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Stocking a spice rack can be expensive. If you’re starting from scratch, expect to spend $50 or more on the basics alone. And when it comes to filling your cupboard with specialty blends, you could easily spend a small fortune. Here’s how to get the most from your herbs and spices and save extra cash, too.
Freeze your spices
Believe it or not, spices and herbs do have an expiration date. Whole spices generally stay fresh for four years while ground spices can become less potent within a year or two after purchase. Leafy herbs, like bay leaves (what are those for, anyway?), last only about a year before their flavor is compromised. By freezing, you’re locking in the fresh flavor—just as you would with meal leftovers, vegetables or fruits picked at their peak, or coffee beans—and prolonging their use.
Buy frequently used spices in bulk
Natural-foods retailers such as Whole Foods sell spices, nuts and other ingredients in bulk quantities typically spanning an entire aisle. Just measure what you need, label it and take it to the checkout. This way you get to take advantage of those budget-friendly bulk prices. If your grocery or spice source doesn’t sell in bulk this way, opt for buying larger jars—the cost per ounce is typically less with greater quantities.
Buy some spices a pinch at a time
Sure, this contradicts the tip above, but for spices you know you won’t use more than two or three times a year (or those you want to try for fun before committing), buy the smallest amount possible even if the bigger jar is cheaper per ounce. You’ll end up wasting less.
Visit ethnic grocery stores
Like to make Thai curries or tinker with Indian recipes that incorporate vibrant spices? If you’re lucky enough to live in an area with Indian, Chinese, Thai, Vietnamese and Latin grocery stores, give those a try when shopping for spices. Some stores often sell these less common spices for less. You might not be familiar with the brand, but definitely trust the source as this store is tapped into the ethnic origins of what you’re trying to make.
Look for blends when it makes sense
Sometimes making your own spice blends makes perfect sense, like when you make your own taco seasoning. Odds are you’ll use all those components—chili, garlic, cayenne and more—on a regular basis for all sorts of recipes. Other times, though, you’ll find that buying a blend makes more sense. Consider five-spice powder. Of course you can go out and buy fennel seeds, Sichuan pepper and its other components, but odds are you won’t use all those more unusual spices by their sell-by date. Instead, buy a mix already made and get going on this amazing side dish.
Grow your own
Don’t forget, you can always grow some of your very own herbs and spices right at home. A packet of seeds costs only a few dollars, and that investment can yield you tons of fresh (and later dried) herbs. Start with these kitchen garden essentials if you plan on going this route!
With just a few strategies you can pack your spice rack and save more than a few pennies.