9 Smart Ways to Save on Herbs and Spices

Herbs and spices can be pretty pricey! Learn how to get the best deals at the grocery store, plus make the most out of these ingredients in your cooking.

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Stocking a spice rack can be expensive. If you’re starting from scratch, expect to spend $50 or more on essential spices alone. And when it comes to filling your cupboard with specialty blends, you could easily spend a small fortune.

Herbs and spices are mainly used to impact the flavor of your food, but what are they, exactly? Both dried, herbs are plant leaves that have an aromatic quality, while spices are other parts of the plant, such as berries and roots.

Believe it or not, herbs and spices do expire. 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, last only about a year before their flavor is compromised.

Here’s how to get the most from your herbs and spices and save extra cash, too.

Freeze Herbs and Spices

By freezing herbs and spices, 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.

Learn how to freeze herbs and enjoy fresh-picked flavor all year long.

Buy Frequently Used Herbs and Spices in Bulk

Buying in bulk is one of our favorite budget grocery shopping tips. Natural-foods retailers such as Whole Foods sell spices, nuts and other ingredients in bulk quantities. 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.

Purchase 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. Plus, when it comes to expensive spices like saffron, you may only want to shell out for a pinch at a time, anyway.

Visit International Grocery Stores

Like to make Thai curry 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 herbs and spices. Stores like these often sell 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 cultural origins of the recipe you’re trying to make.

Make Your Own Spice Blend

Sometimes making a spice blend is a smart choice. (Taco seasoning, anyone?) Odds are you’ll use all those components—chili, garlic, cayenne and more—on a regular basis for all sorts of recipes. Using herbs and spices you already have on hand will save you those extra bucks you would’ve spent on a prepared mix.

Purchase Spice Blends When It Makes Sense

Other times you’ll find that buying a blend is the more economical option. 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 them up by their expiration date. Instead, buy a blend (we love the one from Spice House) and get going on this amazing Chinese chard with almonds side dish.

Grow Your Own Herbs

Don’t forget, you can always grow some of your very own herbs (and some 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 herbs for beginners if you plan on going this route. Then check out the top-rated food dehydrators so you’re ready at harvest time.

Buy Whole Spices

Not only do whole spices last longer than pre-ground spices, but if you buy them in bulk, you could be set on inventory for a few years! Having the right equipment—like a grinder and grater—is useful when you’re ready to grind some cinnamon and nutmeg for your favorite bread pudding.

Look Beyond Grocery Stores

You’ll want to think outside the box when considering where to purchase your herbs and spices. Instead of your typical grocery store, try out your local farmers market or a spice store—online or brick and mortar. These retailers may offer a better price, especially if spices and herbs are their specialty.

If you’re grocery shopping on a budget, look to discount retailers, too. Stores like the dollar store, TJ Maxx, Aldi and even Big Lots have spices in stock—just make sure you’re checking the color of the herbs and spices to ensure they’re still good. Follow these tips for a budget grocery list to ensure you don’t overspend.

With just a few strategies you can pack your spice rack and save more than a few pennies.

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Kristine Hansen
A former editor of a regional home and garden magazine, where she edited the entertaining section, Kristine writes for national travel, design and food outlets about culinary trends. Her book on Wisconsin cheese serves as a love letter to her adopted state of Wisconsin and she loves to travel in search of regional cultural foods.