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The Useful Spice Rack: From Ancient Times to Modern Galleys

As you may know, I take my galley equipment very seriously. I love writing about everyday objects with passion and flair, uncovering the exceptional in what many consider plain. This month, I'm turning my attention to the spice rack—a particularly useful tool for those who crave easy access to their spices. The concept of a dedicated space for spices is not a modern convenience but a tradition steeped in history. In ancient times, spices were more precious than gold, traded across vast distances, and guarded as treasures. The spice rack, in its earliest forms, was a mark of affluence and sophistication, a testament to the household's access to the exotic and the exquisite.

Imagine a medieval apothecary, where glass vials filled with saffron, cloves, and cinnamon lined wooden shelves, each spice a piece of a larger puzzle that could unlock the secrets of flavour, health, and preservation. These early spice racks were meticulously organised, often displaying the apothecary's skill and knowledge.


I couldn´t imagine my galley without a spice rack, it's a humble yet indispensable tool, and I'd like to share why it has been such an emblematic piece in kitchens throughout the ages.

On our 30ft Halmatic Vega, I had the luxury of space for two wooden spice racks, and they quickly became essential fixtures and offered a pretty backdrop to what would normally be a pretty plain bulkhead.  You probably remember that everything in my galley needs to be versatile!

I’m not alone in my love for the spice rack, nor am I an innovator. The spice rack, or more importantly the jars that it holds have been an important part of kitchen organisation for centuries. In fact, organising and storing spices is a practice that dates back to ancient times. As early as 2600 BCE, the ancient Egyptians used spices like cumin and coriander for both culinary and medicinal purposes. Spices were precious commodities, often used as currency and traded extensively across the ancient world. Convenient storage for these treasures was essential to preserving their quality.

In this article, we'll explore the origins of the spice rack, the materials they are made from, the ideal sizes for different kitchen setups, and how people have utilised spice storage throughout history.

Let's dive into the fascinating world of spice racks and discover why they are an enduring and essential part of any kitchen or galley.


The Origins of the Spice Storage

Ancient Egypt

The Silk Road and other trade routes facilitated the exchange of spices between East and West. Merchants stored spices in durable containers to protect them during long journeys, highlighting the importance of preserving these valuable commodities.

The Egyptians stored their spices in clay pots and jars, kept in cool, dark places to preserve their potency. They understood the value of spices not only in cooking, but also in embalming and religious rituals. 


Ancient Rome

The Romans, known for their elaborate feasts and culinary sophistication, had designated storage for spices. Wealthy Romans stored spices in ornate boxes made of wood, metal, or ceramic. These containers were often beautifully decorated, reflecting the high value placed on their contents.


Medieval Europe

In medieval European kitchens, spices were stored in locked chests to prevent theft. These chests often had multiple compartments, each designated for a different spice, reflecting the precious nature of these ingredients.  During this era, spices were considered a symbol of wealth and status


Colonial Era

The spice trade expanded significantly during the Age of Exploration. European explorers brought back exotic spices from Asia, leading to an increased demand for organized spice storage.

In colonial America, built-in cupboards and pantries became common in homes. These storage solutions included designated spaces for spices, indicating their integral role in cooking and food preservation.


Modern Times

Today, spice storage solutions have become more sophisticated and varied. Innovations such as magnetic spice racks, rotating carousel racks, and stackable drawer inserts reflect modern needs for efficiency and organization in the kitchen.  However, for the purpose of us boat dwellers, space is almost always what dictates how we store our spices,.




The Perfect Size and Design


The ideal size and design of a spice rack depends largely on the size of your galley.

on your individual needs and the size of the kitchen. Here are some considerations:


Countertop Spice Racks

These are perfect for those who need easy access to their most-used spices and for those who have the luxury of such workspace in their galley.   They are typically compact and can hold a dozen or so spices, making them ideal for small kitchens or for cooks who like to keep their spices within arm's reach.  Placed on a slip mat assures it shouldn’t move too much but again this depends largely on the boat you have and the waters you sail.

Wall-Mounted Spice Racks

These racks save counter space and can hold a larger collection of spices. As they come in all kinds of sizes you can generally find one to fit the area you want to have it in.  This has always been what I have had on the boats I have owned as I think a wall-mounted spice rack gives a homely and cosy feel to the galley of a boat. 

I must confess, I do have way too many spices to have them all on show, so I put my most used ones on the rack for easy reach.  You will find cumin, coriander, garlic granules, oregano, paprika, chilli, turmeric, cinnamon, cumin seeds, ground clove, rosemary, thyme and smoked paprika as well as my homemade mixes for taco seasoning, Moroccan spice blend, Greek spice blend, Italian spice blend, Baharat spice mix and Lebanese spice mix.

If you are interested in knowing how I mix them then check out this blog post where I give you the blends here.


Drawer Spice Racks

Designed to fit inside kitchen drawers, these racks keep spices organized and out of sight. They are perfect for those who prefer a clutter-free countertop but still want quick access to their spices and generally suit larger monohulls or catamarans who have larger drawer space.  I do have drawers and I do store my extra spices in one of them in sealed plastic reusable bags.  (I did tell you I had a lot of spices!)


Cabinet Spice Racks

I have also been on boats where versatile cabinet spice racks can be installed inside cabinet doors or on shelves. They are great for larger spice collections and a neat way of making the most of the space you have.


I have written an article about spice storage for and will link it here when it is live, which should be later on in July.

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