Budget Cooking 101: Bulk Spices

July 2nd, 2008 by katie

Hot spices

When I moved out of my mother’s house she let me take whatever I wanted from her pantry. This included her spice cabinet which contained bottles and tins I could remember from childhood. When a spice was so old that it had solidified in the jar, I simply used a butter knife to break it up again. I remember, at one point, buying a huge warehouse sized jar of garlic powder, thinking what a great deal I was getting. Three years later, we’ve used about 1/3 of the jar. And, of course, any time a recipe calls for some obscure spice I haven’t stocked up on at the warehouse store I am forced to buy a teensy bottle of it at the grocery store for an outrageous price. If this sounds like you too, then we both have a problem. Primarily that our spices are so old we’re essentially adding dust to our food. Secondly, that we totally overpaid on all those bottles and jars.

Bulk spice bins are a dream come true for foodies on a limited budget. I can buy the exact measurement I need: 2 tbsp marjoram-a spice I am guaranteed to only need about once or twice every 5 years. Not only am I not cluttering my cabinet up with a full bottle of wasted marjoram that I paid a premium for, but I can purchase my light as a feather plastic baggie of spice for a few cents. I am saving money but, just as importantly, I am always ensuring my spices are as fresh as possible. Occasionally, the price per ounce of bulk spices slightly exceeds the price per ounce of the bottled spices, but I’ve generally only found this to be true on huge amounts, or on mega-generic brands. In this case, since I am only purchasing what I actually need-a fraction of an ounce-I am still saving money by not paying for spice I will wind up wasting. If you are pretty bottle buyer-and admit it: you are-then you are really getting screwed. So keep your pretty bottles, and refill them with your fresh bulk spices as needed.

The best places to find bulk spices: high-end groceries, farmer’s markets, ethnic groceries, and spice companies (like Penzey’s). Try to find actual brick and mortar spice stores rather than purchasing online since you’ll lose some of your savings to shipping costs. If you know of any good places to find bulk spices in your area leave it in the comments-remember there are different stores in different areas of the country. If you can’t find the bulk spice bins, your next best bet is the bottle-less spices, usually found in cellophane packets.


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Posted in Budget, Tips and Tricks

3 Responses

  1. Andy

    I wish I could find bulk spices like that. I hate buying a whole jar for one recipe. Do you know if whole foods has them? There is one of those nearby, but I know my Kroger doesn’t.

    Whole Foods should have bulk spice bins if my memory is correct. Also check local ethnic grocery stores. Here, the Safe-way chain of grocery stores also has a small bulk area. Do a google search for “bulk spices, Your City.” Sometimes you can find spice stores or other bulk groceries. Good Luck, it is worth it! – Katie

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About chaos

cha·os -noun 1. a condition or place of great disorder or confusion. My chaotic kitchen is the result of three kids, two adults, dog, cat, and fish, a food obsession, a wine drinking hobby, and too few hours in the day. Between trying to feed a family of five healthy, happy meals, watching my weight, saving my pennies, and staying partially sane I have picked up a few tricks along the way. So here they are: the very best tips, tricks, and recipes from my chaotic kitchen-to yours!

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