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Not to brag or anything, but I probably pay less for my dried herbs & spices than you do. I can fill my spice cabinet for about $10.

I’m so excited about this post . . . I’ve been working on it for weeks and the necessary research included grocery shopping, an impromptu Twitter survey and a *spreadsheet*, and I am a bitch easily excited by things that can only be figured out on a spreadsheet. So here goes: Aleta’s Guide to Buying Dried Herbs & Spices on the Cheap. And right up front, I promise the pictures get better as you read along.

When you buy spices & dried herbs at the right places, they go from “pretty expensive and at times cost-prohibitive” to “practically free.” Buying cheap spicery brings with it several very important benefits. Here’s a convenient bullet-pointed list of those benefits.

  • The sudden affordability of grabbing something you haven’t tried; if you don’t like it, eh . . . it was 43 cents to learn that.
  • The ability to replace your seasonings as frequently as you’re supposed to—6 months for dried herbs, 1 year for ground spices. I replace all mine every three months (mostly because I only buy 3 months’ worth at a time) for about $4. And yes, the improvement in taste from fresh spices to the dusty shit in the back of your cabinet is immediately discernible.
  • Hey, suddenly organic food is cheaper than conventional, how about that.

Obtaining affordable spicery is every bit as simple as locating an organic/health food store or co-op in your area—my personal H&S-supplier is Worcester’s own ARTichoke Food Co-Operative. ARTichoke is a really great part of Worcester’s community, and just being in the store makes me contentedly smile to myself the entire time. As a frame of reference, I’m a complete bitch at all other times, so that really means something. Also, they were so very accommodating with my request to take photos, and that’s pretty cool of them. So if you live in the Metrowest area, please give ARTichoke your business, and consider becoming a member.

Now pretend you’re me: at your local co-op grinning like an idiot, you wander to the back to see if they have what I affectionately call “the world’s biggest spice rack.”

World's biggest spice rack.

. . . and chances are, they do. Yes, regardless of size, they’re all “World’s Biggest” as far as I’m concerned. You’ll see a nice variety of spices in bulk, many or all of them organic, still a total steal compared to the grocery store (we’ll get to hard numbers in just a minute). The only concern you should have here is how frequently the containers are rotated, and if you’re too shy to ask, figure that the more traffic the store gets, the fresher their spices will be.

Spice rack detail.

Most of the prices are between $10 and $20 a pound. This sounds like an awful lot to pay for spices, but you are buying fractions of an ounce, so it’s a pretty good deal.

Holy oregano batman.

For example, that’s three months’ worth of oregano (for me) for about 29 cents. So I loaded up on the stuff I use the most for about $3.15. I never throw any away, because I never have to—I buy just the amount I think I’ll use, and then I throw in something I’ve never tried just for fun (this time it was chicory), and I rotate every 3 months.

Loadin on up.

So let’s say you are just moving out of your dorm and setting up your first apartment and you want to fill your spice rack. How much does that cost, and how much can you save by buying the same amounts at the co-op? WELL I AM GLAD YOU ASKED, I HAPPEN TO HAVE A SPREADSHEET HANDY. These are prices at my local Stop & Shop compared to prices at ARTichoke Food Co-op.

How to Buy Herbs & Spices: The Chart

(Please note that you do not *need* to buy a full jar’s worth, so your price can easily be under $4 for the top ten there).

So for a more established cook like myself, where I already have a bunch of herbs & spices in stock and only really need to replace them one at a time every now and again, the cost savings isn’t quite what it would be for our hypothetical college student (I figure it’s about $70 a year for me instead of about $26 up front for a new homesteader). But my biggest advantage is being able to afford to replace my H&S extremely frequently. And also, my spices are organic, thrusting my taste in agriculture into the realm of the most gastronomically elite.

