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Photos: Prakhar

I sense a flux of cooking articles coming on. I have been hammered with questions, and lately, they are all centering around cooking, and how to get started. Today, I thought I might cover what needs to be done when shopping for spices.

Some Background

In just about every kitchen I have ever visited, on the wall, is the venerable spice rack. There are usually several tiny bottles of more spices than would ever be needed in any cooking situation. The spices in these starter sets are usually the same batch that have been siting in there since the first round.

People usually then ask me what to do with all these spices.

My first recommendation is shocking: take them all, and throw them out.

There are a few rules you should use when evaluating your spice rack:

  1. If you have had a spice for more than a year, and been puzzled by it, it’s probably time to pitch it.
  2. If you can’t remember the last time you used any individual spice, pitch it.
  3. If you can’t name three recipes that would use it, you should probably pitch it.

After all this pitching, your options will be much smaller, but much fresher.

Herbs and spices have a limited shelf life, and once you get the hang of it, you can tell how long they have been sitting there by looking and smelling them. For now, just trust me on this one.

Determining your Needs


Now that you are devoid of stale spices, you have to figure out what you need. This can be really tough at first, and will vary widely by tastes and ethnicity. If you have a stable of recipes you normally cook, and are looking for something new to try, this is where it might get tricky.

When I start to get bored with my current menu offerings, I do the following:

  1. Think of something you love from a restaurant. Then, start searching around for recipes. You will probably have to experiment to figure out how you want to dial it in, but that’s the fun part.
  2. Think of a dish from your past. Something your mom or grandma made, then resolve to learn it.
  3. Watch the food network for about five minutes. That will give you all sorts of silly ideas to play with.

Armed with those recipes, make a shopping list of spices.

Avoid the Grocery Store

Now that you are ready to set out to start or replenish your supply, avoid the grocery store if you possibly can. The grocery store is the most expensive place EVER for spices.

I have started picking up spices at my local bulk food store, and found it now impossible to fork over such serious money at the grocery store. for example:

SpiceGrocery StoreBulk Food Store
Cumin$5.34$0.76
Cinnamon$4.31$0.80
Rosemary(Whole)$5.12$0.71

These prices are for 2 oz containers.

If you are not sure about bulk food stores, make sure to stop by my article on them, and try to find one in your area.

At the bulk food store, there really is no discount for buying larger quantities, so I would definitely recommend buying smaller quantities and replenishing often.

While you are there, don’t buy anything not on your list unless you have immediate plans to use it. You are trying to make sure you have fresh spices on hand. Don’t goof it up.

In the Future

So, you now have a manageable spice rack with only the things you need in it. What to do now? Keep up with more of the above. Experimenting, buying spices on the cheap, and exploring new ways of cooking.

Once you get into a groove, you will definitely keep your spices rotating and fresh.

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