Making the case for spice-rack anarchy

Carefully curated cupboards on social media are the death of creativity, says writer Cat Thomson. Her spice-rack might make Marie Kondo wince but at least it gets used with abandon.

Are you one for an ordered, labelled and sparkly spice-rack or is yours comfortably chaotic? Let us know!

Making the case for spice-rack anarchy

When you go to make spice-strewn recipes, I hope you’ll be opening a chaotic spice cupboard like mine, overflowing with glass jars and sachets filled with aromatic treasures. When the door opens my senses are assaulted by a cascade of aromas (and, if I’m being honest, very occasionally a cascade of badly packed jars), but I love that intoxicating bouquet. They all fight to impress me: fragrant cardamom, hints of nut-like paprika, lemony coriander, the liquorice notes of star anise and the earthy, gingery aroma of turmeric. There’s something about that musky cabinet of curiosities that gets my culinary juices flowing and will always get me cooking with joy.

Go online, however, like a modern-day Alice Through the Looking Glass, and you enter a fantastical universe inhabited by perfectly coiffed queens who pose in their bespoke kitchens and show off to the world their Instagram-worthy spice hoards (arranged by colour for maximum effect). They may know how to spend a fortune when it comes to purchasing a photogenic larder, but – and ironically they’re probably called Saffron, Angelica or Anise – I doubt they know how to spice up a meal.

Their expensive statement kitchens are lined with smart whatever-the-hot-colour-is-this-week cupboards, where inside you’ll find neatly stacked tins (all out of date) and unopened jars. When I see those sterile larders, I feel nothing. I have no desire to cook. To me they’re like a room full of awkward strangers or a blank page in a book.

In contrast, my haphazardly ordered shelf with half-emptied jars covered in smudges is like a wild party in full swing, filled with interesting and eager friends, all jostling to join the melée. I need that symphony of spices to make my dishes sizzle.

The best chefs use their creativity, inventing new spice combinations trying ‘a bit of this’ to balance ‘a bit of that’ and then maybe a bit more. A pristine space is not where real culinary invention lies – creativity lives and cooks on the very edge of disaster. You need to trust yourself and keep tasting and tweaking until you reach the pinnacle of perfection.

“A pristine space is not where real culinary invention lies – it lives and cooks on the very edge of disaster”

Spices are wonderful, must-have ingredients and an affordable weapon in every home cook’s arsenal. They can transform bland food into a taste of heaven. They should be used daily and liberally, not locked inside jars for mere decoration.

My spice stash may be unruly and untidy, filled with chaotic culinary creativity, but it is well loved and contains familiar faces that have helped me pep up pallid paellas, rescue rubbish roasties and saved my spice-coated bacon on countless occasions.

Perhaps I shouldn’t stick my head above the parapet and decry the pristine brigade. It’s all about personal choice, after all, but I cook with a fire in my belly, and spices – each one a genie in a bottle –need to be let out to provide the magical flavour profiles that my taste buds crave. I won’t be tidying my chaotic spice cupboard any time soon.

Find out how to buy sustainable spices here.

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