Incidentally, ethnic markets are another great place to buy H&S. My local ethnic store of choice is an Indian market, so while they have a wide array of spices, they really don’t have any dried herbs at all. But if the co-op is out of something, or I think I’m gonna need A LOT of it (like, 5 times as much as comes in the typical bottle at the grocery store), or if you don’t have a co-op or organic bulk store near you, this is another option.

Spices!

Even though, pound for pound, the Indian bulk prices are even WAY lower than the co-op prices, this approach doesn’t look like it’s saving you all that much money. The reason is you can’t buy less than a pouch of any of these, and 7oz is A LOT (notice how the average oz in the grocery store is about 1.5oz). Strange, though, how even buying 7 times as much of something is still cheaper. Here comes another spreadsheet.

How to buy Herbs & Spices (from India)

Fun fact: If you compared the amount you would have to buy at the grocery store to the amount you get at the Indian store, you will save (literally, I calculated it and everything) $135.31 for the top 10 and $483.22 for all 20. I’m not even kidding.

So that’s my big secret! I have a littler one, and it’s how to fill the glass bottles (the ones you obviously saved from the grocery store herbs and spices) with the co-op feed without using a funnel. I actually figured this out just the other night as I was taking pictures for this post, so I’m feeling awfully clever at the moment. But it’s so simple, it doesn’t even require words:

Filling the bottle

And that’s it! Throw some scotch tape on there, write the name of the spices with a Sharpie (I still can’t tell cayenne from paprika without a risky sniff test), and you are fully-equipped to throw in cavalier handfuls of seasoning into your next spaghetti sauce.

Congratulations, you are finally free of the economic oppression placed upon you by your local grocery store!

Spices!

I already asked Twitter, but if you aren’t on Twitter or feel like stating it again for perpetuity, what are your top ten most-used herbs and spices?

And, if I can manage it, look for a bonus post tomorrow on something you can do with all your fancy new (suddenly inexpensive) herbs and spices. Cheers, dear readers! Forget it, maybe another time.

  1. mswhitney Said,

    cumincumincumincumincumin…
    I guess there are some other spices around? Coriander, chili powder, curry powder (though I prefer paste). Mostly I am a fresh ginger and garlic fiend. Plain old black pepper on buttered toast is amazing.

    Once I attempted a sniff test on two jars of chili powder to determine which one to use.
    You can guess the result. Chili powder was actually visible in the gushing rivers of tears that ensued.

    Careful, now.

  2. Poox Said,

    If you are buying in bulk is there a way to preserve the remainder? If i put it in the freezer will it last longer than just on shelf?

  3. ChemicalDependence Said,

    I appreciate this TONS! Because I am moving from communal spice share cropping with roomies to another city in 3 months and I was JUST wondering how the hell I was going to replace the communal spice drawer for <$100. You’re the best! Can anyone suggest a co-op/health store in the northern Chicago metro area?

  4. melissa Said,

    Poox,

    If you’re buying in bulk it’s really worth it to get a reusable container with an airtight lid. Ikea has containers of all shapes and sizes (including empty spices containers) for incredibly cheap.

    I discovered buying spices in bulk a while ago and am insanely impressed (and kind of outraged) at how much money I’m saving by doing so. Our Mexican market’s yerberia has really good spices too for even cheaper if I can remember to go there.

    My top 10 (besides salt) are, in particular order, garlic salt, chili powder, thyme, oregano, cinnamon, basil, black pepper, cumin, bay leaves, and I know it’s a blend but Tony Chachere’s, which I have like three containers of and put in basically everything.

  5. Bethany Said,

    …wow. I’ve been reading this blog for a few months now, and I never knew you were in the same city as I was. That’s amazing!

    (P.S. I made a rainbow cake a few weeks ago and it was a hit!)

  6. Camille Said,

    Brilliant. Thanks for sharing!

    -cinnamon
    -nutmeg
    -parsley
    -oregano
    -thyme
    -garlic powder

    I’m not a very good foodie; I can’t think of any more regulars!

