How to Spring Clean Your Spice Cabinet and Pantry

Posted by on Wednesday Mar 21st, 2012 | Print

We started our Great Minds Eat Alike series in order to mix up the usual BGSK offerings with interviews and submissions by cooks and eaters whose mentality towards cooking and eating meshes with ours. Today, on the second day of spring, we are incredibly excited to bring you a great guide about a dirty duty: getting your kitchen, from spice cabinet to pantry, clean. When you call it “spring cleaning,” it just sounds so fresh and bright, and, well, appealing. Especially because it comes  from a fellow quarter-life blogger, Carrie Murphy.

Carrie is a poet who blogs about healthy, easy food at Plums in the Icebox. She firmly believes that cooking doesn’t have to be complicated and that Elvis songs are the best possible kitchen soundtrack.

Here’s Carrie!

It’s been a long winter, hasn’t it? Now that it’s spring, I’m feeling the urge to begin anew. So naturally, I began with my kitchen. I try to do a comprehensive pantry and spice cabinet clean-out at least once a year; I feel like it cleanses my cooking karma, not to mention my cooking space. So this year my clean-out came a little early, but that’s because I’m sharing it with BGSK readers!

**How to Spring Clean Your Spice Cabinet and Pantry**

 

1. Take everything out. And I mean everything. You won’t be able to see what you really have unless everything is in your sight. So reach back into those dark crevices and pull out every last crumb, dab and drop. Lay it all out in front of you and get to decision-making. See how dirty my cabinet is too? We’ll take care of that a bit later.

2. Decide what to keep and what to toss. 

  • Spices. These generally have an expiration date on them somewhere; check the bottom. If it’s expired, toss it! Do the sniff test: if it smells pungent, it’s probably good. Do the taste test: if it tastes at all stale or old, it’s probably past its prime. Do the finger test: is it clumpy or cakey if you rub it between your thumb and forefinger? If so, it’s tossable.

McCormick also has a super cool spice-dating tool on their site. Just enter your McCormick spices’ codes and find out if they’re still good.

Ground ginger, you’re in the clear.
Old Bay, you’ve got to be tossed. As a native of Maryland, I was pretty appalled that my Old Bay had an expiration date of 2009.
  • Canned goods and other perishables: Generally, if it’s opened and you don’t want it anymore, toss it. If it’s sealed, you can go ahead and donate it.  Watch for tags or tears in the lining of boxes or bags, too: that means the contents may have been exposed, so it’s probably best to throw it away.
But how do you know if you still want it? Well, ask yourself these three questions:
  • Do I use it? The weird-looking dried soup mix your mom gave you? The almond extract you bought and never used? If it’s just taking up space, go ahead and get rid of it. If you’re thinking “I might use this one day!” set aside a small amount and see if you use it. If it hasn’t been touched during the next three months (write the date on it with a Sharpie!), toss it.
  • Does it have more than one use? If you only use your bottle of molasses for yearly gingersnaps, consider giving it a new home. Ingredients that are only appropriate for one meal are common clutter culprits in kitchens.
  • Does it fit into my current diet? If you’ve got foods laying around from your short-lived low-carb phase, it might be better to donate them.  Likewise for holiday baking ingredients, etc.

You could also try a “Use It Up” challenge: see if you can cook with and use all of your unwanted ingredients in a week or less. It may inspire you to be a bit more creative with your recipes. A jar of artichoke hearts might pair wonderfully with your about-to-expire cannellini beans, for example.

But, caramel popcorn leftover from my Christmas stocking? Sorry, you’re getting tossed.

3. Clean. Do a good deep clean of your shelving and cabinets. I’m sure you were surprised at how much random gunk was left over when you took all the items out, so take this opportunity to banish all that gunk with some cleaning spray and a wet rag or sponge. You can apply new drawer or shelf liners, too.

4. Reorganize. Ok, now that you’ve cleaned it all out, you’ve got to organize it! Decide how you’d like to organize your items. I group my spices and oils by size, but I group my pantry items by use (aka baking supplies together, canned goods together). Another option is to organize by how often you use a given item; if you’re constantly reaching for kosher salt, that might go in the front for easier access.

I didn’t end up deciding to get rid of that much, but if you do, I highly recommend donating the food to a local food drive. Some grocery stores will have a bin for donations, as well.

You can always hit up the big box stores for some canisters and containers to store small things like rice, beans, seeds, nuts, and grains; I saw some cute and colorful ones at Target recently. Your local dollar store should also have some good and affordable options. If you’re more of the recycling type, try using old jars from spaghetti sauce or jam, or even old coffee canisters. A charity shop or thrift store will also have some cool finds; I always see pretty jars and such at the Goodwill.

Make sure to label all of your bulk food items with the date you bought them; this will make it easier to know what’s fresh and what’s not-so-fresh in the future.

5. Cook! Of course! Now that you’ve completed your cabinet catharsis, scout out some awesome new recipes to make in your newly clean and organized space.

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  • dj

    I like your suggestions to taste, smell and feel your spices, rather than just relying on the expiration dates.  I think expiration dates are tricky.  They are required by federal regulations, and companies often pick a date without much testing to back it up.  It’s in their interest to get you to abide by those dates so you buy more of their product more often.

  • Nancy

    I dunno about tossing out those old herbs and spices… who needs to buy a new $5.99 bottle of seldom used things, such as cream of tartar, or fenugreek, every few years?  I’ve used items WAYYYY past their expiry dates with no loss of effectiveness, and there is certainly no health hazard here.  (OK, I wouldn’t use old yeast.)  For herbs, you might need to just use a little bit more.  We tend to be too finicky, and this really speaks to the  whole American throw away society.