The price of spice: tips on how to lower spice prices

I have a confession. Despite my greatest efforts, like many of you, I, too have a habit of neglecting my spice rack until I go to reach for a familiar bottle — only to remember that it ran out the previous week — which leads me to the second worse aspect of running out of a spice: buying it. Take cinnamon sticks, for instance. I don’t think I have ever seen McCormick brand cinnamon sticks priced at anything less than one dollar a stick. However, here is one secret: go to the ethnic foods aisle.

If you have ever looked at those giant racks of seasonings in the baking aisle and wondered why seemingly every spice is too expensive, it’s because most people have no idea that there are alternatives. For almost every leaf or powder, you can find a cheaper or more voluminous product for the same price in the Latin or Indian section of your preferred grocer (if those sections exist). Or, for those who are more adventurous, stop by your local ethnic food market. Indian markets almost always carry large bags of spices for a fraction of the cost per unit which one would pay at a conventional grocery store. Also, while most people wouldn’t think of turning to the computer for their cooking needs, the internet is actually an excellent resource for finding low-priced spices, delivered straight to your door. With just a cursory search, you can find two pounds of cinnamon sticks for $8.99 — the term “a steal” doesn’t even begin to describe the value of this offer. Recently, a family friend visited a specialty market and complained to me in exasperation that he would have bought some vanilla beans, but the cost was twenty dollars for three sticks. I related to him, and will share with you, that vanilla beans can be purchased in bulk at for around a mere 40 cents each!

Obviously, some people have a concern about quality. It’s one thing if a product is cheaper for the same size, but it can seem suspicious when the alternative is only one dollar more for twice the quantity. To those individuals I reveal this: essentially all restaurants in this area, even the most upscale, use generic brand spices, and the typical consumer is never able to tell. In fact I, and other chefs I have worked with, cannot even perceive the difference between McCormick and any other brand. Be an informed consumer and make the switch.

The only downside is how little space you’ll have in your cabinet, but larger quantities of spices (often sold in bags) can be stored anywhere that’s dark and dry, whether in a less-used kitchen cabinet or in another storage space in your home. Merely use the bagged spices to fill up your small spice containers when they run out. In addition, bulk spices can be stored in attractive larger ceramic or glass airtight vessels designed to remain out on your countertop (something along the lines of the old “flour,” “sugar,” and “coffee” tins your grandmother may have always had on display).

As an added plus, when buying unmarked containers, you can label them in whatever style you’d like, allowing you to cater to the specific motif of your kitchen. Rather than hiding the cookie-cutter, red-capped McCormick bottles, showcase your handmade spice rack and be proud of your kitchen.

  • Blake Belleman
  • I'm Blake Belleman, a young cook trying to make the best of a beautiful, yet sometimes harsh world. When I'm not trying to learn something new such as knitting, screen printing, or how to prepare a different cuisine, I like to spend my time hearing people's stories and relaxing with good company.

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