  7. b. Said,

    can’t live without saffron, curry powder, garam masala, cayenne

  8. Katie Said,

    Ahhh, I am so glad every time I find new (well, new to me) co-ops and farmers markets in Massachusetts! I’m (potentially, depending on whether or not I get accepted to a certain college) moving to a town on the border of NH, but I live in CT, and the drive is right through Worcester.

    Do you have a membership to this co-op? Is one required? Would you recommend one? This is a srs question, because if I’m going to be driving through Worcester once a month or so, I would stop here.

    Also, my family is such peasants about spices. I think we have some ground mustard that is ten years old, that I used about a year ago. We refill when we run low, not on a time chart. I would complain to my Mom, except she would probably tell me a lengthy tale about how she made ungrateful me dinner for eighteen straight years, and if I want fresh spices then I can buy them myself.

  9. Pearl Said,

    ahhh thank you for such cool information!

  10. Peter Said,

    Whoa…spreadsheet too! Would you do my budget? ;)

    I too buy spices and dry herbs on bulk…it’s cheaper and allows me to buy small amounts of a new spice to try.

  11. Jill Said,

    Hey I’ve been reading your blog for a while and just started following you on Twitter. This is fabulous!! I am a spice freak, I get all “sleeping with the enemy” when it comes to how my pantry spices are organized. Anyway, my top ten are (besides the obvious salt and pepper): Cinnamon, Onion Powder, Chili Powder, Cumin, Garam Masala, Paprika (both sweet and smoked varieties), Nutmeg, Garlic Powder, Allspice and Saffron. I try not to use dried herbs as I like the flavor of the fresh stuff better. I am SO off to find a co-op this weekend! This is great information, thanks a million!

  12. Mikey Said,

    Great advice. I became a MUCH more adventurous (and consequentially much better) cook when I discovered that my local organic food market sold spices in bulk. I find I’m much more likely to try a new recipe that calls for a bunch of strange spices I don’t normall keep on hand if I know my total investment in new spices will be ~$1 for a few small baggies as opposed to ~$10 for way more than I need which will take me forever to use.

  13. Kimberly Said,

    This is amazing! Aaaaaaaamzing!

    Thank you!!

  14. Leigh Said,

    @b. (and others) The best saffron hookup in the world is in Lancaster, PA. (Crazy, right?) The indoor city market has a spice guy that sells me enough saffron to last most of a year for ~$10. He also sells smaller containers for ~$4, but the larger is a better deal and it’s very good. They grow it right in Lancaster. Conveniently, that’s where my best friend lives and I see her twice a year. Bonus! So, if you’re anywhere near Amish country, take a trip to the market. You’ll love it!

    In Asheville, where I live, we are lucky to have a chain (a la TJ’s or similar) of health food stores called Earth Fare. The light went on for me when I realized I could buy a dozen cardamom pods for about 50 cents.

    I’m taking a trip to IKEA next week and am going to stock up on their Droppar spice jars. Whee!

  15. beerorkid Said,

    Our local health food store uses Frontier spices as well. I was getting tired of buying the expensive little bottles and saved up some $ to hit the health store. When we were rung up I swore something must of been off. Total was around $7 and we had $70 set aside. And the bulk aborio rice is a steal compared to the stuff at the reg store. It is great you are spreading the word so now the turnover should be faster ;)

    If I am going to pay for spices that I can’t find at the health store I go to Penzeys. They have realy good chili and taco seasonings which do not give me heartburn. Also their spice jars have a really good seal.

    Speaking of spice jars. It has been a year long struggle for us. We have tried some libby glass spice jars with a plastic seal we had to special order, they were not air tight. Tried some of those metal ones like Alton Brown uses, powders gum up the seal and they are just a pain. The cork ones in your pic look perfect.

    Loving your site. Thanks.

  16. MadcapMagician Said,

    Brilliant! Please to share spreadsheet with fun calculations.

