By removing spices from their bottles, you can get far more into the same space. Here's a system for nicely organizing them.

Bag Your Spices

Spices seem to take up an inordinate amount of room in the galley, yet no one wants to have bland food. And so everyone is looking for a better way to store their spices. I’ve posted several ideas in the past, as every boat is different and what works well for one won’t do at all on another boat.

Here’s another option, from Terri Leiser-Gross. She has over 100 spices on her boat!

Terri got a bunch of small, heavier than Ziploc, plastic bags, labels and five plastic boxes with hinged lids at The Container Store. Of course, I can’t find them online at The Container Store, but I’m guessing that if you go to an actual walk-in store you could find them — or see below for some very similar ones I found on Amazon.

Terri put her spices in the plastic bags and labelled them, then arranged them alphabetically in the boxes and labelled the boxes to make it easy to find the spices.

The nice thing about this system is that you can use whatever size boxes fit the space you have available; just make sure to get bags that will fit in the box with a bit of room to spare to make it easy to find the spices and also put them back in after using. If the fit is too snug, it’ll just be a pain to use!

Terri used boxes with a latching hinged lid. If you think you might encounter some rough seas, a good choice would be Lock & Lock (or similar) containers — they’re a little heavier plastic and have latches on all four sides, so even if a box does get thrown to the floor, it’s not likely to pop open. Boxes are best if they’re no longer than 6 inches — more than that and the bags inside will just get jumbled.

The Lock & Lock boxes (or similar gasketed ones with tight latches from Sterilite or Rubbermaid) are also good if you’re in a climate with high humidity. You can even add a few desiccant packs to each box to further help with moisture. (Moisture will quickly degrade the flavor of most spices and will also cause them to clump.)

On Amazon, I found bags that have a white “write-on” square on them — not quite as neat as making labels but a lot faster. A 3″ x 4″ bag is about the smallest you want to use, both from the standpoint of being able to fit an entire bottle’s worth of a spice into a bag and to be able to open it wide enough to easily pour the spice in.

If you get write-on bags, be sure to use a permanent felt marker to label them — Sharpies work well. Otherwise, any dampness on your hands will make a mess of the labels. Don’t ask how I know this!

A real advantage of using bags like this: you won’t be tempted to hold the bag over a steaming pot and just sprinkle a bit in. The steam is just horrible for spices — taking away the flavor as well as making them clump — and it’s much better to just spoon out what you need.

Here are the supplies I found on Amazon. However, be sure to get what will fit in your galley. Start with boxes that will fit (figure that you can fit about 5 spices per lengthwise inch of the box when figuring how many boxes you’ll need), then get bags that will fit the boxes, plus any labels needed.

It’s not a bad idea to get more bags than you need right now, as some will have to be replaced over time and you might buy a new spice or two. Unfortunately, it costs about as much to get 100 bags as 500 but they’re still not horribly expensive compared to other systems for storing spices.

  • Jan Bogart
    Posted at 10 September 2014 Reply

    good idea…was just saying yesterday that mine are a mess i keep the bottles in plastic bins, but may try this

  • Monika
    Posted at 10 September 2014 Reply

    I have been using this method, and the same exact plastic bags, for years. We have food allergies and whe we travel try to book hotels with some cooking options ( fridge, microwave) and sometimes pack a small electric skillet in my luggage. Since we then purchase basic foods to cook, my traveling spice kit makes all the difference!

  • Catherine Mary Cornish
    Posted at 10 September 2014 Reply

    Going to do this. My spices took over my pantry. It is insane.

  • Susanna
    Posted at 10 September 2014 Reply

    I wrote a Bluewater Sailing article about this years ago…believe me, when you order 100 bags you’ll find dozens of other uses for them—especially once your engineer learns they are available!

  • Sandra Palmer
    Posted at 10 September 2014 Reply

    I love this idea. It will make spices so much easier to find in my pantry. Thank you.

  • Catherine Mary Cornish
    Posted at 11 September 2014 Reply

    Started to do this but then thought the spices would end up caught up in the zip so the bags may not close properly. Is this a problem? I counted, I have 65 spices in the pantry

    • The Boat Galley
      Posted at 12 September 2014 Reply

      No problem with the ones I’ve tried so far. I do try to use a spoon to get them out, rather than pouring, so that may help.

  • Cap'n Dan
    Posted at 11 September 2014 Reply

    The spice of life! I have a nice container that has one bottle, assorted pepper. A variety of my favourite spices and herbs live in the container and move from landlubber kitchen to seagoing galley with little effort. Easy to update with more spices and herbs available in Australia in convenient packs rather than bottles. Makes enjoying food simple and easy. Fair winds! Cap’n Dan

  • Elinore Criag
    Posted at 11 September 2014 Reply

    Thanks for this! We don’t have our boat yet, but our starting the career wind-down and home down-sizing. Our spice collection is definitely on our short list of ‘stuff’ to bring aboard and was looking for these type of bags (yes, I clicked and ordered from Amazon!).

    Any ideas for the collection of vinegar bottles? White balsamic, red balsamic, raspberry, sherry, apple cider, white…to name a few.

  • Sharon Whitefoot
    Posted at 12 April 2016 Reply

    I have converted to your system and it works very well. I can carry a larger variety, and seasoning stay fresh!!!

  • Carol Caldwell
    Posted at 19 March 2017 Reply

    A few years ago we spent 6 months cruising the Caribbean and I was so pleased with little spice bags til about 4-6 weeks in, everything in my spice box started to taste like curry. I recently experimented,using a few small plastic jars and once again, the curry smell leached out. Lesson learned – curry and other strong spices will get homes of their own in some little glass spice jars I found at Marshalls!

  • Diane Mann
    Posted at 21 September 2017 Reply

    I do that in my house too! I got tired of searching through the bottles! I have the lettered dividers in my box, so I can file them and find them (sort of) LOL

    • Hilary Catron
      Posted at 22 September 2017 Reply

      I tried it, it was awful! Everything I had in the basket smelled like cumin. I ended up tossing all but the spices I use with cumin, because that’s the only spice you could taste. There’s a reason they use glass for spice jars!

    • Carol Caldwell
      Posted at 23 September 2017 Reply

      I agree! I was so proud of my little space-saving spice box, but everything in it tasted like cinnamon and chili after a few months. The oils can permeate plastic bags.

  • Tawnya Feudi
    Posted at 21 September 2017 Reply

    Great idea thanks

  • Allan Cobb
    Posted at 21 September 2017 Reply

    Write the date on the bag so you can replace old spices from thyme to thyme.

  • Barbara Nau Bryant
    Posted at 22 September 2017 Reply

    I do this on my boat too! Works great. Takes up less space and spices are much easier to find. When we move into the RV for the summer it’s easy to grab my spice box and go.

  • Arkouda Phelan
    Posted at 22 September 2017 Reply

    Mine were stored in basket in the bottles, and then stuffed in. Cooking underway always involves opening and ducking. Can’t wait to do this!

  • James Gyore
    Posted at 23 September 2017 Reply

    Clever, though I take the extra step of using a light-blocking solid coloured box to prolong the life (flavour and aroma) of dried herbs and spices. I also colour code (coloured sticker above the zip-lock). Any combination/collection of a specific colour amounts a particular cuisine or flavour profile. Carib, Med or SE asia,. I don’t do ME as there are far too many spices usually implicated to do this cuisine justice. Makes cooking a particular style/cuisine of meal a no-brainer.

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