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.”
. . . 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.
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.
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.
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.
(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.
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.
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:
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!
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.