  17. Apollo Said,

    Yes, I would like to list my top ten spices again. Thank you for asking

    salt ‘n peppa, oregano, rosemary, basil, cayenne, cinnamon, parsley, cumin, and bacon

    I guess if you were to take the silly one out of there (bye, salt!) I would probably say garlic powder is up there as well.

  18. Heidi Said,

    ROFL

    Dusty shit in the back of your cupboard. Ahhh that was good. Thanks for the tips. I also learned recently that I should replace my makeup frequently (I know, I’m not much of a “girly” girl), now I learned I have to replace my spices 6 months / yearly…crap.

  19. Kiera Said,

    Excellent post, thank you! Now I just have to find that applicable place around here. Wonder if there’s a website to look up something like this *bounds off to go look*

  20. Jess Said,

    This is the best spreadsheet ever!! I recently converted to Co-op Worlds Biggest Wall of Spices instead of buying the jars from the store, but I didn’t realize how much I was saving! It’s nice to see all the numbers calculated out! As for my top ten spices… hmm:

    pepper (black and white), cumin, cinnamon, nutmeg, cayenne, garam masala, chinese 5 spice (I know those two are blends but theyre great!), thyme, rosemary, oregano.

    I love this post!

  21. Mapu Said,

    I must say- I found this out while shopping for some spices for Chocolate Vanilla Milk Stout I brewed. The recipe called for real vanilla beans. I checked out the local Mondo Huge Chain Grocery Store and they only had a jar with a few beans. The cost was about $19.50, and all I needed was one bean! I think the cost worked out to be around $290.00 per pound.

    Went to our local River Valley Coop, and purchased 1 bean which cost me about $2.50. I think their pound price was around $200 (but don’t quote me on that). They also had 2 types for me to choose from.

    Great post too- as spices and herbs make or break a dish- and it IS expensive if you buy the major brands.

  22. stephchows Said,

    OK I seriously just discovered the same thing at an organic local co-op that just happens to be down the street from where I work!! No joke, never knew about it.. went there monday… got all types of spices for super cheep! I’m so excited about it!!!!! Great minds indeed!!

  23. Joey Said,

    I had never thought about checking out the local/ethnic places around Athens for spices. I’ll have to check them out sometime and do a little investigating myself.

    Honestly, I wouldn’t have been sold on it, though, if it weren’t for the spreadsheets. They do something for me normal words just can’t. Lovely.

    Thanks

  24. Paige Said,

    I work for a spice store (ChemicalDependence, it’s The Spice House in Chicago), and we get people all the time who are shocked at how much cheaper we are than the grocery store. Plus, if you buy from bulk jars at a co-op etc (or from us, not to toot my own horn here), you can almost always find out how old the spices are. The pre-bottled brand-name junk from most major groceries as nearly always far too old – I once saw a jar of ground cloves with an expiration date 4 years in the future! Even if the cloves had been ground that day, no ground spice lasts 4 years.

    Careful buying from ethnic markets, though – quite often the spices are already several years old. I’ll buy whole spices at my neighborhood Indian grocery, but never ground.

  25. E to the M Said,

    My top 10 dry spices are salt, pepper, cumin, basil, rosemary, oregano, chili powder, cayenne, cinnamon, and turmeric is probably tied with coriander. I also use a lot of fresh ginger, garlic, parsley and cilantro.

  26. rob Said,

    You should do a follow up article on which spices go together… like your standard seasonings mixes. For example… whenever I used cumin I add a bit of coriander. Everything I grill gets white pepper & garlic powder.

  27. Joshua Said,

    Thanks for the tips. I’ve always been annoyed by the high prices at the grocery store. I’ll definitely keep this in mind the next time I’m in need of some spices and herbs.

    By the way, I love reading your blog!

  28. Amanda Said,

    We have a crazy spice/herb collection and I’m terribly anal about not having it be exposed to sunlight so I keep them all in drawers and it takes up plenty of space. Buying from the bulk jars are always to go.

