Spice-onomics

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Those little spice jars will get you.
The out-of-season raspberries are outrageous. You register sticker shock when you see the the price for a pound of halibut or a standing rib roast. But ounce for ounce, pound for pound, nothing rivals herbs and spices when it comes to the audacity of pricing.

If you’re looking for the pricing logic of supply and demand, you need to look elsewhere. Spice pricing is imperfect, illogical, and idiosyncratic, driven more by sales format than product costs or competition.
One company completely dominates the market.
McCormick is the number one brand with about 50% of the U.S. market. It’s also number two, with its lower-priced Spice Classics brand. Together, they add up to more than $3 billion in annual sales.
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There are alternatives right there in the supermarket.
You’ll often find the same herbs and spices in 3 separate store locations. Comparison shopping can be a bit of a supermarket odyssey, but the savings can be significant.
Head over to the ethnic food section and you’ll often find the same spices in less familiar packaging at significantly lower prices. Even better is the bulk section. Brand marketing and packaging can account for more than 70% of the cost of some packaged spices. Packaging also adds to shipping costs and creates waste. The savings are stunning:  spice price chart

There is a typical knee-jerk response to bulk spices: They wont be fresh. The flavors will be faded.
Nonsense. The market turnover is most likely quicker for bulk spices than for those in jars, and the shelf life is longer than you think. Stored in an airtight container, in a cool, dry place, spices can retain their potency for years: generally 4 or more years for whole spices; 2 to 3 years for ground spices; and 1 to 3 years for leafy herbs.


Even better—skip the supermarket and buy online.

Dollar a Day Gourmet sells all of its spices for 98¢ per ounce. At that price you’re not getting saffron; the selection is limited to the basics like basil, oregano, cumin, and bay leaves, but the quality is good and the price is right.

Penzey’s is not the cheapest, but the selection is broad and the quality is excellent.

At Foodzie the artisan food market, you’ll find rare, regional, and sustainably produced herbs and spices.

Spice Sherpa can help with spice selection, storage, and pairings. At this time of year, the blog is a good resource for seasonal and gift suggestions.

The Herb+ phone app has a photo gallery that can help you identify herbs and spices, as well as detailed information about culinary and medicinal uses.

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logo-annies image via Scary Mommy [Almedals pantry tea towel]

9 Responses to Spice-onomics

  1. Pingback: Putting a lil spice in the kitchen… |

  2. thanks for this interesting post, well done
    i’m a bulk buyer too, and not just spices, all kinds of stuff

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  4. I ought to add that My Spice Sage gives you a free 1 oz. sample with any purchase.

  5. Wow! I found your post on Food News Journal and skipped over here to tell you congratulations only to read a link to Spice Sherpa! Thank you.

    And yes, you covered a topic that is right on target. When I buy at the market I always start at the bulk. There are a few spices that can be a bit confusing such as cinnamon or vanilla extract because you aren’t always buying what you think you may be purchasing.

    Another way to get the best flavor for your buck is to purchase whole spices then grind them as you need them. The difference between fresh ground and purchased in powdered form is remarkable. New cooks will amaze themselves and seasoned chefs can access a whole new level of flavor this way. AND bulk spices cost less. :-)

  6. Monet says:

    We had a wonderful spice shop in CO that I visited almost weekly! I miss it here in Austin, but now I buy all of my spices in bulk at Whole Foods. They are so much better and far more affordable!

  7. Janice says:

    I am also a Penzey’s fan. We got a shop here in Philly a few years ago and it makes for a great outing.

  8. Great info on spices and herbs. I switched to online purchasing years ago – both for quality and prices. I have been purchasing bi-annually from Penzey’s and am very satisfied with their spices and herbs. Vanilla beans and extracts I buy elsewhere, mostly because of price.

    Quality of spices really makes a difference when cooking. Once you have tried higher quality spices you will never go back.

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