As part of my dedication to cooking at home and saving money on food, months ago I started shopping for my herbs and spices at the health food store. A former employer of mine, a world class chef, taught me that one of his most important techniques was to use fresh herbs and spices.
My thinking was that herbs and spices bought at the health food store would be fresher. And they might be organic, (which did not mean all that much to me – such a small amount), but anyway…
I bought some coriander, 4 oz ($12.00 a pound), coconut oil ($16.95 for a 16oz jar. Highly recommended! High smoking temperature, and low rancidity – can be kept at room temp for months!) some mung beans ($1.99 a lb), and I splurged for a little pack of Goji berries (Chinese Wolfberries) for a snack @$22 a lb. (Relax, I only bought 2 oz. Expensive little berries, but loaded with healthy antioxidants.) And that was the end of it. Or so I thought.
Several days later I learned that an Asian supermarket had opened up a few miles from my home, on the way to work. As a fan of Asian style food I had to stop in.
I was shocked! Remember those Goji berries I bought at the health food store @$22 a pound? There they were in the Traditional Chinese Medicine section for $8.99 a pound! Of course I could not read the Korean writing on the package, but I know Goji when I see them. $8.99 a pound, compared to $22? Yikes!
Two aisles over in the Indian section… Coconut oil! A 20 oz bottle for $6.50 – and I had just paid $16.95 for $16 ounces! 32.5 cents per ounce, compared to $1.06 per ounce! I was flabbergasted.
And then it hit me! At the health food store or at an “American“ chain store, these were considered gourmet or specialty items, and demanded a premium price. At the Asian supermarket, they were staple goods and the regular shoppers would not pay the premium prices.
And the rice… oooooh the rice! No less than 40 different kinds and brands of rice in BIG bags, on pallets. All at what I considered to be bargain prices. I’ll need to learn more about the different kinds of rice before I get that involved, but I will be back to that store.
Two weeks later, I wanted to buy some fresh whole coriander seed. Some for a recipe I wanted to try, some to sprout (I heard they were great sprouts – not true, they were bitter – yuck!) and some to grow into Cilantro. Some of you did not know that Coriander is the seed of the Cilantro plant.
After my learning experience at the Asian store, I did a little checking. Coriander is often used in Indian curries, so I imagined that I would get a much better price at an Indian grocer. First I had to learn the name in Indian, – “Dhania.” I also wanted some Fenugreek, so I learned it was called “methi”. I surfed around the web and found an Indian grocer on my usual route.
I went into the store, and to my surprise no one spoke English. The only words I heard in English were “My son. English. Tomorrow.” Proud of myself, I just said “Dhania” She smiled, went down the aisle and picked up a one pound bag of coriander seeds.
You bet it was cheaper. $12 a pound at the health food store, and $4 per pound at the Indian grocer. Taking a quick look around, I also found mung beans for .99 a pound. Half price on my already low $1.99.
Granted, not everyone is looking for exotic ingredients like these, but you can certainly save money on groceries by looking where you would not normally go. And with the right spices, you can make everyday boring meals very tasty.
The moral of the story is – you can sometimes get great bargains by thinking out of the box, if you are willing to go an extra mile. How’s that for a mixed metaphor?
Consider me a big fan of saving money on groceries by shopping at ethnic grocery stores.