Thursday, January 31, 2013

How to Buy Herbs and Spices

Herbs and spices (they’re herbs if you use the leaves, spices if you use the roots or flowers or seeds or other parts) are usually hideously expensive if you buy them in the little jars at the grocery store. Walmart and Aldi, though, have jars of the commonly used spices for less than a dollar. They’re 64 cents a jar at Walmart or 99 cents for a larger jar at Aldi. They don’t have all of the things I use, but they have a lot of them. The last time I checked, Walmart had chili powder, cinnamon, dried parsley, Italian seasoning, garlic powder and onion powder. Aldi had chili powder, cinnamon, cumin, dried parsley, garlic powder, Italian seasoning, paprika, and onion powder.

They are expensive in the little glass jars. Even though you usually just need a tiny bit and a jar of most things will last practically forever, you still have that initial outlay. One way to avoid that is to buy your herbs and spices in bulk at Bloomingfoods. The price per pound is sometimes higher than if you buy it in the glass jars at the grocery stores (most of Bloomingfoods’ herbs and spices are organic and cost more, but if they have the unorganic kind they’re usually cheaper per pound than in the grocery store), but because you only have to buy a tiny bit, it’s not so bad. Just be sure that you do only buy a tiny bit, though! I keep buying a lot more than I intend to. Here are a couple of ways to make sure you’re only buying what you want. First, reuse old spice jars. You can weigh the jars before you fill then, so you aren’t paying for the weight of the jar. Use the scale at the store and write the weight on the jar. Be sure to wash the jar first, of course, and dry it very well. Put a tablespoon of salt in the jar and draw a line on the outside to show how much that is. Take the salt out. Then, when you get to Bloomingfoods, only put in enough of the herb or spice to come to that line, or maybe even a little less. That way you’re only getting a tablespoon or less, and most recipes only call for a teaspoon or less of any given seasoning. A similar though less precise method is to put that tablespoon of salt into a small plastic bag, and give it a good hard look so you know how much it is. Then get the same amount at Bloomingfoods.

You’ll be amazed at how cheap things end up this way. Cayenne pepper, for example (hot red pepper) was $10.29 per pound when I checked there last. Sounds expensive! But that’s only about 11 cents a tablespoon, and most recipes just call for a half or a quarter of a teaspoon. Buying just a single tablespoon brings all of the herbs and spices within reach of even a limited budget. And, because you buy just a tiny bit at a time, you replace it more often and the herbs and spices stay fresher and taste better, and you can use less of them than if you were using stale herbs and spices. But I do still buy the really common things at Aldi or Walmart.

Another tip for bringing down the cost of seasonings is to make your own blends. Emeril’s seasoning blends are expensive, but you can find copycat recipes online and make your own. You can also make your own ethnic seasonings – chili seasoning, taco seasoning, pumpkin pie seasoning, Moroccan seasoning, Hungarian seasoning, and so on. You’ll save lots of money doing this and have a much wider variety of seasonings to draw on.

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