Herbs and Spices
Wednesday, June 05, 2013
Herbs and spices are expensive! I can get jars of a few things (cinnamon, garlic powder, onion powder, Italian Seasoning, lemon pepper, chili powder, seasoned salt) at Walmart for 50 cents a jar, or slightly bigger jars of more things (the same as at Walmart, plus cumin and parsley and a few others) at Aldi for 99 cents, but beyond these very basic seasonings it gets really expensive.
The cheapest place I've found to buy herbs and spices is at someplace like Winco, where you can buy them from bins, in bulk. I think Fred Meyers has the same thing. Unfortunately, the only place around here to buy them in bulk is at the coop, where most of them are organic and everything is expensive.
For purposes of costing my menus, I've been assuming that I could get a little bit of whatever other herbs and spices I need at the coop for 50 cents or a dollar, but hadn't really looked into it any more closely that that. Until about a week ago, when I went over and got prices on the things I seemed to be using the most. I got the price per pound from there, went online to find how many grams were in a tablespoon of the seasonings (I fiddled until I came up with the same number of calories in some number of grams as in a tablespoon), and then came up with a price per tablespoon. For most things, except some of those that I can get for 50 cents at Walmart, a tablespoon will last me a long time. Like months. At least as long as they say you should keeps herbs and spices before they go stale.
Here are the prices per pound and per tablespoon at our local coop.
allspice - $29.79/lb, 40 cents per tablespoon
celery seed - $18.80/lb, 27 cents per tablespoon
cayenne - $15.48/lb, 18 cents per tablespoon
red pepper flakes - $7.69/lb, 9 cents per tablespoon
chili powder - $22.89/lb, 38 cents per tablespoon
cinnamon - $9.19/lb, 14 cents per tablespoon
cloves, ground - $18.55/lb, 27 cents per tablespoon
dill seed - $13.29/lb, 19 cents per tablespoon
dill weed (the dried greens) - $26.49/lb, 18 cents per tablespoon
ginger - $17.89/lb, 21 cents per tablespoon
marjoram leaf - $20.49/lb, 5 cents per tablespoon
paprika - $17.09/lb, 26 cents per tablespoon
rosemary - $12.79/lb, 9 cents per tablespoon
garlic powder - $13.69/lb, 26 cents per tablespoon
It's by no means exact, but a tablespoon of a ground herb or spice seems to run about 7 grams per tablespoon. At least you could use that as an estimate in figuring the cost per tablespoon. Say about 2% of the cost per pound. So, if something costs $20 per pound, it would cost about 40 cents per tablespoon. Actually, that's high - it's really closer to 1.5% of the per pound cost, but 2% is easier to figure. Leaf herbs are more variable, but if you figure 1% of the per pound cost you should be a bit on the high side. So if a leaf herb - oregano leaf, for example, instead of ground oregano - costs $20 per pound, it probably costs less than 20 cents per tablespoon.
Some things are a better buy at Walmart, because I use a lot of them, like cinnamon and chili powder, but a lot of them are actually cheaper at the very expensive coop. The problem is that I tend to buy way too much at a time there. I may have figured out a solution to that problem, though. We can take in our own jars, weigh them before we fill them, and then use them to buy the seasonings. The cashier takes off the weight of the jar. I’m going to try putting a tablespoon of salt or something like that in a few jars and look very hard at them to see how much a tablespoon is. I might even draw a line around the jar at one tablespoon. Then, when I need a refill, I’ll try to get just one tablespoon. Or even less of a few things. It will make it a lot easier to keep fresh herbs and spices that way, too. I hate to throw out an almost full jar of something, even if it is several years old! If you can't take in your own jars, try doing the same thing with one of their bags. Get a good idea of how much a tablespoon is, and then try to get only that much. Or however much you think you'll use, but using that idea.
Some herbs and spices – bay leaf for one – can sometimes be bought in little plastic pouches in the Mexican section of some stores. Or I’m told that you can sometimes buy spices more cheaply in ethnic grocery stores.
Finally, growing your own is a good option, if you can. I have a tarragon plant that I planted several years ago. It keeps coming back every year. So do my chives. I also have thyme and rosemary in pots. I move the pots outside in the summer and back inside in the winter. I’ve done the same with parsley and oregano. And basil and dill grow in the summer and are good for other garden plants, too, though they have to be replanted each summer.
My biggest problem with herbs and spices, both fresh and from the store, is that I buy way more than I use. Not only do I buy too much of each one, but then I forget to use them. I’m working on using more fresh herbs this month in my real life. They do add a special touch to things.