you!!!!!! ARRRRRGGGH! You're making me jealous! I have just re-organized my spice rack but it is not as wonderful as yours, Not At All....but it does its job for me, right now!

Thanks for such an inspiring idea! YES, I absolutely Love and Adore your spice rack!

September 22, 2009 | Unregistered CommenterAdelina

Love this idea, stumbled across this website whilst looking for a Spicy Solution. Let me know if you go into business and stick me down for an order.
Lynn - UK.

October 25, 2009 | Unregistered Commenterlynn

Love the blog! Found you through Apartment Therapy.

I was wondering how those tins hold up over time. I bought these from BBB and when I washed them, the seal under the clear lid turned out not to be waterproof. I only noticed when all my spices got ruined due to water stuck under the lid.

November 21, 2009 | Unregistered CommenterKay

Hello - I just stopped by to say Happy Holidays

December 15, 2009 | Unregistered CommenterAlise

I love your spicerack solution. My question relates to the printer's typeset tray...I have purchased two at antique shops and I want to clean them and put little collectibles in them. I don't particularly want to refinish them, just clean them. Do you know how to to that?

September 6, 2010 | Unregistered CommenterSharon

There's a new product on the market that as far as I can tell is extremely innovative in the spice industry. For any of you that are frequent travelers or outdoor enthusiasts, check out this company Spicy Packets. They have tablespoon-sized, single service packets that are supposed to be fresher than any old spices you'll find on your spice rack. Spices only last for 6 months before they basically have no flavor, but these packets are completely shielded from sunlight and air exposure. They seem like a great, inexpensive gift or product for anyone on the go who wants the best possible spices in the most convenient form. Let me know if you learn anything that I don't know - it seems like a pretty cool idea!

December 14, 2010 | Unregistered CommenterPaul Eschen

I just followed the link here from Tea and Cookies' spice organization post, and I must say that yours was the only system of the lot that really tempted me - especially since I bind books as well. How has the system aged, and do you still love it?

Oh, yes! I honestly can't imagine life without it. The spices are so easy to organize and access, and the rack itself is like a piece of vintage art. The tins have their drawbacks (the rims, for example, must be kept very clean for the lids to slide off smoothly), but they do their job and have held up admirably. I haven't had to replace one yet. -m

January 5, 2011 | Unregistered CommenterLivia

If you're tired of storing spices, check out Spicy Packets. They were created to relieve people of problems with convenience, portability, lack of freshness, and other problems that the common spice market doesn't address. You buy just what you need, when you're going to need it.

January 6, 2011 | Unregistered CommenterPaul Eschen

I saw your idea here and went to ebay and found a perfect one for me. It's being shipped today and I can't wait to get it all put together. It's going above my stove on my newly repainted kitchen and it's going to look wonderful. I had been trying to find an alternative spice rack for a while and just couldn't come up with anything I liked. This was a wonderful find... thanks for the inspiration.

October 17, 2011 | Unregistered CommenterJanet

congrats, it's usefull, beautiful and a lovely idea
and I love this : "The problem was - and still is, as far as I can tell - that people who design spice racks aren't actually people who cook. If they were, they would certainly know that a measly sixteen or twenty bottles aren't going to cut it."
thank you for inspiring me :-)

November 8, 2011 | Unregistered CommenterMarieMarie

Most people have room on the side of their refrigerators for something. I bought a bunch of tins (like yours but round and without the clear lid - which exposes the spices to the sun) and made the mistake of getting the kind that pull off rather than twist off. I learned my lesson since my arthritic hands had a hard time pulling off the tops and frequently I ended up with spice all over my kitchen. So, I bought new tins with twist off caps. I then got some magnetic tape from my local craft store (I think it was Michaels) and cut off squares of the magnetic tape and then put them on the back of the tins (they have a peel off paper leaving a sticky side). I then put labels on the front of the tins and then just stuck them to the side of my refrigerator. They look great there and are handy to my stove. Here's where I got my tins: http://www.specialtybottle.com/screwtoptincontainersmi.aspx.

July 10, 2012 | Unregistered CommenterKatie

I actually really want to do the same thing myself. It's brilliant. But I can't find any cases with equal sized openings. Do you know which one you got?

July 19, 2012 | Unregistered CommenterNeena

Having just discovered this blog - okay, a few years after it appeared, I would like to thank you for inspiring me right at the time that I was totally fed up with the mixed up spice cupboard that quite frequently suffered mysterious movement behind the closed doors, so when I opened the cupboard I was attacked by more than one flying spice bottle (paprika powder is not easy to clean up!).
For Neena and anyone else just stumbling across this and thinking of having a go at something similar, I've found the tins for a very reasonable 3 for $4 at https://www.papertreyink.com/clear-top-tins/ and they ship overseas for a reasonable price - it's not easy to find anything like this in Australia. I haven't been able to find a suitable printers tray, but found some wooden bakery display trays like this http://imgc.classistatic.com/cps/blnc/120923/837r1/6844ekm_20.jpeg that I will glue dowling dividers into, and probably have to put velcro on the backs of the tins to hold in place.

October 24, 2012 | Unregistered CommenterAmanda

OH!!!! I have one of those just sitting! I have to see if the spaces are big enough. Great idea!

December 18, 2012 | Unregistered CommenterDiana Lesrie Brandmeyer

I want this option! All of my spices are just in my cupboard because I keep trying to figure out a solution and I can't figure one out :( I have like 50 spices!!!

April 9, 2013 | Unregistered CommenterBai

Melissa, I think your solution is tops for functionality and elegance! (Next best are velcro and magnet approaches, but they get fewer style points in my judgement.) I've started my own project to create something similar. To anyone looking for printers' trays, I found the best places to look are eBay and Etsy, and good searches are "printers type case" and "printers type drawer". If you dig, you will find some with equal sized compartments, or just two different sizes. (Though if you're creative, you might come up with a way to use variously-sized compartments!) I would also check that the depth of the compartments is at least an inch and a half; less just doesn't seem like it would hold much stably.

Wish me luck, and spicy success to all who follow this path!

August 27, 2013 | Unregistered CommenterAndrew Pimlott

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