Wednesday, November 03, 2010

Spices in bulk

My new spice jars.

When we moved to the Springs about six years ago, I started shopping at Whole Foods. I love Whole Foods. I love their 365 products. I love that their owner is a Libertarian. I love their concentration on local food. I love that I can get organic, local milk there. Contrary to conventional wisdom, I don't think that Whole Foods is too expensive (don't buy cheap, just buy less, right?). I guess that if you shop at Whole Foods regularly, it is important to stay out of the prepared foods section. That could bankrupt you, but ooooooh, does it taste good!

One of my very favorite parts of shopping at Whole Foods is their bulk section. Quinoa, honey, maple syrup, barley, whole wheat flour, pastry flour, oat flour, rice flour, pasta, veggie chips, chocolate chips, carob chips, dried fruit...if it is available in bulk, Whole Foods probably sells it. Compared to buying prepackaged pantry items, the bulk stuff is usually cheaper. And, best of all, Whole Foods sells spices in bulk and they are cheeeeaaaap. When I discovered bulk spices, my shopping habits changed.

I don't go through a ton of spices, but I do use a wide variety of spices and I can't stomach paying $2.50-$6.00 per bottle of spices when I only use a few tablespoons per year. Not to mention the waste involved in packaging spices. Glass bottles, plastic bottles, plastic tops. The packaging itself is wasteful and the weight of the packaging leads to more burning of fossil fuels for transporting the spices.

The waste from bulk spices -- small ziplock bags. I've been known to wash them and reuse them in my kids' lunches. This works with everything but curry powder and tumeric. The kids don't appreciate having their rasins packaged in a bag that previously held curry powder. :)

So, when we remodeled our kitchen a few years ago, my spice solution was to get a very wide, shallow spice drawer where I could put lots of shallow, flat containers of spices. I bought round tin containers with clear tops from Specialty Bottle online and clear printable labels from Online Labels and filled the containers with my bulk spices. This system worked perfectly...until we moved to Mexico. There, the humid air penetrated the tins and made most of the spices moldy. Blech. So I tossed the spices, washed the rusting tins and left them at the girls' school to use in the classroom.

Today I finally replaced all those spices, and the containers, too. This time I chose clear glass jars with plastic screwtops. If we ever live in a humid climate again (please, no more humidity!), my spices should be safe, yes?

While I waited for new tires to be installed on my car today, I picked up a new stash of bulk spices. I still can't get over how cheap spices are when you buy in bulk. Here is what I paid to fill each of my four ounce spice jars today:

Fennel whole -- $0.54
Cumin whole -- 0.47
Curry powder -- 0.98
Coriander seed -- 0.54
Caraway seed -- 0.57
Lemon pepper -- 1.92
Cumin ground -- 0.40
Applewood Smoked Sea Salt -- 3.24 ($18.39/lb)
Allspice ground -- 1.84
Peppercorns whole -- 2.25
Mustard seed -- 1.08
Tumeric -- 0.55
Chipotle powder -- 1.66
Rosemary -- 0.28
Paprika -- 2.15
Pepper ground -- 1.40

I would estimate that I saved an average of $3 per spice today, which adds up to a whopping $48. If you look at the list closely, you'll notice some of the "normal" spices are missing. I've got thyme, oregano, basil, garlic powder, home-mixed pumpkin pie spice, chili powder, ground ginger etc. in my drawer already. Today was a day for rounding out my spice collection.

So, it turns out that waiting for my tires to be installed was more fruitful than I thought it would be. Now I've got two new tires AND a drawer full of fresh spices.


Court said...

We buy in bulk from Penzey's, but I've never seen a place here that sells where you can fill up your own jars. I'd love that!

Hillary said...

Aren't you supposed to be walking around or jumping up and down or something? You're in LABOR! :)

Actually, we have to put the spices in little plastic bags and take them home that way, but I'm pretty good at estimating how much I need to fill my 4 oz jars.