    Dried stuff I can’t live without: Oregano, basil, parsley and cinnamon!

  29. Pages tagged "how-to" Said,

    [...] bookmarks tagged how-to where to buy spices & herbs (on the cheap) saved by 3 others     Reija bookmarked on 04/10/09 | [...]

  30. Around the Internet Kitchen: Cherry Blossoms | Macheesmo Said,

    [...] How to Buy Cheap Spices – This post made one thing abundently clear to me.  I spend to much freakin’ money on spices.  I gotta get a spice plan in place for myself.  As an aside, this is one of my new favorite food blogs these days.  Aleta is the real deal.  Based on her charts she also appears to be a complete dork. (@ Omnomicon) [...]

  31. Nicole from : For the Love of Food Said,

    I love your spread sheets! I love putting prices in perspective myself. Another tip, is to grow/dry your own herbs from seeds….oh so so cheep. For $1 I bought 2 packs for coriander seeds. I plant 1/2 a pack a year in my garden (also grows well in a large container in the sun) and I get 1/2 a cup of dried coriander seeds out of my plants…plus cilantro! That means, for 25 cents a year I get enough coriander seeds to last me 75% of the year. I then grind it myself when I need it and it’s so fragrant and fresh – you just can’t buy it that fresh!

  32. X-country2 Said,

    Great review! Spices are so expensive but so necessary. I’ll have to explore town to see what we have.

  33. Stephanie Wagner Said,

    Great post, thanks for sharing! And I love the spreadsheets comparisons!

  34. pinkpeppercorns Said,

    I started buying herbs in the bulk section years ago. One of the best bargains around. I cook for only myself, so it takes me a while to go through spices. I get such small amounts (which are actually quite a few recipes’ worth) that the checker usually ends up throwing them at the scale a few times before the scale will even register.

  35. lo Said,

    Gotta tell you, my dear — I’m totally geeking out here. SERIOUSLY.
    We buy our spices in bulk, which saves loads. And we also look for herbs & spices at our local ethnic grocers. But, i think you have us beat with those spreadsheets. LOVE IT.

    One of the many reasons why I keep coming back here. You’re the kewlest.

  36. Omnomicon makes » how to make coffee nut chicken (or mushrooms!) Said,

    [...] where to buy spices & herbs (on the cheap) [...]

  37. ryushinu Said,

    Thank you for sharing the joys & wonders of bulk spice shopping! Here are my top 10 most used herbs/spices:

    1) Garlic Powder
    2) Cardamom (it’s great in yoghurt)
    3) Chinese five spice
    4) Cumin Seed
    5) Garam Masala
    6) Turmeric
    7) Hungarian Paprika (sweet)
    8) Thyme
    9) Coriander
    10) Bay Leaf & Kaffir lime leaf

    I pick up the bay & kaffir lime leaves fresh and just freeze them. They keep due to their very low moisture content.

  38. » April 2009 Roundup: Finances, Food & Fun Said,

    [...] is a great foodie blog and Aleta posted a great story early in the month on where you can buy spices and herbs on the cheap. She found that going to a local organic store netted huge savings over the grocery store. My wife [...]

  39. Add Organic Spices to Your Menu Said,

    [...] (which is certainly a possibility for some spices like basil and mint), head on over to your local organic food store or co-op. Here’s the kicker: in the amounts that most of us use them, organic spices from an organic [...]

  40. Larz Said,

    They are cheap at this site.

  41. Larz Said,

    http://www.mystorespices.com/

  42. michael clancy Said,

    the coolist spreadsheets ever, you have just opened the door to endless culinary adventures for me. pricing has always limited possibilties for me. now the food world is my oyster. never thought about co ops or ethnic markets . thanks a million

  43. fynche Said,

    I always get my spices at the co op, George St. Co op in New Brunswick, NJ has a tremendous selection of spices and also bulk teas, beans, grains, etc. Nice spreadsheet, too. And thanks for the idea of cutting off the corner of the baggy to painlessly get the spices into my little jars. Why didn’t I think of that?

