If you’re anything like me, you’ve got more spices than you know what to do with. At last count, we had 117 spices on hand in our kitchen. It was probably more like 130, if you count all the rubs we had hidden in the back corners of the spice cabinet and the eight different kinds of salts I maintain are necessary for our attempted cooking genius. On the day of the Great Spice Count, our kitchen was chock full of vanilla beans, saffron threads that were so expensive I’m actually afraid to use them, eight different kinds of curry powder, cardamom pods, ground cardamom seeds, you name it.
Spices are my culinary passport. They let me cross East and West in one sitting. With a few flicks of the wrist, I can travel from Thailand at lunch to the Greek Isles for dinner, all from the comforts of my own kitchen. They add depth, complexity, aroma, color, and flavor to everything I make. They make me feel adventurous, even when I’m only making a simple pasta sauce. And some of them are even rumored to increase brain health.
So clearly, keeping all these spices around was the smart thing to do, I told my husband when we packed up the house for our last big move. He laughed, and continued to help me pack the spices. But when they took up over two boxes and more cabinet space than we had to give them in our new kitchen, we realized we might have a problem. And maybe not enough shelving.
At some point, our spice collection went from “nice spice rack” straight into “four spice racks, three tupperware containers, one above-the-cabinet wicker basket, and a full shelf.” And yes, I still find myself buying more on a regular basis. (Who knew I needed lemon oil? And vanilla-lavendar sugar? But I do! I really do!)
And you would think, with this many spices, that we actually use all of them. Often. But I confess, most of them only see the light of day once in a blue moon when a particular recipe makes a unique ingredient request. Really, there are only ten we can’t live without. They’re the ones that get me through my day-to-day, dress up a chicken, make green beans exciting, and make the kitchen smell like magic. They’re the ones I reach for at least a couple times a week. In other words, they’re the ones I really use. And yet, there are still 120 more.
One hundred twenty other spices for baking, for breaking down meats in slow-cooked tagines, for brightening tomatoes, enlivening kale and collards, tempering peppers, adding kick to a salad, and making soups so tasty friends request them when they’re coming for dinner. One hundred twenty other spices I still don’t have room for. One hundred twenty spices I can’t seem to live without, either.
But you won’t see me getting rid of them anytime soon. Piling them in tupperware and trying desperately to find room for them above the cabinets or in the pantry? Absolutely. And that’s good news for everyone who eats at our table. The next time a recipe calls for saffron threads, I’ve got it covered. Vanilla lavender sugar? Coming right up! Eight different salts of varying color and taste? You got it. I might also need to go to food shoppers anonymous, but at least there, they’d probably understand. And I bet the snacks are terrific.
So do you really need all those spices? Of course not. But it doesn’t mean you shouldn’t make room for them, all the same.
Do you keep your spices to a reasonable few, or do you find your spice cabinet taking on a life of its own? What are the seasonings you can’t live without?