Herbs and spices are typically irradiated or chemically treated to minimize pests, so I look for organic products. Still I balk every time I pick up a jar of seasoning, knowing that those cute little jars hold somewhere in the range of 1-2 ounces of product and cost anywhere close to $4-6 each. Now I know where I can purchase a full range of organic herbs and spices at a fraction of the price.
It all came to a head last week when I picked up 5 different seasonings while shopping at Cooportunity in Santa Monica. I took advantage of “member pricing” and winced as I mentally calculated about $25 dollars for those five little jars.
As I finished the transaction the friendly clerk informed me that all organic seasonings could be purchased in bulk. I thanked her and left, only to return all five jars later in the week. I gathered my own empty spice jars at home and brought them with me to fill onsite. Just how much would I save? A lot.
SMALLER IS BETTER
There is rarely a reason for the home cook to buy seasoning in large portions. Ideally we purchase amounts that we can readily use in the next few months. Most of the aromatic and flavor compounds founds in herbs and spices oxidize readily and the oils become rancid when exposed to oxygen. Light and heat also compromise the flavor and nutrient values.
Some manufacturers take advantage of the knowing chef, offering herbs and spices in the smallest of containers at a premium price. One organic seasoning brand I purchased offers products in small little green boxes measuring 0.35-0.6 ounces. I recall feeling quite proud of myself for purchasing them at close to half price at a few months ago. Yet even the discount price of $79.73 to $136.69 per pound was hardly a bargain.
PRICED BY THE POUND
Bulk pricing can trigger sticker shock, even at member owned Santa Monica Cooportunity. Herbs and spices look expensive. especially considering the four digit price of $29.99 a pound for ground cayenne and $20.99 a pound for bay leaf. Basil costs 17.99 per pound and rosemary taps in at $11.99 a pound– all the more reason to appreciate the rosemary plants growing outside my front door for free.
However these prices pale in comparison to the packaged product. A 0.15 ounce bottle of bay leaf costs $6.49, the cayenne at 4.79 for 1.7 oz, and dried rosemary at $4.39.
Most of us don’t stop to do the algebra while traipsing through the aisles, but that package of branded and packaged bay leaf calculates at $692.27 per pound. The rosemary comes in at $57.11 per pound, and the cayenne pepper looks like a bargain at $45.08 per pound.
I estimate it took about 15 minutes to fill five of my containers once I understood where to locate the products and the tools I needed. I could be even more efficient, but I’m not sure how to remedy the rather annoying interruptions from other shoppers not quite patient enough for me to finish my task. Still overall, I’m sold.
The price of my herbs and spices totaled $8.76 compared to $25.95 if I had purchased the seasoning in branded jars. I basically payed myself the equivalent of $68.76 per hour, which roughly translates to $143,020.80 per year. I only wish I could find more opportunities like this to save money and help save the planet.
BUY SEASONING IN SMALL PORTIONS
Despite the savings, filling up your own jars at the Santa Monica Coop bulk spice counter leaves something to be desired. First, you’ll want to stop by the front desk so that they can weigh your containers–a nice advantage especially if a jar isn’t completely empty. If you don’t have your container weighed ahead of time you will pay for the jar, lid, and whatever was left in side at the bulk price. Ouch.
Second, be prepared for a bit of a mess. The spice scoops work well to get seasoning out of the larger bulk containers, but are bulky to transfer seasoning into my smaller containers that fit on the spice rack at home. The scoops are easiest to use with plastic bags available to take home, but part of the mission at Cooportunity is to reduce waste and use of plastic. I’m thinking a funnel or flexible device that functions like a funnel to direct the spice directly into the smaller opening of my containers would do the trick. I’ll bring one next time.
Lastly, the customer needs to fill in the item code on a small sticker the consumer service desk staff slaps onto the container. This code allows the cashier to correctly charge for the specific seasoning in the jar, and customers need to write this information down when using the plastic bags as well.
TASTE THE SATISFACTION
Buying from bulk containers serves the conscious cook on several fronts. At Cooportunity you can enjoy the opportunity to purchase just the amount of organic seasoning you can reasonably use over a few months of time, enjoy a significant cost savings, and smile every time you pass by the nifty display of branded seasonings on the other side of the store.
Lastly, I’d love to share the wealth. Santa Monica Coop can’t be the only place, but I don’t know of other markets that sell bulk herbs and spices. What about you?