  44. Kelly Said,

    Ok,so yo made my day. I have driven by Artichoke multiple time, and never stopped in.
    After your article (a fellow worcesterite? seriously?) Ill have to check it out.
    Thanks a ton.
    Any other foodie tips for the area you want to share?

  45. Gerri Said,

    Hi there, I live about 60 miles West of Chicago. Does anyone know of any bulk spice shops I can go buy at? There was one in my area years ago but it went out of business. Rolling Meadows area would be great as my office is moving there. Much appreciated

    Gerri

  46. maria weitzel Said,

    do you have chicory that can be mix with the regular coffee??

  47. maria weitzel Said,

    if you do ,I live in Ephrata,PA 17522 do you have a store close to where i live?

  48. Mary Curtis Said,

    We will be opening a new restaurant next month and looking for good deals, Budget is tight. We are currently stocking our kitchen with spices.

    If you have any good suggestions please please contact me at the above e-mail address, I appreciate your time and help.

    MARY

  49. Omnomicon makes » reference: how much do herbs & spices weigh? Said,

    [...] about a lifetime ago (and to be fair, a hamster lifetime) I posted about how to buy herbs and spices in bulk because it’s way the hell more affordable. If you’ve ever bought your spices [...]

  50. Asma Said,

    Exactly I get so **ssed off at the price of few gms of spices in bigger stores .. they are so pricey .. I’m pakistani origin and I need spices lot sof them in every dish I make :) so indian/pakistani stores are best resort … I get the spices in 500 gms or 1 kg packets atleast red chillies, paprika, flakes, coriander seeds and stuff :)

    For oregano .. U’ll find Ajwain in indian stores .. its more or less the same since we get ajwain seeds from oregano plant .. it tastes and smells exactly same :)

  51. Bench Saw Said,

    organic foods are the best for our health since they are free from dangerous chemicals and toxins .;`

  52. Massage Cushion Said,

    online health stores always give some promo and discounts that is why i always order from them -.-

  53. Moshe Herritt Said,

    Appreciate extra great blog. Where otherwise could i get this particular compassionate of information designed in this kind of incite full method? i’ve been seeing with regard to this kind of fine detail.

  54. Diane Fallon Said,

    The Arcade in downtown Ashville used to have a great little market with wonderful spices and herbs. Their Lemon Pepper was to die for. Does anyone know if they are still in business somewhere else? I don’t remember the name of the market. Thanks for any info.

  55. spices Said,

    Was wondering if you know where to get spices,herbs,and seasonings online cheap i have looked a lot and seem to have no luck which really bummed me out as i have no where to buy them cheap and not much of a variety either if u have any suggestions that would great! thanks

  56. Steph Said,

    Try this site out, brilliant service

  57. Jacqui Said,

    Try the website above for a good range of herbs and spices available online. Bets the grocery stores hands down. They also sell their herbs and spices at Ludlow Market.

  58. Jacqui Said,

    Click on my name to go to the website:-)

  59. Karen Said,

    Thanks so much for this post – just moved to the USA and was shocked at how much more expensive herbs & spices are in the grocery store, than what I am used to! However, your wonderful post gives me permission to go shopping at thrift stores for old spice bottles, yum!

  60. Dionne Said,

    I live in Beltsville Md, where can i buy spices at a affordable price. Thanks

  61. Control the Price, Control the Spice - Real Cheap Food Said,

    [...] in bulk.  Looking at the the price per pound might make you go “Holy ****!” but then compare the cost per ounce to what regular grocery stores charge, and you may be very pleasantly [...]

  62. Pam Said,

    Excellent article and ideas, thanks!

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  66. Bob Said,

    Hi – Is there a organic spice store near me? I live in NJ zip 07060.

    Thank you.

    Bob

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